By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/N3dHKi
Jason Espinoza, 10, right, enjoying class at Celerity Nascent Charter School in Los Angeles. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times / August 30, 2012)
August 28, 2012, 12:05 a.m. :: Charter schools are pulling in so many onetime private school students that they are placing an ever-greater burden on taxpayers, who must fund an already strained public education system, according to research released Tuesday.
The study by a Rand Corp. economist found that more than 190,000 students nationwide had left a private school for a charter by the end of the 2008 school year, the most recent year for which data was available.
And charter schools have exploded in number since that time. The Los Angeles Unified School District has more charters, 193, than any system in the country.
This student migration is especially apparent in large urban areas, where charters are drawing 32% of their elementary grade enrollment from private schools, study author Richard Buddin said. The percentage for middle schools is 23%, and 15% for high schools
Charters are free, independently managed public schools that are exempt from some rules governing traditional schools. Most are not unionized.
FOR THE RECORD:
Charter schools: An Aug. 28 article in the LATExtra section about a study of the effects of charter schools on public and private school enrollment referred to Richard Buddin as a Rand Corp. economist. While the study identified him as such, Buddin's affiliation with Rand ended Jan. 31 and Rand had no role in Buddin's study. The article also said there are 193 charter schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District. There are 186.
About 10% of students nationwide attend private schools — a number that is dropping.
Between 2000 and 2010, for example, the number of students enrolled in Catholic schools declined by 20%, according to church educators. In the final five years covered by Buddin's study, which looked at data from 2000 through June 2008, more than one-fourth of the students who left Catholic schools enrolled in nearby charters.
The transfer of students from private schools to charters has increased public-funding obligations by $1.8 billion, said analyst Adam B. Schaeffer of the libertarian Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom. Cato paid for the study.
"On average, charter schools may marginally improve the public education system. But in the process they are wreaking havoc on private education …driving some schools entirely out of business," Schaeffer said.
"For too long, charters have been seen as all positive," he added. "This reports highlights that there are trade-offs."
Buddin, who is not affiliated with Cato, was circumspect in interpreting the numbers. He noted, for example, that an influx of politically sophisticated private school families might generate support for increased public school funding.
The study's findings were no surprise to L.A. Unified school board member Steve Zimmer.
"Parents of means have always had choice when it comes to schools," he said. "The difference is that with the charter movement, they don't have to pay for it."
Most charter students in fact come from traditional public schools. One consequence of that, Zimmer said, has been teacher layoffs within the district. It also has meant less money coming into L.A. Unified, leaving the district with fewer resources to serve its most needy students.
But charter advocates countered that the growth of those organizations was a testament to their academic success and popularity with families, and that the movement should be nurtured and emulated.
"We think we are bolstering the public school system by creating new options within it and showing that it can be reinvented in ways to better serve parents and communities," said Jed Wallace, chief executive of the California Charter Schools Assn.
Letters: Charters, private schools and choice
August 31, 2012 | http://lat.ms/Q75xAf
Someone needs to officially diagnose the Los Angeles Unified School District with bipolar disorder.
Instead of celebrating the fact that, because of the proliferation of charter schools within the district, "parents of means" are regaining enough confidence in public education to re-enroll their children in public schools, L.A. Board of Education members like Steve Zimmer are complaining that the influx of these students is putting a financial burden on the district. Huh? Isn't this the same school district that once complained that because these parents were putting their kids into private schools, the district was receiving less state funding?
Zimmer's comments symbolize why "parents of means" such as myself are proud that their children are attending a thriving L.A. Unified charter school in spite of certain board members' barely-unspoken disdain for charters and the impediments they routinely place in the paths of charter schools' roads to success.
When I went to L.A. public schools during the Great Depression, they were considered some of the best in the country. There were very few alternatives. Now I read that L.A. Unified charter schools are taking more and more students from private schools.
Does this mean charter schools are as good or better than private ones? What if all L.A. Unified schools were better than private schools? Wouldn't that be a shame.
Prior to Proposition 13's passage in 1978, California public school districts had more control over their money. All educational staff were involved in decision making that best served the needs of the students. We always had parental involvement, which was very empowering.
We had excellent schools before funding authority went to Sacramento, a transition that turned the educational system upside down.
Now union-unfriendly charter schools are the big trend. Another trend is to demonize unions as the culprit for this educational and economic disaster. As in everything, there needs to be a balance, but teachers' unions are an important cog in the educational machine.