In Partnership with The 74

New data: Where are the charter schools in LAUSD?

Mike Szymanski | October 5, 2017



LAHSA students helping Gabriella Charter students, an example of collaboration. (Courtesy: LAUSD)

LA Unified has more charter schools than any other school district in the nation, and an internal report presented this week had some interesting facts, including where most of them are located.

Although common thought among some parents is that independent charter schools are located in wealthier communities, the statistics show that more than half of the 224 independent charters are located in the poorest school board districts of Los Angeles.

The data also showed that independent charters have slightly higher percentages of Latino and black students as well as students with high special needs.

School board president Mónica García said she was surprised to see that more than one-fourth of the independent charters, 61 schools, are located in her District 2 of East Los Angeles and downtown. The next highest is in George McKenna’s District 1, with 37 independent charters. His district has one affiliated charter school, while Garcia’s has none.

Independent charters are publicly funded schools that are independently managed. LA Unified oversees and authorizes the 224 schools.

Affiliated charters are operated by the district. They have some instructional freedoms and autonomies but still follow labor union agreements. The affiliated charter status must be applied for by the principal, teachers, and parents.

Both types of charter schools must be reauthorized by the district every five years.

The fewest number of independent charter schools — 17 each — are in District 3 in the west San Fernando Valley and District 4 on the west side and in Hollywood. Board member Scott Schmerelson’s District 3 has the largest number of affiliated charters — 31, and most are elementary schools — because his predecessor, Tamar Galatzan, pushed for district schools there to become affiliated charters. The district with the second highest number of affiliated charter schools is Nick Melvoin’s District 4, with 19.

Three districts have no affiliated charters: Garcia’s District 2, Ref Rodrigez’s District 5, and Richard Vladovic’s District 7.

García’s District 2 will have 14 charter schools up for renewal this year, and McKenna and Schmerelson will each have 13.

In an interview, García said she was surprised about the number of charters in her district and said previous boards “made a decision that charter schools should go where the schools were the most overcrowded, and that makes a lot of sense.”

García said independent charter schools “are part of the portfolio” of the district and “part of the energy to get to the best rate of graduation.” She said many charters in her district have been around for 15 or more years. “It was for people wanting a different experience, and for people who did not want to go through the system and wanted to leave,” García said. “People wanted to do something different and not be part of an anonymous system, and people had lost hope in the system’s ability to change.”

Among the data released at the school board meeting:

• Independent charter schools have 111,731 students, of which 74.8 percent are Latino, 9.4 percent black, and 9.3 percent white.

• District schools, including affiliated charters, have 521,890 students, of which 73.8 percent are Latino, 8.1 percent black, and 10.2 percent white.

• District schools have more English learners (25.4 percent), special education students (12.3 percent), and slightly more socio-economically disadvantaged students (80.8 percent).

• Independent charters have 22.3 percent English learners; 10.6 percent special ed, and 80.5 percent poor.

• Independent charter schools had an 89 percent graduation rate in 2015-2016, compared to the district’s overall 80.2 percent in 2016-2017. The district doesn’t have updated graduation rates for charters.

• For graduation, 42 independent charter schools — with a total of about 8,000 students — require a C or better in the required A-G classes. In district schools, students can pass with D’s.

• Together, independent and affiliated charter schools number 277, with 154,177 students.

• 62 charter schools share space on 74 district campuses.

The superintendent and charter schools division continue to hold joint charter-district meetings to share best practices, said charter Division Chief José Cole-Gutiérrez, who presented the report on Tuesday to the school board at García’s request.

“There is a lot of work to do, but we have made some progress,” Cole-Gutiérrez said.

In one specific way of collaboration, Cole-Gutiérrez detailed how students at the district’s Los Angeles High School for the Arts are designing costumes for the dance-focused Gabriella Charter School. The theater students at the district school  are creating hip-hop pants and hoodies inspired by astronaut outfits for the charter school’s eighth-grade girls, he said. 

“We have our board president Mónica García to help make the match between the schools in her district,” Cole-Gutiérrez said.

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