By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 6, 2008 - They were well-organized, exuberant and very, very loud. Chanting "Support the law, support our charters," several thousand charter school parents, students and staff marched through downtown Los Angeles on Thursday to protest what they said was inequitable funding for their campuses.
"This is the beginning of something really big," Jacqueline Elliot, a co-founder of Partnerships to Uplift Communities, said to the demonstrators, who filled the street and sidewalks for a solid block in front of the Junipero Serra State Building. Elliot's organization runs eight schools in northeast Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.
Charter schools are public campuses that are typically authorized by local school districts but run independently. There are more than 100 authorized by the Los Angeles Unified School District, and they have grown increasingly restive over their difficulty in finding sites for their campuses.
They say the district is violating the provisions of Proposition 39, a measure passed in 2000 that requires school districts to provide space for charters.
This week, Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines wrote a memo reaffirming a decision to deny space in district schools to seven charters, saying it would hamper the traditional schools' ability to function.
Caprice Young, a former school board president who is now head of the California Charter Schools Assn., said after the demonstration that she considered Cortines' move illegal.
She also said the district refuses to release facility funds that are owed to the charter schools, and that charters receive $3,000 less per pupil than in traditional public schools.
She said the charter operators organized the march from Los Angeles Unified headquarters to the state building because "the only way to be heard at the L.A. Unified School District is with a stampede or a lawsuit."
Interviewed later, Cortines said that he disagreed with Young on some specifics, such as the right of the seven schools to space on district campuses, but that he agreed with her overarching point that charter schools deserved equity.
"I don't see them as charter school students or L.A. Unified students; I see them as students of Los Angeles, and we need to make sure that there is proper, adequate space for the education of all the students," he said.
John Creer, director of planning and development for the district, said L.A. Unified had released $58 million out of $120 million in bond funds that are earmarked for charter schools, and has just formed a group to decide how to spend the rest.