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Denied renewals, 2 Aspire charters appeal to LA County

Yana Gracile | March 12, 2014

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imgres-1After the LA Unified board denied renewals last month for two high-performing charter public schools in southeast Los Angeles — Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy and Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy — the schools vowed to fight on.

They filed an appeal with the LA County Board of Education and now have a public hearing scheduled March 18, with the board’s vote expected on April 15.

“We have gone through appeals processes before, and we are confident that the county will approve these charters, given the great success that these schools are having in serving students and families in Huntington Park,” James Willcox, Chief Executive Officer of Aspire, told LA School Report.

“We remain committed to keeping these schools open and serving our students. We expect approval of both charters, just now under a different authorizer.”

The two Aspire schools serve predominantly low-income, Latino students — and serve them well: The latest API score for AMLA is 835; for Ollin, 803.

Yet despite their strong academic performances, the LA Unified board voted against the renewals, 4-2, because of the schools’ refusal to provide special education to their students by going directly through an LA Unified-administered services plan.

Each California school district is required to provide special services to schools through what’s known as a SELPA – Special Education Local Planning Area — with state money for services flowing through the district to the local service providers and specialist.

Since 2010, however, the state has given charter schools the right to seek services from an outside SELPA, in effect, going around LAUSD, depriving the district of funds and oversight.

Board member Steve Zimmer said the same issue was raised last year.

“We need to be assured that all charters are under this SELPA – and that is my only objection,” he said at the time, adding, “We are taking the advantages that are allied to us by state law in the renewal process to raise questions that have to do with the oversight, which is totally within our bounds.”

Among 12 Aspire charter schools in LA Unified, five do not participate in the district’s special education plan.

Wilcox said participating in the district’s SELPA is uniquely expensive for Aspire and it doesn’t give them the same flexibility or allow them to use all of their resources.

After the board vote, Kate Ford, LA-area Superintendent for Aspire, wrote to parents to explain the situation.

“The four board members do not agree with the way our special education program is governed,” she wrote. “However, by California state law, Aspire has the right to choose the way special education is organized and overseen. In fact, AMLA and Ollin have excellent special education programs and staff, with students who are achieving and being very successful.”

She also reassured parents that school officials would do everything possible to keep the schools from closing.

“If we have to, we will take the appeal all the way to the California State Board of Education,” she wrote. “AMLA and Ollin will go forth doing great things for our students and families.”

Meanwhile, the California Charter Schools Association, an advocacy group that seeks to expand quality charter schools and empower parents and educators to provide high quality education for all children, believes that the school board failed to comply with the law but remains positive that LA County will come through.

“We feel confident LA County will do the right thing,” said Sarah Angel, the association’s regional director.


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