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Photo Credit: Tony Mendoza Facebook and twitter.com/CALcharters

April 17, 2017

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This piece was produced in partnership with LA School Report; see LASR’s recent coverage of the 2017 school board race.
A  California bill that’s been labeled a charter killer could be supported by Los Angeles Unified’s lobbying capital if the school board passes a resolution on Tuesday’s agenda.

School board vice president George McKenna, supported by fellow board member Scott Schmerelson, proposed the resolution that asks the school board to support the “swift passage” of three state bills targeting charter schools and asks the superintendent to direct staff to advocate for them.

One of the bills, SB 808, authored by state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), would take away the appeals process for charters, granting sole authorizing power to the local school district. It also would allow district boards to reject a charter if it is found to “impose financial hardship on the school district.”

At a financially strapped school district like LA Unified, that definition could possibly include every charter the district authorizes. As charter school enrollment increases in the district — it has grown by 287 percent in the past decade, the resolution states — it means fewer students are choosing to attend traditional district schools, creating a financial burden on the district.

Los Angeles, home to the country’s second-largest school district, has more charter schools than any other city in the nation. About 107,000 students attend 228 independent charter schools within LA Unified boundaries, according to district data. Charter schools are publicly funded and independently operated. All Los Angeles charter schools are run by nonprofit organizations. Low-income, black, and Latino students, as well as urban students, in public charters have been shown to make significant academic gains.

California Charter Schools Association’s managing director of regional advocacy, Sarah Angel, said the proposition will only create more divisiveness in the district. “Families don’t need yet another resolution that pits one type of school against another; they need better schools of all kinds,” Angel said. “The sooner the LAUSD board members start listening to the families, the sooner we can all work together to strengthen all schools.”

Angel added, “We’re disappointed to see board member McKenna taking the easy way out and scapegoating charters by supporting legislation that’s designed to undermine even the best charter schools. The bills that McKenna is asking the board to endorse would give the school board complete discretion to shut down high-performing charter schools for political reasons. These bills would enable the board to take away choice from families who are asking for it.”

In his proposition “Accountability and Transparency for Equity and Access at Charter Schools,” which McKenna is asking the board and district to support, he lists charter school growth as a reason to support three California legislators’ actions involving charter school regulations:

  • SB 808: a bill that also would prevent charter schools from appealing to county or state boards of education, which is done frequently when LA Unified rejects a charter petition;
  • AB 1360: a bill that requires charter schools to follow admission, suspension, and expulsion procedures to comply with state and federal guidelines; and
  • AB 1478: a bill that requires charter schools to follow the state Brown Act, which requires open public meetings, and the state public records act.

Richard Garcia, CCSA’s director of elections communications, noted that SB 808 is one of the most aggressive anti-charter bills that the state has seen and “would allow any district, if it didn’t like a charter school, to very easily kill that charter school.”

In a recent letter to the editor in The Orange County Register, Garcia wrote: “Education should not be about politics, but SB 808 makes it very easy to ‘kill’ a charter school simply because a district dislikes the concept, or is politically swayed.”

The bills are being championed by teacher unions California Teachers Association and UTLA. The issues brought up in the resolution are central to the upcoming school board’s runoff election, which is four weeks away. There was no immediate comment from school board president Steve Zimmer, but his challenger, Nick Melvoin, said in an email, “This resolution demonstrates that, regrettably, the current board continues to focus on dividing our community rather than bringing us together. The ‘us vs. them’ mentality that’s behind these anti-charter resolutions doesn’t improve educational opportunities for kids. Instead, it keeps us from learning and sharing what’s working amongst different models of schools.”

Melvoin added, “We need to work to find common ground. Rather than singling out charter schools, I want to ensure all schools are equitable, transparent, accountable, and serving all kids well.”

The resolution is listed on both the morning and afternoon board agendas.

Meanwhile, at the school board’s charter school special board meeting starting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the board is scheduled to take up 23 decisions involving charter schools.

In the afternoon session, the board is being asked by the district’s Charter Division staff to authorize six approvals of schools that will increase charter school enrollment by more than 4,000. Of those schools, four are considered affiliated charter schools that remain under the school board’s control, and two charters are asking for material revisions to expand school enrollment.

The Charter Division staff also is recommending that the school board deny three charter petitions and turn down one proposed merger of charter schools.

Also on the agenda is a rare request by Germain Academy for Academic Achievement to revert to a “non-charter” status in the district.

The board will hold public hearing announcements for 12 schools to become affiliated charters and one to be an independent charter. Those schools are set to be on next month’s agenda for discussion.