This is the first section of my paper: Education for Sale: LAUSD Throws the Fight in Its Competition with Charters.
Despite the fact that the Los Angeles Times receives funding for their education coverage from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, their reporters were still able to publish a leaked copy of the foundation’s “Great Public Schools Now” plan to “place half of the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District into charter schools over the next eight years.” While the LAUSD is already “the largest district charter school authorizer in the nation, with about 250 independent and affiliated charter schools serving over 130,000 students”, this initiative would “accelerate charter schools’ existing growth plans by providing financial capital and addressing three major growth barriers: facilities, talent and the political climate.” Ultimately, the foundation hoped that their plans “would serve as a model for all large cities to follow.”
Even before the implementation of Broad’s plan, the District was said to be in a dire financial condition with some estimates that “a $333 million budget deficit looms in the 2017-2018 school year and the shortfall is predicted to balloon to $600 million two years later.” One reason for these shortfalls is the significant lost revenue as a result of declining enrollment, about half of which can be “attributed to the growth in charter enrollment”. In “the past six years, the District has lost almost 100,000 students” and “this trend is likely to continue if not accelerate in light of a recently released charter expansion plan.” Robert Ross, President of the California Endowment, has expressed concern “that opening large numbers of new charters “actually leaves children who don’t have access to those charter schools with a lower quality of education than they had before.”
This loss of students is exacerbated by the fact that charters often cherry-pick the easiest to educate students, leaving the District with higher per pupil costs. As an example, Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS), which bills itself as “the largest single education reform effort in the country”, states that 301 of its 4,300 students received special education services in the 2014 – 2015 school year. This represents 7% of the student population. In comparison, 12.7% of the students in LAUSD district schools receive these services. For independent charters, those with special needs represent 10% of the students enrolled.
The raw data only tells part of the story as the amount of intervention required varies from student to student. Specifically, there are two categories. One consists of those with moderate to severe disabilities who require an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) that is “developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law…receives specialized instruction and related services”. The second category contains those who do not need specialized instruction but instead receive a 504 plan that specifies “accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment”. In the case of GHCHS, the data provided includes both “IEPs and 504s” without a breakdown of how many students are being served by each. The former Executive Director of LAUSD’s Special Education Department, Sharyn Howell, did not provide exact numbers, but confirms “that District schools have a higher number of students with moderate to severe disabilities.” This conforms to a report which found that “there is evidence that charter schools in large urban districts and throughout the country tend to enroll disproportionately greater numbers of students with high incidence disabilities – such as specific learning disabilities – and lower numbers of students with low incidence, more significant disabilities (e.g., intellectual disabilities and autism) with more educationally intensive and costly needs.”
Another criticism of the charters is that they engage in the practice of “pushing or counseling [students with disciplinary or academic challenges] out [after they have been enrolled], a process that [critics] say inflates academic standing.” LAUSD Board member and former school principal Scott Schmerelson has publicly related his experience of having former charter school students looking to enroll at his school just before standardized testing time because they had been told that they were not a good fit for the charter. A 2013 study of traditional public schools and charters within the LAUSD found that charters suspended more students at the Elementary, Middle School and High School levels.
These policies create both direct and indirect costs to the District. For example, if charter students are counseled out or expelled because of poor attendance, then the LAUSD will end up with students who are more likely to skip school. Since state funding is based on attendance and not enrollment, the District will average less revenue per student. Additionally, if charters are able to artificially inflate their average test scores, they will look more desirable to prospective parents. This not only results in lower enrollment in District schools but fuels the transfer of easier to educate students to the publicly funded private schools. Eventually, the District’s budget will collapse under the weight of more costly students.
Next: Lack of Oversight
I am a candidate for the District 2 seat on the LAUSD School Board, founder of Change The LAUSD and member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. You can voice your support for my campaign through DFA. Opinions are my own. You can interact with me on Twitter @ChangeTheLAUSD