School board may deny more charter requests than grant approvals at Tuesday’s meeting
Mike Szymanski | February 8, 2016
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The LA Unified school board is expected on Tuesday to deny more applications for new charter schools and charter renewals than they may approve. This is the first time the recommended denials exceed approvals since the new configuration of the school board was seated last July.
Already, the board has denied as many charters in the past half year than in the previous two school years combined.
On Tuesday’s agenda, three denials have been recommended by LA Unified’s Charter School Division and two approvals. The board is not bound to follow the recommendations but usually does.
Three additional charter proposals, from Magnolia Public Schools, were pulled in advance of the school board meeting because they had been recommended for denial. CEO and Superintendent Caprice Young said she withdrew the three new charter applications last week rather than face the likely rejection by the board. In 2014 LA Unified denied renewals for two of its charters based on what it said were questionable practices. A judge ordered the schools change some of its practices but allowed them to stay open. In May, the board voted to renew the charters and the district settled a lawsuit with Magnolia that the charter organization had filed.
Two of the three schools recommended for denial Tuesday are from the Partnership to Uplift Communities (PUC), which was co-founded by one of the newest school board members, Ref Rodriguez.
It would be the first time in 17 years of operating schools in the district that PUC would be denied, said Jacqueline Elliot, co-founder of PUC, which operates 14 schools in the district. “I haven’t experienced this level of challenge and scrutiny in my two decades as a charter leader in the city,” Elliot said in an email to LA School Report. “But I believe the school board will recognize the tremendous value PUC adds to the school district and will demonstrate leadership by continuing to support our program for the thousands of families hungry for excellent educational opportunities in these neighborhoods.”
Since July, six of 11 applications for new charters in LA Unified have been denied, according to an LA School Report analysis. This represents a 45 percent approval rate, compared with a 77 percent approval rate for the 2014-2015 school year, when 10 were approved and three denied. In 2013-2014, 17 were approved and three denied, for an approval rate of 85 percent.
The reasons for Tuesday’s three recommended denials include low test scores, which the staff report says is “well below the performance of the public schools that the charter school pupils would otherwise have been required to attend.”
The staff found that the charter schools present “an unsound educational program” and that PUC is “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program.”
Recommended for denial is a renewal for PUC’s Excel Charter Academy and a new charter for PUC’s International Preparatory Academy as well as a new charter for WISH (Westside Innovative School House) Academy High School.
PUC’s 14 schools show mixed results when compared to LA Unified schools in performance on the recent Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced standardized tests. The number of PUC students on average who met or exceeded the standards in the English Language Arts test was 40 percent, compared to 33 percent for the district. However, on the math test, PUC students averaged 23.85 percent, compared to 25 percent for the district.
The staff recommended that the board on Tuesday approve new charters for Arts in Action Community Middle School and El Camino Real K-8 Charter School, but the latter is at the former Highlander campus which may have another public school planned for the site and therefore could be denied by the board. The board is also being asked to renew the charter for the Gifted Academy of Mathematics and Entrepreneurial Studies.
Meanwhile, also on the agenda for Tuesday are three violations at charter schools, for Clemente Charter School, Ingenium Charter Middle School and Ingenium Charter Elementary School. The violations include fiscal mismanagement, violations of law and other concerns that the LAUSD staff found.
Independent charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed schools. Most employ non-union teachers, and the school board’s oversight of them is limited. The board can approve or deny new charter applications, and every five years existing charters must be re-approved. The board’s decisions by state law are to be based essentially on if a charter school has a sound educational plan, sound management and its financial situation is in order.
Already, LA Unified has 221 independent charter schools, which is the most of any school district in the country. And many more may be on the way through a new private group, Greater Public Schools Now (GPS Now), which plans a major expansion of school funding.
* Updated to reflect that Magnolia now says it does not plan to resubmit its applications, and to include information about its settlement with LAUSD.
Craig Clough contributed to this story.