LA region sees fastest charter school growth in state

Grand opening of the Alliance Alice M. Baxter College-Ready High School in San Pedro (Credit: CCSA)

The Los Angeles region has seen the largest increases in the state in new charter schools this academic year, with 33 new charters opening, according to data released today by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA).

With the growth in LA and elsewhere, California remains the state with the most charter schools and students in the nation.

Across the state, 87 new charter have opened this school year, 34 have closed, and enrollment has grown by seven percent, resulting in an estimated 547,800 students enrolled charter schools in California, the data showed. There are also 91,000 students on the waiting list of charter schools in California, according to the CCSA.

“Year after year, we see parents demanding high quality school choice options for their children. This year is no exception,” Jed Wallace, president and CEO of CCSA, said in statement. “And more new schools are opening as independent charter public schools, making the most of the flexibility and autonomy that charters offer by doing whatever it takes to meet the individual needs of their students.”

LA Unified oversees about 250 independent and affiliated charter schools serving over 130,000 students, about 20 percent of all district students, making it the largest charter school authorizer in the nation, according to the district’s website

 

Tiny LA district is approving charter schools beyond borders

ValleyPrep

Valley Prep Charter in Van Nuys is not overseen by LAUSD

A tiny, rural school district in northern Los Angeles County is under growing scrutiny over its approval of more than 20 new charter schools in the last few years, the majority of them serving students outside of its own district boundaries. At least three are within the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The small district, called Acton-Agua Dulce Unified (AADUSD), is home to just three traditional schools, 1,100 students and one site-based charter school that opened just this year. The district is teetering on the brink of insolvency: it has seen a sharp drop in enrollment in recent years and not enough revenue to meet its budget needs of $10 million – all of which have contributed to its unusual charter policy.

“I’m not denying there is a financial component,” says Acton-Agua Dulce superintendent Brent Woodard, referring to the charter approvals. “But bottom line is I’m an advocate for kids.” He says the district has little choice because of its dwindling resources.  Approving the slew of new charters is good for the charters and good for his district, he says, which has charged up to a 7 percent fee to manage.

“We’ve been called rogue,” he said. “I would disagree.”

Charter schools are independently run but publicly funded schools, typically authorized by local districts that are responsible for overseeing operations and performance. The vast majority of the 1,200 charter schools in California operate within the boundaries of the districts that authorize them.

The large-scale approval approach taken by Acton-Agua Dulce has raised the ire of neighboring school districts, including Los Angeles Unified — where three of those charter schools, Valley Prep Academy 9-12, K-5, and 6-8 opened in the valley at the start of this school year.

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‘Fiscal mismanagement’ cited in closing 2 Magnolia charters

Magnolia Science Academy logo LAUSDLA School Report has learned that ‘fiscal mismanagement’ and a host of other irregularities are the reasons behind the sudden closure last month of two LA Unified charter schools, Magnolia Science Academy 6 and Magnolia Science Academy 7, according to a letter sent from LAUSD’s Charter Division.

Both are considered high-performing schools; MSA-6 is a middle school in Palms serving about 140 students, and MSA-7 is an elementary school in Van Nuys which serve 300 students.

The document was sent by the district on June 27, to the schools’ non-profit parent organization, Magnolia Public Schools (MPS) which operates 11 schools across the state, some of which have also been subject to scrutiny.

Mehmet Argin, Chief Executive Officer of MPS says the decision by LAUSD to rescind their charters came with no warning, leaving families with few options. “Shocked. I was just shocked and surprised,” he told LA School Report.

In the letter, the district outlined the results of its recent audit that found ‘significant’ problems including what it said was a state of financial insolvency, accounting and reporting irregularities, and governance issues. In all, the district says the schools were “unlikely to successfully implement program[s]” and therefore did not meet the bar for their conditional renewal.

According to the letter, the audit revealed that:

  • The parent company, MPS, met the IRS definition of being insolvent as of June 2013 and owed money to its schools. One of the schools Magnolia 6, also met the definition of insolvent, the other, Magnolia 7, operated in a deficit mode. Continue reading

All-girls school in LAUSD struggling to escape legal limbo

New Village Girls Academy LAUSD All-girls school

New Village Girls Academy

The problem for girls is boys.

Several years ago Elizabeth Hicks, a counseling coordinator for LA Unified, had an idea, to open the first all-girls traditional public school in California in more than a decade.

It would be a rigorous STEM academy, requiring girls to take science, math and computer classes from sixth grade through high school, and based in one of the district’s neediest neighborhoods. It would be a place where girls would learn and practice social and emotional skills and be encouraged to develop as independent, analytical thinkers — just as her daughter had become at a tony all girls private school.

But that idea, which was formalized into an application for the Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA) as a district experimental Pilot Schools, has been in legal limbo two years running.

“The stumbling block and the reason we’ve been stymied is the fear that there might be a lawsuit,” a frustrated Hicks told LA School Report.

Despite support from Superintendent John Deasy and at least one school board member, Hicks says, “I believe that the district’s legal department is afraid that we would have a challenge from some outside entity or internal entity that would say, you have to have an all boys school as well.”

That’s not the only problem.

It appears Hicks and a group of eight LA Unified teachers, administrators and data analysts who are behind the effort to launch the new academy have stumbled into a legal hornets nest of conflicting federal, state and local policies on the issue of single sex schools in a public school system.

While the federal government encourages them, the California State Board of Education has adopted regulations saying they are prohibited, except for rare instances in which they can demonstrate serving “students with similar therapeutic and educational needs,” according to a 2006 legal opinion from the Board, which sets policies that the California Department of Education (CDE) carries out.

But CDE officials say school districts have the autonomy to open a single sex school.

“That’s because California is a local control state,” Tina Jung, a CDE spokeswoman, said. “So that means the local education agencies, in this case school districts, have more authority to run their own operations than we do here at the state.” Continue reading

Number of students on CA charter school wait lists hits a record

Charter Schools Waiting ListDespite the ongoing debate over whether charter schools are better than traditional public schools and the steady increase annually of new charters, the California Charter Schools Association reports a record number of students are on charter school wait lists statewide.

In LA Unified, the largest district in the state, an estimated 36,300 students are hoping to get a spot in either an affiliated or independent charter school next year, according to the report. The average number of students on a wait list for one of the 249 charters available to LA Unified students is 146.

Statewide, the number of students on charter wait lists is 91,000 —  an increase of 13,000 over last year — and the number jumps to 164,000 taking into account students who are on more than one wait list.

“Year after year parents are making their voices heard and they want to send their kids to charter schools,” Jed Wallace, president and CEO, California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) said in statement.

“And each year the California Charter Schools Association works harder to ensure that no barrier – at the state or local level – prevents us from making good on our promise to provide a high quality public charter school education to all students in California.”

Statewide, CCSA, estimates more than half a million students are enrolled in California’s 1,130 charter schools, 104 of which opened for the 2013-2014 school year.

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).