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CA charter schools association to LAUSD: ‘We’re not the problem’

Mike Szymanski | July 28, 2015

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California Charter Schools AssociationAfter contentious LAUSD school board elections in which the California Charter Schools Association was widely criticized for negative campaigning and accused of draining money from traditional district schools, the association pushed back today asserting that its opponents have mischaracterized the group as detrimental to district.

In a conference call with reporters, the association presented data that suggests charters continue to be a valuable option for LA-area parents seeking an alternative to traditional district schools for their children. The association built its case around data provided by the state Department of Education and other sources.

One of the biggest issues addressed was whether the steady loss of students to charter schools puts a drain on LA Unified’s traditional schools, in both numbers and money.

No, said association officials. The CCSA vice president of policy, Colin Miller, said charter school money does not come out of the district’s budget and up to 3 percent of charter schools revenues go back to the district for oversight costs.

“The decline in enrollment at LAUSD is not due to charter schools,” Miller said, alluding to one of the chief reasons district officials cite as a cause of the district’s budget deficit. In the past decade, LAUSD enrollment dropped by 194,251 students and charter school enrollment increased by 106,710 students, according to state figures. He said that leaves 87,541 students  — or 45 percent — of the decline that isn’t accounted for by charter school enrollment.

The association also focused on how more English learner students are enrolling in charter schools in urban areas — and actually thriving in some programs. And, the district is working closer with charter schools in handling more special education students.

Gina Plate, the senior special education advisor for CSSA, said the charter schools do not take away funding from LAUSD’s special ed programs, and although there are more children with special needs in traditional schools (about 1.9 percent more than in traditional district schools), the numbers enrolling in charter schools are increasing.

“Parents (of children with moderate to severe disabilities) are jumping to the charter sector now,” she said, pointing to 20 programs that LAUSD charters schools have in place. “The district is asking if they can buy or reserve seats in some special education charter programs. That’s a great message. We’re working close with the LAUSD.”

Plate added, “There are more children with disabilities going into charter schools than going out of charters.”

Dominic Zarecki, the senior analyst for Achievement and Performance Management at CCSA, said not only do charters schools have more English learners than traditional schools, but they are performing better at charter schools.

He pointed to state data that shows the average Academic Performance Index score for English learners at independent charter schools (748) exceeds that at traditional schools (688).

And Ricardo Soto, CCSA’s senior vice president for Legal Advocacy and General Counsel, said laws governing charters are “quite stringent.” He said that charter schools are held up to greater accountability standards, and the students still must take all the standardized tests.

“The scores for the schools are public and available for parents to see,” he said.

With LA Unified now seeking a new superintendent to work with new board president Steve Zimmer, one of the association’s strongest critics during the campaign for its work to unseat former member, Bennett Kayser, CSAA officials were asked what it would like to see in the next district leader.

“We don’t want him or her to be just for charter or traditional, or pilot or trade schools,” said spokesman Jason Mandell. “We want the new superintendent to fight for all kids. That is our main goal.”


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