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Most charters facing LAUSD denials on Tuesday are outperforming their peers

Sarah Favot | November 6, 2017

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Students at Alliance Alice M. Baxter College-Ready High School. (Courtesy: Alliance Facebook page)

Students at the majority of the charter schools that could be turned down Tuesday by LA Unified’s school board are performing academically above their peers in nearby schools.

But that’s not what Tuesday’s debate will likely be about.

State law says that student academic achievement is the most important factor in determining whether charter school renewals should be granted. For all but two of the 11 existing schools seeking renewal that are recommended for denial, the district staff didn’t make their decision based on academics.

Instead, the majority of the petitions are being denied because charter school leaders have not agreed to comply with certain district policies that LA Unified requires for charter schools. LA Unified says the compliance is needed to hold charter schools accountable, while charter leaders say the requirements exceed those laid out in state law and take time and energy away from the classroom.

• Read more: LA charter schools risk denials by LAUSD rather than accept ‘bureaucratic demands’

In total, 14 petitions are being recommended for denial. Of those, 11 are existing schools and three are new schools. Two existing schools are being recommended for denial on the basis of their academic performance. If a school is turned down by the school district, it can continue to operate if it is overturned on appeal by either the county or the state.

School board member Nick Melvoin has been working closely with the charter school leaders whose petitions are recommended for denial and who are looking for reforms to the district-required language.

Through a spokeswoman Monday, he said he remained “cautiously optimistic” that the district and charter leaders could work out their differences before Tuesday’s meeting.

An LA School Report analysis of the schools’ test scores and the district recommendations, which can be seen in this spreadsheet, shows:

• All eight of the schools in Los Angeles’ largest charter organization, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, that are being recommended for denial meet the district’s minimum academic requirements for renewal petitions.

• Seven of the eight Alliance schools that are being recommended for denial have student test scores that are above their resident schools based on 2017 results. Kory Hunter Middle scored below resident schools in math on last year’s state standardized test scores. (Resident schools are LA Unified district schools in the area that students would otherwise attend based on their address.)

• North Valley Military Institute is one of two schools being recommended for denial on the grounds that it is not meeting minimum academic requirements. That school has not been involved in negotiations over district-required language, according to the California Charter Schools Association.

• Magnolia Science Academy 5 is also being recommended for denial based on academic performance. Magnolia 5 is below resident schools in English and math, according to LA Unified.

Magnolia CEO Caprice Young said in an interview Monday that Magnolia 5 has been at its current location for only three years, where it shares space on the campus of Reseda High. Its first location was in Hollywood. When the school moved, it started with a whole new student population. The school serves a large population of special education students — 20 percent, while the district average is 12.5 percent. Young said if LA Unified denies its petition and the county or the state grant an appeal, it will not be able to be part of the district’s special education services, which Young called a model program and beneficial for students.

Young said her students showed more growth on the standardized test scores taken last spring than surrounding schools.

“We’re hoping that either the superintendent will change the recommendation or the board members will overrule staff and approve our charter on the basis of the fact that they’ve only been open for three years and their test scores are equivalent to surrounding schools,” she said.

Magnolia’s other school that is up for renewal — Magnolia Science Academy 4 — is not being recommended for denial based on academics. Magnolia has been involved in the negotiations on district-required language.

STEM Prep and Equitas Academy 5 are new schools that are seeking permission to open in LA Unified, and the district has recommended denial for both of them. They are also involved in the negotiations over district-required language, according to CCSA.

A third school seeking to open, International Studies Language Academy, is also being recommended for denial but is not part of the debate over district-required language, according to CCSA.

One new school seeking to open, called PRIME, is recommended for approval.

Also on Monday, an attorney for United Teachers Los Angeles called on school board member Ref Rodriguez to recuse himself from the voting on the charter school petitions. Rodriguez has been indicted on felony campaign violations and has been accused of violating conflict of interest laws while he acted as treasurer of Partnership to Uplift Communities, a network of charter schools. UTLA’s reason cited the $75,000 donation of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who sits on the board of the KIPP Foundation, to Rodriguez’s legal defense fund. KIPP LA schools are on Tuesday’s agenda. UTLA also stated that Rodriguez should recuse himself because the deliberations involve the power of the Office of Inspector General to investigate charter schools, and PUC is under investigation.

Rodriguez’s political allies on the board — President Mónica García and board members Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez — have called on him to take a leave of absence from the board. Rodriguez said he would not. Together those four form a majority and were elected with financial backing from charter school supporters. If Rodriguez recused himself and board members voted along ideological lines, the votes would likely be 3 to 3.

In all, school board members will be asked to vote Tuesday on 34 charter school petitions. Of those, 18 existing schools and two new schools are recommended for approval, however, that includes six KIPP LA petitions — five existing schools and one new school. Marcia Aaron, KIPP LA’s CEO, has said she doesn’t agree with the benchmarks the district has required that KIPP meet as a condition of approval, so it is unclear what would happen if the board approves the petition with the benchmarks.

A KIPP spokesman said Monday that negotiations are still ongoing.

The main points of contention over the district-required language are:

• The district uses its Office of Inspector General to investigate charter schools. Charter leaders say how LA Unified uses its Inspector General’s office goes above and beyond what state law allows.

• LAUSD requires charter schools to apply for Prop. 39 co-locations every year, and charter leaders want to enter into five-year agreements to create some stability around sharing campuses with district schools.

• Charter leaders say they are expected to comply with all policies of the district, even those that are not in effect at the time their petition is approved, so they could be out of compliance with a policy that they didn’t even know about. They want the district to develop charter-specific policies.

• The district wants charter schools to agree to resolve disputes through mediation and binding arbitration rather than sue the district unless their petition is denied. Charter leaders say this denies them due process, while the district says it saves money.

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