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LAUSD board told charters attracting more federal dollars than magnets

LA School Report | January 28, 2016

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Joel Packer who lobbies in Washington for LAUSD

For all the successful magnet schools in LA Unified and elsewhere, they are not attracting as much federal support as charter schools.

That was a stark message from the district’s federal lobbyist, who told a district board committee this week that Washington is increasing national support for charter schools by nearly 32 percent but by only 6 percent for magnet schools, a difference that surprised some of the school board members.

“We never imagined this would ever be this much of a discrepancy,” board president Steve Zimmer said at a meeting of the board’s Committee of the Whole.

The money for charters rose to $350 million from $270 million while the magnet school support increased to $96 million from $91 million, according to Joel Packer, of the Raben Group, which lobbies for the district in Washington.

“Charter schools have big bipartisan support in Congress,” Packer said. “They got a big increase. Magnet schools don’t have the same political clout.”

In response to Packer’s overall report outlining changes in federal education policy, committee chairman George McKenna pointed out, “Charters can lobby and have money to give to campaigns and give to board members. Magnets don’t have that ability; they are not separate legal entities.”

Zimmer wondered if the charter money could also go to affiliated charters, which are still associated with LAUSD employee standards and controls.

“No one can seem to answer that,” he said. “And the Republicans don’t even know what they are.”

Board member Mónica Ratliff said, “We have some amazing magnet schools, maybe we need to do a better job at publicizing what a great job they are doing and replicate more of them.”

Magnet schools are specialized schools within the traditional public school model, and LAUSD has 125 of them, including specialized schools that have a focus on things like police academies and computer science.

“I am very disappointed,” said board member Scott Schmerelson. “Charter schools have excellent propaganda. I have been enlightened, but I have also been bewildered. Who is talking up the LAUSD magnet schools and telling them how wonderful we are?”

Superintendent Michelle King said, “If the word is not out, it needs to get out, our magnet schools are tremendous.”

King added, “The highest performing of the schools are our magnet schools, and they are outperforming charters. If we want to incubate what is working, we need to look at magnet schools.”

Packer’s report also showed increases in Title I money, state grants, preschool grants, adult education, Head Start, child care and more, with the only cuts in school improvement grants. Packer noted that some funding restructuring can end up benefitting LA Unified in the future.

The board was also apprised of other federal changes, including the successor to No Child Left Behind, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. It reduces the emphasis in a standardized test and more autonomy for states to assess their schools. States will have to identify the lowest performing five percent of schools. That also concerned superintendent King.

“That signals to me that it could be mostly LAUSD schools,” King said. She was told that the new state guidelines are being discussed now at the state level, and that LAUSD should be involved in how schools are assessed.

Overall, the budget news was better than in years past, said Zimmer, who went to Washington many times to lobby in person.

“If we keep telling the LA story on Capitol Hill, of the districts like ours and families like ours, they they will understand how important role of education truly is,” he said.

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