Commentary: Challenges await for wave of new LAUSD charters
Michael Janofsky | August 10, 2015
It was a bombshell of a story on Saturday, the LA Times reporting that a group of foundations is exploring plans to expand the number of charter schools within LA Unified to serve many beyond the 100,000 students who now attend charters in the district.
What would that mean exactly? Unclear for the time being. No details were included, and charter officials talked about the effort only in the most general terms. As close to specifics was an unidentified source telling the Times that the goal was to enroll half of LA Unified’s 650,000 students in charters within eight years.
Today, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, one of the participating groups along with the Keck and Walton Family Foundations, said the guiding force behind the effort was to satisfy parents of children in low-performing schools who desire more and better educational choices.
“L.A. families still want more high-quality public school options in their neighborhood,” the foundation said in an email to LA School Report. “Too many of our school children still aren’t getting the quality of education they deserve, which is why tens of thousands of students are currently on public charter school waiting lists. We are in the early stages of exploring a variety of ideas about how to help give all families—especially in low-income communities of color—access to high-quality public schools and what we and others in the philanthropic community can do to increase access to a great public school for every child in Los Angeles.”
What the public response will be when any official announcement is made is unclear — but from some sectors, it’s not hard to guess.
In all likelihood, the strongest objection would come from UTLA, the LA teachers union, a group that fights charter expansion as part of its DNA. Most charters do not employ unionized teachers, even as the union is accelerating unionizations efforts at some of them. Also, the mere mention of the name “Broad” is Pavlovian and symbolic to all teacher unions: Broad, as in “oh, you mean the billionaire corporate interests intent on destroying public education.”
Nor would such a plan be warmly embraced by the LA Unified board. Federal and state dollars, which follow the student and now contribute to a $12 billion annual budget, would migrate outside the of the district, radically reducing its budget and ability to sustain programs.
It would be as if those who always thought the district was too large to be manageable suddenly got their wish, leaving half the students in traditional public schools and the other half to wherever their parents could find new slots to enroll them.
There are not-insignificant logistical issues for the foundations to address, as well. For example, if a new wave of charters is expecting to educate upwards of 300,000 children, they will need buildings to house them. And teachers. And support staff. Why announce a plan as ambitious as this without an ability to identify such bare essentials.
The one group for whom this expansion might sound especially appealing is parents who believe their children are not getting the best education possible at their neighborhood public school. While that’s a conclusion not always reached for rational or objective reasons, look at it this way: If you think your child has better options at the new charter across the street, and it costs nothing to make a change, what would you do?
It could be also be a viable option for district teachers if the new charters offered pay and benefits packages more attractive than the ones they have. Further, the hundreds of LA Unified teachers recently laid off to help offset the district’s budget deficit would have new markets for their services.
“It’s really early in the process,” said someone familiar with the planning underway. “But there are definitely people thinking about the fact that the number of charters is growing, parents don’t think schools are as good as they should be and kids deserve options. It’s still early, but a lot of people are talking to each other.”