In Partnership with 74

Charter group expanding mission to include support for LAUSD schools

Michael Janofsky | November 19, 2015

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Anita Landecker

Anita Landecker

In what would appear to be a strategic shift, the organization leading an effort to open more charter schools in LA Unified now intends to expand its mission to support traditional public schools that serve low-income children.

The organization, incorporated as Great Public Schools Now, is an outgrowth of a plan by the Broad and other foundations to create enough new charter schools to serve half of the district student population within eight years.

The foundations’ initial plan, articulated through a draft proposal over the summer, did not include consideration of investment in traditional district schools. But the plan now under development has been widened to include a goal of investing in pilot, magnet and other   high-performing district schools that have large numbers of children receiving free and reduced-price lunch.

“In one of the early meetings, the idea was raised, and people said, ‘Definitely, let’s do it’ “ said Anita Landecker, the interim executive director of Great Public Schools Now. “I don’t know how yet; it hasn’t been worked out, but there is an interest in helping high-quality schools that serve low-income kids.”

The willingness of the group to invest in district schools comes in some measure as a response to widespread criticism of the original Broad plan. Opponents, including members of the district school board and the LA teachers union, UTLA, have attacked the proposal as dangers for public education that would cost the district programs and jobs and leave half the student population with inferior assets.

Board President Steve Zimmer, perhaps the most critical of the seven board members, dismissed it as a “some kids, not all kids” plan that he would fiercely oppose.

Landecker described the new approach as an effort that would blunt some of the criticism even as the major thrust of the effort remains adding charter schools to satisfy the growing public demand for them and reducing the long lists of students on waiting lists to get in.

She used as an example a magnet school with dozens of students eager to fill a limited number of openings. “We’d like to figure out what it would take to expand the number of kids who could get to such a high-performing schools,” she said. “I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I know there’s interest in doing that.”

Just how much money would be directed to district schools has not been determined, she said. The ultimate shape of the plan would depend on a number of factors, including more feedback from community groups — “from all kinds of people” she said, “including detractors” — as well as from the school board. She said efforts are now underway to schedule individual meetings with board members to gauge their interest, ideas and concerns.

The organization is also looking to form a Board of Directors, hire a permanent executive director and start raising money. The goal, she said was $50 million a year, for a total of $400 million by the eight year.

The $490 million cited in the draft plan “was aspirational,” she said, but meeting the yearly target was probable. “We wouldn’t have done this if we didn’t think we could raise a fair amount of money,” she added.

While the overall spending plan remains a work in progress, Landecker said several overarching ideas are likely to be consdered. One, she mentioned, is developing a leadership program for teachers and principals with the idea that more high-quality people means more high-quality schools. Another is to spend money where schools, charter or otherwise, have a degree of autonomy over budget, hiring decisions and use of resources.

For now, it’s does not appear that the shift in mission would will temper opposition by UTLA, which has organized several rallies around the district to oppose the plan and still features a photo of Eli Broad on the UTLA website with the admonition, “Hit the road, Broad.”

“It doesn’t change our view of the Broad-WalMart initiative,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in an email message. “Eli Broad realized that his plan to dismantle the district, stifle democratic decision-making, and create an unregulated system that leaves high-needs students behind and doesn’t guarantee parent involvement – he realized his plan isn’t what the people of Los Angeles want. But this doesn’t change his record of funding similar efforts in Louisiana and Detroit, or the language in his initiative that bases his plan on seeing children as ‘market share.’”

Pointing to LA Unified’s soaring numbers of students living in poverty and learning English, Caputo-Pearl suggested, “If Broad and other billionaires want to ensure a great education for every child, they should invest half a billion dollars, and more, in an LAUSD foundation, run by the democratically elected school board, to fund sustainable neighborhood community schools that address the myriad educational and socio-economic needs of our students.”

The school board’s view of the shift in mission is less clear — but probably predictable. While Zimmer did not respond to a request for comment yesterday, he and three of his colleagues have publicly expressed discomfort with the original plan, and the next meeting, Dec. 7, has a resolution scheduled for a vote, to condemn it even though the board is legally barred from denying charter applications based solely on sentiment.

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