Charter group says LAUSD anti-Broad measure appears ‘unlawful’
Craig Clough | November 10, 2015
LA Unified school board member Scott Schmerelson is bringing a resolution before the board today, asking it to go on record opposing a plan by the Broad Foundation to add 260 new charter schools to the district over the next eight years.
But the resolution, which appears largely symbolic, raises one key question: Other than objecting to the charter plan, what can the board really do to stop it?
According to the California Charters School Association (CCSA), a close reading of the state’s 1992 Charter School Act reveals the answer: Not much.
“The act is very clear in the statutes that charter schools should be encouraged and it narrows the grounds on which a school board can deny a charter petition. So it does not give school boards wide discretion,” said Ricardo Soto, general counsel for CCSA.
Board President Steve Zimmer has strongly denounced the Broad plan, previously telling LA School Report it is “not an all-kids plan or an all-kids strategy. It’s very explicitly a some-kids strategy, a strategy that some kids will have a better education at a publicly-funded school that assumes that other kids will be injured by that opportunity.”
But missing from Zimmer’s denunciation — then or since — is a plan to oppose the Broad effort in any practical way, demonstrating how limited even the most motivated school board is when it comes to stopping the proliferation of charter schools. And according to a new report out today by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Los Angeles continues to serve the largest number of charter school students in the country, with a current waiting list of nearly 70,000.
The Charter Schools Act of 1992 lays out clear guidelines upon which a school board can deny a charter school application: Philosophical opposition to charter schools or having concerns about their impact on the district’s finances are not among them. The Schmerelson resolution specifically asks the superintendent to analyze any external proposals for their impacts on the district’s finances and enrollment.
Soto said this wording could turn a largely symbolic resolution into a very practical problem for the board.
“I think (the resolution) is inconsistent with the law and I think they shouldn’t be adopting a resolution that includes a provision that is unlawful,” he said.
Further, board member Mónica Ratliff is introducing her own charter resolution today, calling for a wide range of information that charters must convey to parents to prove that their children’s school is in full compliance with state law. The measure would appear to bolster Schmerelson’s resolution, giving it a wider legal framework from which to act.
The wording of the Schmerelson resolution isn’t the only problem the board could have if it wants to oppose the Broad plan. For one, the Broad plan isn’t really a single plan and does not intend to create a new charter organization that would operate 260 schools, but rather seeks to fund an expansion of many different charter organizations already in operation.
Even if the board were to start denying charter applications, the management company can still seek approval by appealing to county or state boards, meaning they could still open in LA and still drain the district’s enrollment numbers.
Also, if the board were to start shooting down a lot of charter applications in an effort to curb the Broad plan, Soto said it could find itself in legal trouble.
“If they were to pass this (resolution), and then all of a sudden a few months down the line we see denials of charter petitions along the lines of the resolution and not provided by law, or for no apparent reason at all, then a court would probably say the board is potentially violating the law and then you also have this resolution that clearly articulates their position against charter schools,” Soto said.
The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board also found problems with the Schmerelson resolution, writing today that it “could backfire by making any future votes against individual charter school applications appear biased. The board is required by state law to approve all sound applications for charter schools.”
The resolution also calls on the board to oppose “all initiatives that present a strategy designed to serve some students and not all students.” The Times also found this problematic, stating, “Under this definition, though, the board would have to oppose many of its own programs” including magnet schools.
The Times editorial was headlined, “It’s time to stop the whining about charter schools.” While “whining” may be an overstatement, it does appear that swaying public opinion against Broad is a major part of a strategy by Schmerelson, Zimmer and UTLA to remind the public of what they contend are severe consequences of the Broad plan advancing. For now, public opinion across the state shows Californians have a generally favorable opinion of charters.