LA Unified considers supporting a state bill some say could ‘kill’ charters
Mike Szymanski | April 17, 2017
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A state bill that’s been labeled a charter killer could be supported by LA Unified’s lobbying capital if the school board passes a resolution on Tuesday’s agenda.
School board vice president George McKenna, supported by fellow board member Scott Schmerelson, proposed the resolution that asks the school board to support the “swift passage” of three state bills targeting charter schools and asks the superintendent to direct staff to advocate for them.
One of the bills, SB 808, authored by state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), would take away the appeals process for charters, granting sole authorizing power to the local school district. It also would allow district boards to reject a charter if it is found to “impose financial hardship on the school district.”
At a financially strapped school district like LA Unified, that definition could possibly include every charter the district authorizes. As charter school enrollment increases in the district — it has grown by 287 percent in the past decade, the resolution states — it means fewer students are choosing to attend traditional district schools, creating a financial burden on the district.
EdSource reported that Sen. Mendoza on Monday tabled the legislation but remains supportive of its concept. He told EdSource he made the decision after meeting with charter supporters Friday in his LA office.
It was unclear Tuesday morning whether LA Unified board members would vote on the resolution or amend it, as it addresses two other bills in addition to SB 808.
Los Angeles, home to the country’s second-largest school district, has more charter schools than any other city in the nation. About 107,000 students attend 228 independent charter schools within LA Unified boundaries, according to district data. Charter schools are publicly funded and independently operated. All LA charter schools are run by nonprofit organizations. Low-income, black and Latino students, as well as urban students, in public charters have been shown to make significant academic gains.
California Charter Schools Association’s managing director of regional advocacy, Sarah Angel, said the proposition will only create more divisiveness in the district. “Families don’t need yet another resolution that pits one type of school against another; they need better schools of all kinds,” Angel said. “The sooner the LAUSD board members start listening to the families, the sooner we can all work together to strengthen all schools.”
Angel added, “We’re disappointed to see board member McKenna taking the easy way out and scapegoating charters by supporting legislation that’s designed to undermine even the best charter schools. The bills that McKenna is asking the board to endorse would give the school board complete discretion to shut down high-performing charter schools for political reasons. These bills would enable the board to take away choice from families who are asking for it.”
CCSA is not against all three of the measures that McKenna’s proposition is asking for the school board to support. In fact, CCSA is the sponsor of different charter school transparency bill, SB 806 that will require charter schools to comply with the Brown Act, Public Records Act and Political Reform Act.
In his proposition “Accountability and Transparency for Equity and Access at Charter Schools” that McKenna is asking the board and district to support, he lists charter school growth as a reason to support three California legislators’ actions involving charter school regulations:
- SB 808: a bill that also would prevent charter schools to appeal to county or state boards of education, which is done frequently when LA Unified rejects a charter petition;
- AB 1360: a bill that requires charter schools to follow admission, suspension, and expulsion procedures to comply with state and federal guidelines; and
- AB 1478: a bill that requires charter schools to follow the state Brown Act, which requires open public meetings, and the state public records act.
Richard Garcia, CCSA’s director of elections communications, noted that SB 808 is one of the most aggressive anti-charter bills that the state has seen and “would allow any district, if it didn’t like a charter school, to very easily kill that charter school.”
In a recent letter to the editor in the Orange County Register, Garcia wrote: “Education should not be about politics, but SB 808 makes it very easy to ‘kill’ a charter school simply because a district dislikes the concept, or is politically swayed.”
The bills are being championed by teacher unions California Teachers Association and UTLA. The issues brought up in the resolution are central to the upcoming school board’s runoff election, which is four weeks away. There was no immediate comment from school board President Steve Zimmer, but his challenger, Nick Melvoin, said in an email, “This resolution demonstrates that, regrettably, the current board continues to focus on dividing our community rather than bringing us together. The ‘us vs. them’ mentality that’s behind these anti-charter resolutions doesn’t improve educational opportunities for kids. Instead, it keeps us from learning and sharing what’s working amongst different models of schools.”
Melvoin added, “We need to work to find common ground. Rather than singling out charter schools, I want to ensure all schools are equitable, transparent, accountable, and serving all kids well.”
Meanwhile, at the school board’s charter school special board meeting starting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the board is scheduled to take up 23 decisions involving charter schools.
In the afternoon session, the board is being asked by the district’s Charter Division staff to authorize six approvals of schools that will increase charter school enrollment by more than 4,000. Of those schools, four are considered affiliated charter schools that remain under the school board’s control, and two charters are asking for material revisions to expand school enrollment.
The Charter Division staff also is recommending that the school board deny three charter petitions and turn down one proposed merger of charter schools.
Also on the agenda is a rare request by Germain Charter Academy for Academic Enrichment to revert to a “non-charter” status in the district.
The board will hold public hearing announcements for 12 schools to become affiliated charters and one as an independent charter. Those schools are set to be on next month’s agenda for discussion.
This article has been updated to add reporting from EdSource that Sen. Mendoza has tabled his SB 808 bill for now. Also clarifies CCSA stance on charter schools and Brown Act.