LAUSD charter school growth faster pace than in state, nation


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At the start of the new school year in two weeks, LA Unified will have almost 200 more charter schools than it did a decade ago. 

The growth reflects a more swift expansion than national and statewide trends in school choice options. 

Since 2004, charter schools in LA Unified have increased nearly four times, to 265 from 68, while the number of charter schools in California has risen by half, and across the country the number has doubled, to 6,000 from 3,000.  

“When you look at the numbers you can clearly see that LAUSD is extremely hospitable to charter school operators,” board member Steve Zimmer told LA School Report. “This is not a district that makes it hard for parents to find an alternative to their local public schools.”

The latest numbers, provided by the district’s Charter School Division, show that the overwhelming majority of charter schools that will operate this year — 212 — are “independent,” which means they are run by an entity separate and independent of LAUSD in almost all respects, including finances. Such schools are not covered by the district’s labor contracts. 

“Affiliated” schools, of which there will be 53 throughout the district, function under the auspices of the LAUSD Board of Education and are usually public school conversions. The district typically administers all funding programs for for these schools and employees are covered by union contracts. 

Both types of charters possess the autonomy to create their own curriculum, develop their own programs and set the their own instructional schedules, which is what parents cite as the primary reason for choosing these over traditional public schools.

A few other highlights from the chart above:

  • District 2, represented by board member Monica Garcia, has the highest number of charter schools in the district — 52. All are independent charters
  • District 3, represented by board member Tamar Galatzan, has had the highest growth of charters in the last five years. It also has the highest number of affiliated charter schools in the entire district, 32
  • District 6, represented by board member Monica Ratliff, has the fewest number of charter schools with 26.
  • District 7, represented by board President Richard Vladovic, has had the slowest growth over the last five year adding only two new charters for a total of 29.

Galatzan explains that the explosion of affiliated charter schools in the north San Fernando Valley is due to the district’s changes in how it disburses federal funds for low-income students, called Title 1 funding. 

After federal dollars were reduced by 9 percent in 2011, the district raised the threshold for eligibility for Title 1 funds to schools where 50 percent of students were from low-income families. Schools with 65 to 100 percent low income students get even more money.

“A lot of the non-Title 1 schools in my district ended up with basically no discretionary money whatsoever and were looking around for someway to survive,” Galatzan said.  “For many, especially the elementary schools, becoming affiliated charters gave them access to state charter school block grant money, which would allow them to bring some different programming to the school.”

As a result, she says, most non-Title 1 elementary schools in her district have become affiliated charters, with the exception of Balboa Gifted High Ability Magnet, which became a pilot school.  

Education experts generally agree that independent charters locate where there are higher percentages of low income families. In so doing, there is more Title 1 money for them to access. Conversely affiliated charters tend to operate in districts where families are more economically comfortable but still offer academic pursuits that are not available in traditional public schools.

Zimmer, whose district has experienced a rapid growth of affiliated and independent charter schools in the last five years, is empathetic with frustrated parents who are choosing charters over neighborhood schools. But, he says, the saturation of charter schools in LAUSD has more to do with money and anti-union sentiments than with a fight for equal access to a good education.

“How is that you can concentrate so many charter schools in one district while still allowing for a virtual desert in other areas with comparable or even more troubling data than LAUSD?” he asked.

“From the 40,000 foot level, the only conclusion that someone can reach is that operators and entrepreneurs follow the money, and the money in the investment is in LAUSD. Whether you’re talking about the Walton Foundation or others, they’re not only interested in the schools because of the liberation of youth living in poverty, they’re in interested in the model because the model is an anti-labor model.”

Over the last ten years only 61 charter schools approved by the district have closed down. The Charter Schools Division reports 19 have closed due to a lapse of the charter, 22 schools self-closed, a process instigated as a result of district oversight, 15 charters were not renewed, and only five charters have been revoked.

  • Sonja Luchini

    When there were fewer than 100 charters in LAUSD, then Board Member Jon Lauritzen suggested a moratorium at 100 so the District could inspect all and determine whether they were properly staffed (credentialed teachers), enrolling all children (they were not at the time), safe and fiscally sound. Charters used to be handed out like candy at Halloween without real thought. There is no central database for teacher credentialing info regarding charters. I know because I’ve asked. If the Director doesn’t know who is teaching at these schools, how can we make informed decisions – especially when the school site refuses to provide such info as has happened to me? There is little or no accountability, oversight or compliance provided by the Charter Office.

    More is not better by any means. Especially when most of these schools discriminate against the moderate/severely disabled, foster, homeless and English Language learners.

  • California Charter Schools Association

    The assertion that charter public schools are opening in locations where there is money available and because of anti-union views is simply false. Charters are opening based on parent demand and where educators want to and can make a difference, as clearly demonstrated by research.

    According to a 2014 report by CCSA, in LA, the percentage of high school graduates who completed all college preparatory coursework is 4 times as high at charter public schools as it is at traditional district schools. And, charter schools graduate high school students at higher rates than traditional district schools – 79% versus 66% for traditional schools.

    CREDO also released a 2014 report finding that the typical LA charter school student gains more learning in a year than his/her district school peer, amounting to about 50 more days of learning in reading and an additional 79 days of learning in math.

    In California, 91,000 kids are on charter wait lists, approximately 36,000 in LAUSD. This is not about money or unions. It is about giving parents options to help ensure their kids get the high-quality education they deserve.

    • Sonja Luchini

      CCSA creates a false demand by feeding their agenda to astro-turf parent groups who then spew it out in media-staged events.

    • Susan Graham

      Well Charter Schools Association,
      Do you take kids from juvenile camp or who have a history of bullying teachers? I didn’t think so. What about girls with kids at home who got pregnant at 14? Why aren’t they at your charter school? These are the kids I have to teach. You don’t. It makes a world of difference. In addition, it is the charter schools that have the highest teacher turnover and are constantly looking for “teachers.” I wonder why.

  • Michael Sturdevant

    Talk to someone who teaches at a charter school sometime. The ones I’ve spoken to have the skittish look and guarded smile. It’s a complete buy-in: if you don’t jump right into the school’s fascist-minded cult-like waters, they’ll find a way to get rid of you.

    Remember, we’re teachers: Like monks and nuns, we’re supposed to sacrifice our personal time — unpaid — for the greater cause… LAUSD? What a kicker! I’d rather hustle oranges on the Alvarado exit of the 101.