Denied renewals, 2 Aspire charters appeal to LA County

imgres-1After the LA Unified board denied renewals last month for two high-performing charter public schools in southeast Los Angeles — Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy and Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy — the schools vowed to fight on.

They filed an appeal with the LA County Board of Education and now have a public hearing scheduled March 18, with the board’s vote expected on April 15.

“We have gone through appeals processes before, and we are confident that the county will approve these charters, given the great success that these schools are having in serving students and families in Huntington Park,” James Willcox, Chief Executive Officer of Aspire, told LA School Report.

“We remain committed to keeping these schools open and serving our students. We expect approval of both charters, just now under a different authorizer.”

The two Aspire schools serve predominantly low-income, Latino students — and serve them well: The latest API score for AMLA is 835; for Ollin, 803.

Yet despite their strong academic performances, the LA Unified board voted against the renewals, 4-2, because of the schools’ refusal to provide special education to their students by going directly through an LA Unified-administered services plan.

Each California school district is required to provide special services to schools through what’s known as a SELPA – Special Education Local Planning Area — with state money for services flowing through the district to the local service providers and specialist.

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LAUSD leads charter school growth in California, and nation

Chart Schools GrowthCalifornia launched the largest number of charter schools in the nation last year, according to a report released this week by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS).

The state saw the start of 104 charter schools, bringing its total to 1,130. Almost 520,000 California students of more than 6 million now attend charters in the state. Other states with big charter school gains were Arizona, with 87 new ones, and Florida, with 75.

LA Unified continues to lead the growth among school districts, with 32 new charters that serve about 15,000 students, according to the California Charter School Association (CCSA).  There are now 263 charter schools serving 143,580 students in LAUSD. That’s about about 20 percent of the student population.

According to a report issued last month by the CCSA, charter high schools in Los Angeles are outperforming traditional district schools in graduating college-ready students of all backgrounds. Charter schools enroll 19 percent of Los Angeles high school students and deliver 37 percent of the city’s college-ready graduates, the report found.

In California, charters are publicly-funded schools that are generally overseen by local school boards but exempt from some laws governing school districts. While they must operate as non-profit organizations by state law, they receive most funding directly from the state, bypassing the district, thus drawing criticism by supporters of traditional public schools.


Charter Schools Association Pushing Election for LaMotte Seat

MapBoardDistrict1The California Charter Schools Association, or CCSA, has become the latest group pushing LA Unified leadership to hold an election to fill the seat left open by the sudden death of board member Marguerite LaMotte. As the school board continues to weigh the options of appointing a replacement or staging a special election — stakeholders around the city are making their positions clear.

School board District 1, which LaMotte had represented since 2003, includes parts of south LA, Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills. It stretches as far west as Palms, north to Hancock Park, and south to Gardena. As of this year, there are about 40 charter schools operating in the district, serving more than 12,000 students. Only District 2, represented by Monica Garcia, has more charter schools.

CCSA Spokeswoman Sierra Jenkins says the CCSA plans to circulate a petition next week, among parents of charter school students “to encourage the board to hold a special election.”

A former teacher and principal, LaMotte was a strong ally for teachers and other district employees, which won her lasting support from UTLA, the teachers union, as well as SEIU, a public employees union. For most of her tenure on the board, she staunchly opposed charter schools, though she did soften her views in recent years.

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Ridley-Thomas Drawing Support from UTLA, Reform Groups*

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas

A 26-year old candidate with more experience in policy than politics is heading into tomorrow’s special election for a westside state Assembly seat with something few candidates can claim: support from both sides of the education reform debate.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, son of County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, has proved to be both a prolific fundraiser and endorsement magnet in his race for the open seat in Assembly District 54.

United Teachers of Los Angeles voted to endorse Ridley-Thomas on Nov. 20th and was planning to circulate a letter of support to its members in District 54 today. In it the union says:

“Ridley-Thomas will advocate for jobs creation, improved traffic, health care access, increased public safety, education funding, and getting our fair share from Sacramento.” The letter is signed by UTLA President Warren Fletcher and Mary Jan Roberts, the UTLA political officer.

The social welfare arm of the California Charter School Association is also backing the young candidate.

“We are really excited about the energy Sebastian will bring to the legislature and the continued accessibility that he will provide to all stake holders in the education community,” CCSA Advocates political director, Carlos Marquez, told LA School Report. “He shares a strong commitment to making sure that our schools are producing quality programs for our students and being held accountable to very high standards.”

Brent Smiley, an officer of UTLA’s political action committee, known as PACE, told LA School Report, Ridley-Thomas is “a real stand-up guy as far as education, and he’d be a great representative in Sacramento.”

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Valley Charter Operators, Guilty of Fraud, Seeking New Trial

Court RoomEugene Selivanov and his wife, Tatyana Berkovich, will be back in an Los Angeles County Superior Court tomorrow, asking the judge to grant them a new trial in a case that the California Charter Schools Association says affects other charters within the LA Unified school district.

The two were found guilty in April of misappropriating more than $200,000 in public funds, embezzlement and other charges when they operated the independent charter, Ivy Academia, in West Hills. They resigned in 2010 after their arrest.

A judge will decide either to grant them a new trial or sentence them to prison. Their motions for a new trial are here and here.

Lawyers for Selivanov and Berkovich said the couple were convicted on laws that should not have applied to them and incorrect instructions given to the jury. As a result, said Ricardo Soto, a lawyer for the charter school association, which filed a brief in support of them, other charter operators have to reexamine how they conduct their own operations.

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Zimmer Seeking State Help with Charter Co-location Rules

Board Member Steve Zimmer

Board Member Steve Zimmer

An emotionally-charged debate erupted at the last school board meeting over the co-location of a charter on the campus of an elementary school in Boyle Heights.

Parents of public school students at Lorena Street Elementary School were furious that the school was forced to relinquish space to accommodate Extera 2, a charter school, because of Proposition 39 – a law approved in 2000 requiring districts to share unused facilities with independent schools.

Fed up with the “constant battle over the co-location issue,” school board member Steve Zimmer responded by drafting a resolution, which will be taken up at the board meeting tomorrow, to persuade state lawmakers to create guidelines for applying the law.

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Service Workers Close to Winning Vote in Charter Process

SEIU local 99A bill that would allow cafeteria workers, custodians and teacher aides to vote when a public school wants to become a charter is one vote (State Assembly) and one signature (Gov. Brown) away from becoming law. Both are expected, and it could happen within days.

Currently, only teachers get to vote for conversion. But the change in the law is winning support not only from the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), but also, according to a press release, the California Federation of Teachers (CFT).

It’s not everyday that those two line up on the same side of things.

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Update: Reform Coalition Faces Power Vacuum

CSR logoEducation reformers met Friday afternoon to discuss the disastrous results of the 2013 School Board elections and to consider what form the their efforts should take in the future.

“It was a meeting to discuss what had happened in my election and what we should think about the future of LAUSD,” said Kate Anderson, who unsuccessfully ran for LAUSD School Board against Board member Steve Zimmer.

But other sources who attended the meeting characterized the mood of the meeting  as rudderless.

“Nothing came out of it,” said one frustrated reformer who was there. “It was just another sort of, ‘the ed reformers lost, what can we do about it?’ There’s a lot of those meetings. There’s no clear next actionable plan.”

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Coalition Campaign was “Half-Hearted and Incompetent,” says Rival Consultant

Referencing the recent District 4 primary between Kate Anderson and Steve Zimmer, StudentsFirst head Michelle Rhee last week boasted that  the Coalition for School Reform effort she helped fund “came within three percentage points of unseating an incumbent, union-backed Board member – something that would have been unthinkable just a couple of election cycles ago.”

But not everyone reflecting on the primary election results has been so sanguine.

Former Democratic state lawmaker Glorio Romero recently blasted Mayor Villaraigosa for over-reaching in his unsuccessful attempt to unseat Steve Zimmer.

And last week an email letter describing the Coalition-funded primary campaign as “half-hearted and incompetent” began circulating among Los Angeles education insiders.

“Their messaging and GOTV [get out the vote] strategy had no correlation to the actual likely voters for the Election,” claims the letter, addressed to former Mayor Richard Riordan and written by political consultant Brian Ross Adams. “They had no strategy for Hollywood and the more liberal Westside districts).”

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Listen: Politics 101 For Teachers

Start your week off listening to this panel discussion about politics, policy, and advocacy from last week’s 20th Annual California Charter Schools Conference in San Diego.  Featured panelists include Daniela Kim, a teacher with PUC Schools and a member of Teach Plus, Brian Johnson, former Assembly candidate and current VP of Leadership For Educational Equity, and Joshua Thomas, a teacher with Da Vinci Science Academy and a member of Educators 4 Excellence.

Charter Leaders to Gather in San Diego

More than 3,000 charter school leaders from across California — including many from LA — will gather in San Diego on Tuesday, March 12 for a three-day conference hosted by the California Charter Schools Association (CSSA).

Speakers at the conference include education advocate and StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee, CCSA President Jed Wallace, and Congressman George Miller.  TFA alum Brian Johnson is slated to MC the awards dinner. For full event details, click here.

Citizens Charter Looks East

Los Angeles-based CItizens of the World charter network has applied to open a school in fast-gentrifying Williamsburg (Brooklyn), and the local NPR affiliate reports that its possible  arrival is creating both hope and concern.  While socioeconomically diverse and progressive charter schools like Citizens are somewhat familiar in Los Angeles, they remain new and unfamiliar on the East Coast, where most charters are demographically homogeneous and more structured in their educational approach.

Former Fremont Teacher Proposes Charter

The next few months aren’t just going to be about teacher evaluation, removal of sexual predators, and budget items. The charter application, review, and approval process will continue — including those that will be discussed at tomorrow’s Board meeting.

At tomorrow’s Board meeting, items 16-20 are renewals or amendments to existing charters. But there are also new charters still being proposed — see item 32 here.

One of the most interesting new charter proposals might be Pathways, the brainchild of longtime LAUSD teacher Erica Hamilton, who’s worked in South LA.  She’s “exactly the kind of passionate educator LAUSD should be supporting in starting schools,” according to CalCharters’ Sierra Jenkins.

The former Fremont HS teacher was written up on the USC Annenberg news site in 2011 here.  You can read the 146-page Pathways application here.

No Gates Grant for LAUSD

On Wednesday, the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced $25 million in grants to seven cities where charter schools and districts are working together in new and potentially effective ways.  Though LAUSD was one of the first districts to sign up for the Gates “compact” in December 2010, the district and its charter schools were not among those recognized by the foundation. Continue reading

One Thing: Charter Scrutiny In Sacto.

Via IndyWeek

While changes in district policies governing charter school oversight seem to be off the table for now, today’s SI&A Cabinet Report reminds us that the state may well take up the issue on its own. New legislation likely to be considered in the near future would require authorizers like LAUSD to consider charter schools’ performance in a more detailed and rigorous manner before renewing them, notes the article (Uptick in Charter Renewal Denials as National Group Calls for More).

One Thing: Focus On Charter Quality

New charter school quality initiative

It’s just an announcement, and there are lots of things that could prevent any real action from taking place, but kudos to the California Charter Schools Association for being one of two state charter groups to join the National Association of Charter School Authorizers this morning in Washington to call for a renewed focus on charter school quality and — where necessary — closings. See the Huffington Post article about the announcement here. Next steps?  Identify and then close or nonrenew charters that aren’t performing.

Number One (In Charters)

You might be surprised to learn that Los Angeles isn’t one of the top five districts when it comes to the percentage of kids who attend charter schools. The top five according to a new report from the National Association of Public Charter Schools are New Orleans, Detroit, Washington D.C., Kansas City (Missouri), Flint, Gary, and St. Louis.

But LA is among the districts with the largest raw numbers of charter students enrolled. In fact, it’s number one. Read all about charter school growth (and the accompanying quality challenges) in this Huffington Post article. Or you can read the report here.

Previous posts: Diverse Charter Schools SpreadMixed News for ChartersPublic School Choice 4.0

Board Restores 10 Days, Rejects Charter Proposal

Deasy’s chart showing the effects of Prop 30′s passage

Inside the meeting room at Tuesday’s LAUSD school board meeting, four television camera crews were present to watch the board vote unanimously to rescind 10 furlough days (five of which are instructional), thanks to the passage of Proposition 30. The board also voted to adopt a “Good Food Purchasing Policy.”

But the healthy food vote and the restoration of days were only a small part of the Board meeting, which went on for several hours and was dominated by matters related to charter schools.

Outside the meeting, there were so many charter activists (over a thousand, according to the California Charter Schools Association’s Sierra Jenkins) that they had to shut down the entire block. As one observer pointed out, the charter demonstration was the kind of stunt that the teachers union used to be the only ones to pull off.

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Diverse Charter Schools Spread

They don’t usually get much attention but here and there in LA and elsewhere, parents and teachers frustrated with the existing options are creating their own new, different kind of charter schools that try to balance learning with accountability and mix kids from a wide variety of backgrounds. (In Los Angeles, Citizens of the World and Larchmont are two well-known examples.)  This new article in Education Next written by LA School Report editor Alexander Russo explores the dynamics motivating reformers and progressives here and in other parts of the country to consider new ways of doing things, and the challenges and opportunities of making a diverse charter school a reality.  The appeal — and the difficulties — are both enormous.

Questions About Kayser Plan

Board member Bennet Kayser’s recently announced proposal to have Board members recuse themselves from certain votes is brief – only 85 words — and appealingly vague. Board members would “automatically recuse themselves from voting on a charter contract if they have received campaign contributions six months prior to the vote.”

But already it has generated some pragmatic questions and skeptical reactions:

Bob Stern, the former head of the Center for Governmental studies, said he hadn’t seen the proposal, but when it was described to him, he expressed skepticism. Although he likes the idea of banning contractors bidding on government contracts from contributing, he agreed that it sounded strange to ban charters but not unions.

Stern also wondered about the amount of money being given. ”Does he mean if someone gave $500?” asked Stern. “Maybe it should be some overall amount.”

“Why is he singling out charter schools, as opposed to any union or vendor that has a contract with the district and requires Board approval?” asked Sierra Jenkins of the California Charter Schools Association. “It seems contradictory.”

Kayser’s proposal is on the agenda for today’s Board meeting, which is also scheduled to include deliberation over the Deasy proposal to restore additional days of school and the Zimmer proposal on charter oversight. (See full agenda here). Previous posts: Conflict Of Interest, OversightDeasy to Ask Board to Restore Full School YearZimmer: Charters & Fundraising Update