Education is without a doubt one of the most important issues to Angelenos right now. And with the intent of many challenging existing programs to create ones which foster higher enrollment, graduation and retention rates, it is no surprise that the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education reviewed a report earlier this week which considers the conversion of the LAUSD system into an all-charter district. According to the California Charter Schools Association, “74 percent of voters living within the Los Angeles Unified School District support the expansion of charter public schools in neighborhoods where existing schools are struggling.”
The report, pioneered by the Eli and Edythe Broad foundation, proposes a $490 million plan that would work toward enrolling more than half the district’s students in 260 newly added charter schools over the next eight years, according to the Los Angeles Times. This addition of more charter schools will undoubtedly reinvigorate LAUSD’s heavily unionized broken public schooling system by emphasizing the importance of parent choice and accountability over school programming. For the charter school system, what doesn’t work gets fixed. This is how LAUSD and other California school districts alike can face less risk and get better results.
For the past few years, charter schools — independently run, public and non-union schools — seek to create greater accountability by establishing a charter that lists specific target area goals for performance achievement and methods of assessment. The schools are known for their inclusivity and flexibility in operating without the jurisdictions mandated by public schools. According to studies released by the CCSA, “67 percent of California’s charter schools met student achievement targets on state tests in the 2009-2010 school year compared to just 57 percent of non-charter schools.”
But opponents of an all-charter LAUSD district are concerned about its fiscal impact, stating their concern that the increase of charter schools could threaten the district with bankruptcy. Opponents and proponents of charter schools are working rapidly to compose proposals which highlight either the educational benefits or educational disadvantages and economically harmful repercussions an all-charter school district could create. California statewide law, however, requires that school systems must approve charter schools despite financial impact. So the clock is ticking. Union supporters who oppose charter expansion have also made plans to create a proposal which would require charter schools to provide information regarding salary, available services to disabled students and actions against the schools, according to the L.A Times. They also argue that investing resources in charter schools strips funding for traditional schools, as students would migrate from public schooling to charter programs.
“A closer look at many of the naysayers’ complaints about the plan reveal not so much anger about billionaire involvement in education, but envy that Broad doesn’t want his largess to go to the traditional public schools,” Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, noted in the Los Angeles Daily News. “But why would he do that? Those schools receive plenty of money. The official per-pupil spending in L.A. is $13,490, far more than the national average.”
In 2013, the California Teachers Empowerment Network poll found that 82 percent of teachers favor the existence of charter schools, while only 18 percent opposed. The greatest perceived benefit for charter schools is the fact that they have separate funding from traditional schools, allowing more flexibility. But in order for the proposal to pass it would need to overcome a board vote, the respective school districts would also need more than half of its teachers to sign a petition in favor of the change in addition to laying out alternative choices for students who would like to opt out of the charter school program. Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction and the state board of education, is also required to separately approve petitions for all-charter districts, according to the L.A. Times.
Sarah Dhanaphatana is a junior majoring in political science. She is also deputy features editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Dhanapolitics,” ran Fridays.