Wednesday, July 23, 2008


GIVE CHARTERS THEIR DUE: If the LAUSD wants a $3.2-billion bond measure, it must fairly fund these independent schools.


July 23, 2008 - For years, the Los Angeles Unified School District has been shorting charter schools on space to house their students, and a new $3.2-billion bond measure doesn't go nearly far enough to make up for it. Without a full $300 million earmarked for charters, a seat for them on the bond oversight committee and more authority over how to spend the money, the new bond will be difficult for this page and the voters to accept.

The district's 2005 bond measure, for $4 billion, set aside a laughable $50 million for charter schools. We complained at the time but believed school construction was too important. Charter schools are still waiting for the board to release most of those funds. Meanwhile, charter operators complain that the district, rather than giving them money for facilities, forces them to buy its used furniture and in one case placed a school in an old administrative office -- and charged for it.

Earlier this year, Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines pulled back on an agreement to offer space in district schools to seven charters, saying it would disrupt operations at the schools by, for example, limiting their open-enrollment periods. Cortines' move was understandable; even though state law and a legal settlement require the district to provide space, it should not have to do so at the expense of its own students.

And yet the edict must be honored. Charter schools already get about $3,000 less per student than the district receives in funding. The district, meanwhile, largely uses bonds to pay for housing its students, while charters have to devise their own campuses.

Parents in L.A. Unified have repeatedly demonstrated that they want more of these innovative, independent schools, which already educate 7% of the district's students and are expanding rapidly. The school board has the perfect opportunity to do the right thing with its new bond measure, but already the attempts to shortchange charters have begun. An expected allocation of $300 million for charter schools now might be halved, with the other half going to the district partnership schools.

Charters seek $200 million for direct school construction. An additional $100 million in seed money to obtain loans would eventually be returned to the district. This is the minimum the bond should provide. In addition, charter funds should be given as outright grants that allow the schools to build and equip their own campuses. And the bond committee should include a member from a charter school to act as an ongoing advocate.

We looked the other way on this injustice three years ago. Not this time.



LA Daily News Op-Ed by Caprice Young

Caprice Young is former president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education and current president/CEO of the California Charter Schools Association,

Juy 23, 2008 - Last week the Los Angeles public school system was rocked with sobering news: According to the state, one in three Los Angeles Unified students is dropping out. But buried deep within the data was a sign of encouragement - charter high schools are showing strong signs of reducing this trend. In fact, every charter high school in Los Angeles Unified last year reported a dropout rate significantly lower than not only the school district's average, but the state's as well.

Yet despite this and other positive developments within the growing charter school movement, critics continue to cast aspersions on charter schools, repeating the same tired arguments that they've unsuccessfully used for years.

These arguments basically boil down to four points: Charter schools make their decisions locally, they select the best students, they're smaller, and they cause the district to lose funds as taxpayer money follows students to the schools they choose.

Yes, charter schools get to make their decisions locally, and since they're held accountable for how their students learn, this school-site control encourages innovation that leads to greater learning.

In contrast, a public-school system where seven school board members make every decision affecting nearly 700,000 students will have difficulty improving student achievement. I remember serving on the school board, when seven grown-ups would spend half a day debating the merits of whether schools should use forks or sporks during lunch. These decisions and vastly more important ones that impact learning should be left to educational professionals.

The second argument of preferential student-selection has consistently been debunked by academic research. Charter schools accept all students using public lotteries, not special selection. A 2005 Rand Corp. report again put this myth to rest when it found that in California, "African-American and Hispanic students were more likely to transfer to a charter school than other students, and this was especially true for African-American students." This underscores why public school choice is critical to closing the achievement gap, considering that a staggering 41.6 percent of African-American students drop out of district schools.

Third, it's unfair to dismiss charters' higher performance simply because they're smaller. Parents want the option of enrolling their child in a smaller, safer public school where every teacher knows every student by name. They know that when children feel safe, chances are greater that learning will occur - and the data prove this.

Last, it's true that charter schools do take away some control from downtown headquarters. In charters, money is spent on students, rather than in bureaucratic red tape.

Critics such as LAUSD school board member Julie Korenstein need to ask themselves what's worse - seeing thousands of students choose charter schools, or watching tens of thousands of Los Angeles Unified students drop out of school altogether?

Commenting on last month's report that found that most charter schools are academically outperforming their neighborhood peers, Senior Deputy Superintendent Ray Cortines said, "I think that what it says is that they have some best practices, and those should be replicated in the district in all schools. I would say the same about islands of excellence in the Unified district. ... We need to each learn from each other."

Cortines is right. Let's stop attacking each other with tired falsehoods that don't stand the test of credibility. Let's focus as partners on doing more of what's working for kids.

No comments: