LAUSD Is Tormenting Its High-Performing Charter Schools to Death

LAUSD school busEDUCATION POLITICS – The Los Angeles Unified School District and some of the nation’s highest-performing charter schools are engaged in what one report has called a “game of chicken” – with the fate of 14 of these schools and their nearly 4,600 students hanging the balance. But that suggests this is about two parties engaged in dangerous brinksmanship. In fact, it is about charter schools finally standing up to teachers union’s bullying.

Charters are publicly funded schools that offer students an alternative to the local public school monopoly. They have been a particular boon to low-income and special-needs students who are stuck in ill-performing districts. Major school systems, such as LAUSD, and their unions often are hostile to these thriving education alternatives, yet they hold the charters’ fates in their hands – and they use their power to hobble them.

In LA, district staff are requiring the charters to accept 39 pages of newly updated “district-approved language” – regulations that affect nearly every aspect of the schools’ operation. One provision the charters find particularly troublesome is a requirement that allows LAUSD to change the rules any time for any reason.

The stepped-up requirements aren’t that different from what the charter schools have put up with before, but the movement is more united than in the past and has finally had enough. A more favorable political climate has strengthened its resolve. Bottom line: the rules require the charters to comply with increasing portions of the education code, this making them more like public-school appendages than independent entities that can innovate and chart their own path.

The rules increasingly put the charters under the thumb of a frequently hostile school bureaucracy. Just like traditional public schools, they are being forced to focus more time and resources on filling out paperwork and complying with regulatory audits and paperwork requirements. It makes them less able to innovate and focus on the students.

The charters can accept the edicts, or else – the “else” being a denial of the schools’ renewal petition or a refusal by the district to grant petitions that would let new schools begin their operation. The fair-minded LA School Report explains, “An unprecedented number of charter school petitions could be denied (this Tuesday) because Los Angeles charter leaders are standing up against district policies they say require increasing amounts of time and money to satisfy and take away resources from the classroom.”

The head of the leftist, anti-charter “In The Public Interest” offers the full anti-charter spin in the Huffington Post, noting, “A number of Los Angeles charter schools up for renewal this week are throwing a tantrum if they don’t get their way” and “have refused to comply” with LAUSD’s charter policies. Well, it’s hardly a tantrum to contest ham-fisted government rules that are designed to destroy the essence of what they are.

“It’s quite ironic,” said Michael MeCey, director of the Sacramento-based California Parents for Public Virtual Education, which represents online charter families. “For years these districts have told successful charter schools: Either conform to our draconian rules which have created student failure factories or lose your charter.” Such a choice.

So, good for the schools for fighting back, given that conforming to these open-ended rules threatens the very things that make these charters successful. The battle is about their independence, freedom from bureaucracy, ability to experiment, and hold their teachers accountable rather than be subject to the union work rules that coddle poor-performing educators.

The battle has drawn widespread media coverage for local political reasons. The charter-school movement helped elect its first majority of school-board members. So the dispute will highlight whether the new supposedly pro-charter board majority will support these charters in this existential battle. The question is in doubt given that the board last month sided unanimously with the district staff by turning down a high-performing Hebrew-language charter that wouldn’t accept the district’s required language, according to the LA School Report article.

But all is not lost for the charters even if the board votes to deny all the petitions. In fact, a rejection – however unsettling that would be for these local schools – could be good news for them and the state’s charter-school movement by setting a precedent whereby charters could more easily bypass recalcitrant school districts. State law allows charters to appeal their rejection to the county or the state boards of education – both of which are more friendly to charters, and more likely to closely follow California’s generally pro-charter statutes.

This dispute explains why teachers’ unions tried to pass Senate Bill 808 in the last session. Deemed the “charter killer,” the measure would have, in part, prevented “charters who are rejected by their districts from appealing to the county or state,” according to a California Charter Schools Association explanation. The measure would have made the LAUSD board the final arbiter in the current dispute. Fortunately, it died in committee and might not have gotten a signature even if it passed. Gov. Jerry Brown has been supportive of charter schools.

“We are high-performing public schools serving nearly 20,000 students who are mostly students of color in communities with limited access to free, high-quality education options like the ones our schools provide,” declared leaders of LA charter schools in a Nov. 1 media statement. They noted that some of their schools “have been recognized as among the best in the nation” by the U.S. and California departments of education and US News & World Report.

Critics of public schools often note that they put bureaucratic concerns above the education of children. That’s exactly what we’re seeing here, isn’t it? The LAUSD staff has recommended shutting down these schools – not because of any educational problems, but because the charter-school operators are chafing at a set of heavy-handed and bureaucratic rules.

Seriously, who would accept a set of rules that gives one side the freedom to change the rules at any time? “It would be irresponsible for me to include language in our school charter that would include policies that the district hasn’t even invented yet,” said Emilio Pack, CEO of the Stem Preparatory Schools, which are involved in the LAUSD dispute.

While some of the district-approved language requirements are reasonable and not the source of any contention, others go too far. The rules allow for endless investigations, sap time and energy from the classroom and leave the kids and teachers with constant anxiety, as they worry about whether they will have a school to attend the next semester.

Charters thrive because they are freed from the edict-driven, bureaucratic and union-controlled model. Expecting them to thrive while being under the thumb of LAUSD’s sprawling bureaucracy is like expecting an innovative tech firm to succeed while being controlled by the NSA. It’s not a game of chicken, but a game of control. It’s time for such nonsense to end.

Steven Greenhut is contributing editor for the California Policy Center where this perspective originated. He is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

Reformers Achieve School Board Shakeup in Los Angeles

Los-Angeles-Unified-School-District-LAUSDLike many big-city school systems, the Los Angeles Unified School District is in disarray. On track for a graduation rate of 49 percent last June, the district instituted “a “credit-recovery plan,” which allows students to take crash courses on weekends and holidays to make up for classes they failed or missed. Combined with the elimination of the California High School Exit Examination, the classes, which many claimed were short on content, raised the district’s graduation rate to 75 percent practically overnight. In 2015, only in five fourth-graders in Los Angeles performed at or above “proficient” in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Due to out-migration and the proliferation of charter schools, student enrollment in the district—now about 500,000—has dropped nearly 250,000 since 2004.

Fiscally, the situation is no better. In December, LAUSD Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly told the school board that the district may not be able to meet its financial obligations because it faces a cumulative deficit of $1.46 billion through the 2018-2019 school year. While the deficit figure has been disputed in some quarters, there’s no doubt that the district is facing a daunting budgetary crisis.

Many of L.A.’s education woes can be traced to its school board and the United Teachers of Los Angeles union, which has controlled the board for years. And that’s why what happened on May 6 is so remarkable. Two reformers—Nick Melvoin, a former inner-city middle school teacher who lost his job due to union-backed seniority rules, and Kelly Gonez, currently a charter school science teacher—were elected to the LAUSD board. Reformers now constitute a majority of the seven-member governing body in America’s second-largest city.

Melvoin, especially, was vocal in his campaign that the school district needed a major shakeup, calling for more charter schools. He also stressed the need for fiscal reform, including a reworking of the district’s out-of-control pension and health-care obligations. His opponent, sitting board president Steve Zimmer, said in February that the election was about “losing children to the charter movement.” Zimmer garnered 47.5 percent of the vote against Melvoin and two other candidates in the March election, but he needed 50 percent to avoid a run-off in May.

Not only did the young Turks (Melvoin is 31 and Gonez 28) defeat the unions’ candidates; they also raised more money than their opponents, a rarity in school-board elections, where teachers’ unions historically outspend their challengers. But this time, the unions could not compete with the likes of philanthropist Eli Broad, who donated $450,000 to the campaign, and former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, who contributed over $2 million. Additionally, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings donated nearly $7 million since last September to CCSA Advocates, the political wing of the California Charter School Association, which spent nearly $3 million on the school board election.

On the union side, United Teachers Los Angeles was the big spender, pitching in about $4.13 million, according to city filings. But much of this money came from the UTLA’s national partners: the American Federation of Teachers gave UTLA $1.2 million, and the National Education Association contributed $700,000.

The spending disparity and resulting defeat did not sit well with the unions. The NEA speciously claimed that parents and educators were pitted against “a group of out-of-town billionaires,” an ironic charge for a Washington, D.C.-based organization to make. According to its latest Labor Department filing, the NEA sent money to Colorado, Georgia, Maine, and other states in 2016 in attempts to sway voters, donating nearly $27 million in all. And besides, the NEA’s charge was wrong. The bulk of the reformers’ donations came from three Californians—Broad and Riordan are Angelenos and Hastings lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

In a press release, California Teachers Association President Eric Heins reiterated the NEA message about billionaire donations and, alluding to charter schools, added, “public education should be about kids, not profits.” Heins and other union leaders sound this theme constantly, though there is no evidence to support the claim that anyone is getting rich off of charter schools: the California Charter School Association reports that out of the state’s 1,200 charter schools, only six are organized as limited-liability corporations.

“We will fight against privatizing our public schools and against creating ‘separate and unequal’ for our kids,” said UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl—and he’s eager for the fight to begin. In anticipation of the upcoming June 30 expiration of the teachers’ contract, Caputo-Pearl told his union’s leadership last year that, “the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018. There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

With the June 30 deadline looming, and Melvoin and Gonez set to be sworn in on the school board the next day, the fireworks you hear coming from L.A. on July 4 may come only in part from patriotic celebrations. The Los Angeles school district has distinguished itself by poorly educated students, a dubious graduation rate, shrinking enrollment, a serious financial shortfall, and a zealous teachers’ union leader who, more than anything, wants to maintain—and in fact increase—his union’s power, even if it takes a “state crisis” to do so. Should UTLA succeed, it will be a disaster for children, their parents, and the already beleaguered taxpayer.

Teachers Unions Losing Long War Over Parental Choice

LAUSD school busSupporters of charter schools, homeschooling and other forms of school choice are so used to fighting in the trenches against the state’s muscular teachers unions that they often forget how much progress they’ve made in the last decade or so. Recent events have shown the degree of progress, even if they still face an uphill — and increasingly costly — battle.

The big news came from a local school-district race, although it wasn’t just any school district but the second-largest one in the nation. Charter-school supporters won two school board seats (there’s still some vote counting in one of them) in the massive Los Angeles Unified School District, and handily disposed of the union-allied board president. The race was followed nationally, and set the record for the most money spent on a school-board race in the United States, ever.

The total cost was estimated at $15 million, with charter supporters spending $9.7 million, according to estimates from the Los Angeles Times. Typically, choice supporters get eaten alive by the teachers’-union spending juggernaut. It’s usually good news if our side can at least raise enough money to get the message out, but it’s a shocker — in a pleasant way — to find the charter folks nearly doubled the spending of the union candidates.

Various reformers, including Netflix cofounder and Democrat Reed Hastings, invested serious money in the race. He donated $7 million to one charter group, the Times reported. Another top donor was former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a moderate Republican, who spent more than $2 million. Once again, we saw that this was not some right-wing attack on unions. Victory didn’t come cheap, but it’s hard to understate the importance, from a reform perspective, of having a major school board run by a pro-charter majority.

LAUSD’s school Board President Steve Zimmer led the board in March to make a controversial — and largely symbolic — vote in favor of one of the more noxious school-union-backed bills to get a hearing in the state Capitol. Some charter supporters say Senate Bill 808 could be the death knell for most of the state’s charter schools, yet Zimmer’s support for it appears to have badly damaged his re-election chances. That’s another good-news event.

SB 808 is a brazen attempt to bring charter schools under the total control of local school districts, many of which are hostile to their very existence. According to the Senate bill analysis, “This bill requires all charter school petitions to be approved by the governing board of the school district in which the charter school is located, prohibits a charter school from locating outside its authorizer’s boundaries, and limits the current charter appeal process to claims of procedural violations.”

If educators wanted to create a charter school within any district in California and that district is run by a union-controlled school board that hates charters, then there would no longer will be any real workaround if the bill passes. That’s because the bill would wipe out appeals to the county and state level, except for some minor procedural matters.

Furthermore, the bill would let school boards decommission or reject charter schools if they are a financial burden. As the 74 Million blog reports, “that argument could be made about any charter, as state funds follow students as they leave school districts.” The bill allows the board to revoke a school’s charter upon a variety of broad findings, including any improper use of funds or “sustained departure” from “measurably successful practices,” or “failure to improve pupil outcomes across multiple state and school priorities…”

So, one instance of improper use of funds could shut down a school. Imagine if that standard were applied to the LAUSD itself, given its scandals. Charters succeed because they have the freedom to have a “sustained departure” from the failed union-controlled teaching policies. Under this bill, the core of their success could be cause for their shut down. And no school can always improve pupil outcomes in every category. These things take time, and measurements can be subject to interpretation.

In other words, the bill would place the fate of California’s charter schools in the hands of those most committed to their destruction. Given that the makeup of school boards can change every election, it would destroy any security parents could have in these schools: one successful union board election could mean the beginning of the end for the school, as union-backed boards use these new “tools” to dismantle the competition.

But there is good news. The bill was recently shelved, turned into one of those two-year bills that is technically alive but going nowhere fast. The Democrats control the state Capitol and the California Teachers’ Association arguably is the most powerful force under the dome, but many Democrats representing low-income districts aren’t about to mess with successful charters.

In other words, charter schools have come into their own, and we’re probably well past the point that the unions could so directly stomp them. They’ll do what they can to harass and hobble them, but such frontal attacks remain symbolic. And the courts continue to have their say, and frequently end up siding with the charter-school movement.

For instance, in late April the California Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Anaheim parents who want to use the state’s parent-trigger law to turn a traditional public elementary school into a charter school. Under the trigger law, a vote by 50-percent of the student body’s parents can force low-performing schools to change the administration or staff, or revamp themselves into a publicly funded charter with more teaching flexibility.

The school district was adamantly against the change and made various challenges to a 2015 court decision approving the trigger. This is another victory for charter schools in California, although it has to be dispiriting to parents who have to continually fight in the courtroom while their kids get older. It’s been two years since the court approved changes at the school, which already has delayed improved education for two more class years.

But the court’s decision is still encouraging news, as the cultural sands shift in favor of educational alternatives, especially for low-income kids.

California candidates already are lining up for the 2018 gubernatorial race to replace Jerry Brown, who has been friendly to charters. One of the candidates is Delaine Eastin. She’s a close ally of the teachers’ unions. In the early 2000s, when she served as the superintendent of public instruction, Eastin tried to essentially outlaw homeschooling throughout the state.

California’s education code doesn’t directly mention homeschooling. The state’s compulsory education law mentions only an exemption for “children who are being instructed in a private full-time day school by persons capable of teaching … .” Homeschooling parents have long embraced a state-approved work around: They register as small private schools with their respective county boards of education.

Under Eastin’s leadership, however, those homeschools were required to file with the state Department of Education rather than the counties. And then Eastin sent a letter to district officials explaining that homeschooling as it is generally understood (parents without a teaching credential who teach their kids at home) “is not authorized in California, and children receiving homeschooling of this kind are in violation of the state’s truancy laws.”

Yet I talked to Eastin recently and she said she recanted her position long ago after getting quite an education from homeschooling parents. She even described herself as a supporter of charter schools. As with everything, we must follow Ronald Reagan’s advice for dealing with the Soviet Union (“trust, but verify”). But what does it say when one of the most dogged allies of unionized public schools now takes a position acknowledging the importance of parental choice?

It says that we’re making progress. It’s frustrating, plodding and expensive. But such progress should keep charter supporters encouraged as they head into the next round of battles.

This column was first published by the California Policy Center.

How LAUSD’s Chocolate Milk Ban Became an Environmental Disaster

chocolate-milkThe Merriam-Webster dictionary defines idiocy as “extreme stupidity; something that is extremely stupid or foolish.”

That’s the best thing that can be said about the Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision in 2011 to ban chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk. It might be worse than idiocy, but let’s go with that.

LAUSD has more than 640,000 students enrolled, a population that would make it the 26th largest city in America. When the district discards its trash every week, it’s an event.

Republic Services, the company that has had the LAUSD rubbish-hauling contract for nearly five years, estimated last year that the district throws out 600 tons of organic waste, including liquids, every week. Most of that is uneaten food. The liquid is unconsumed milk. White milk.

LAUSD serves milk to students from kindergarten through 12th grade every day for breakfast and lunch. The “milk options” on the menu are “White Low Fat 1%,” “White Fat Free” and “White Non-fat Lactose Free.”

But this segregated milk policy is a failure with the students and a hazard for the environment. It’s not easy to throw away two servings of milk per day for the population of the 26th largest city in America.

At a recent meeting of the LAUSD school board’s Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee, board member and committee chair Monica Ratliff asked Robert Laughton, director of the district’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, about a photo in his report that showed students pouring milk into a trash can.

“Do we throw it down the drain?” she asked. “Where does it go?”

“Originally, they poured it down the drain,” Laughton said, “but the city didn’t like milk going down the sewer system. You can’t put it down the storm drain, that’s against the law. The city isn’t crazy about it going to Hyperion (the wastewater treatment plant) either so now they’re pouring it into black trash bags and putting it into the trash bin. So it’s pretty much going across the counter and into a trash can.”

From there, the milk in the trash bags is hauled to local landfills. That probably includes the notorious Sunshine Canyon, a city- and county-owned facility operated by Republic Services, which takes in about a third of L.A. County’s garbage. It has become Granada Hills’ most obnoxious neighbor due to worsening odors.

If milk is causing problems at Sunshine Canyon, the situation may improve next year. That’s when LAUSD plans to start hauling its organic waste to another county in order to comply with new state regulations for mandatory organic waste recycling. The issue was before the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee because it’s going to cost a lot of money to haul 600 tons per week of organic waste to a composting facility as far away as southern Kern County.

The district would like to reduce food waste. Board member Scott Schmerelson said he’s been trying for a year to help nonprofits pick up unserved meals for food banks. “It’s the most convoluted and difficult process to have the correct insurance to be able to do that, and people just give up,” he said.

Different menus might help. If there’s one thing that’s certain about a “Turkey Pastrami Croissandwich with Cheese” (lunch, grades 9-12, September 27), it’s that a carton of white 1-percent milk will not pair well with it. …

Click here to read the full column from the L.A. Daily News

Susan Shelley is a columnist for the Southern California News Group. Reach her at Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley. 

Are LAUSD graduation rates legitimate or triage?

LAUSD school busFrom a document unearthed by LA School Report in early February, we learned that just 54 percent of Los Angeles high school seniors are on track to graduate this June. The eye-opening 20 point gap from last year’s 74 percent was blamed on the new “A through G” requirements, which ensure that graduating students are ready for acceptance into California public universities. Subsequently, the projected grad rate was raised to 63 percent due to the district’s credit recovery plan, which allows students to take online classes, crash courses on weekends, holidays, etc. The latest happy talk by some is that the grad rate could now be as high as 80 percent.

Upon hearing the latest numbers, school board member George McKenna gushed, “I’m really enthusiastically encouraged.” However, a more skeptical board member, Monica Ratliff, asked, “But are these credit recovery courses really rigorous [college-preparation] courses? How do we know? What is our evidence? How do we make sure the … diploma is the same for everyone?”

Put me squarely in Ratliff’s camp. There are still way too many questions for anyone to be exchanging high-fives at this point.

First, where has the school board been on the implementation of the new “A through G” requirements? The plan was originally formulated in 2005, but the board did nothing to ensure that its schools were following through on them. So now, instead of pushing harder for success, the board lowered the ceiling and decided that in 2017 students could pass with a grade of “D,” instead of the “C” as was in the original plan. (This year’s class had been green-lighted for a “D” passing grade all along.)

Second, last year’s 74 percent grad rate (and whatever it turns out to be this year) is itself a stretch; it would be lower had the state decided not to kill the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE). The test was done away with a few months ago by the California Legislature, which chose to give diplomas retroactively (going back to 2006) to students who passed their coursework but failed the test.

It should be noted that the CAHSEE was hardly a rigorous test. According to the California Department of Education website, the English-language component addressed state content standards through tenth grade and the math part of the test addressed state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I.

Also, if the quickie classes taken on free periods, weekends, online, etc. are effective, what does that say about traditional education? Could it be that traditional classes are not necessary and that students can just take filler classes here and there to get what they need? Former L.A. school board member David Tokofsky is unconvinced, pointing out that, “Credit recovery is not content recovery.”

What the school board won’t acknowledge is that while so many students in L.A.’s traditional schools are having trouble meeting graduation standards, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students attending charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools. Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) conducted an analysis of charter schools in LAUSD in 2014 and found that its students gain significantly more learning time than their peers in traditional public schools. Among its findings are that charter school students gain 79 more days of learning than their traditional school peers in math, as well as 50 additional days of learning in reading. Latino students living in poverty gain 115 additional days of learning in math and 58 additional days in reading. And African-American students living in poverty gain 58 additional days of learning in math and 36 additional days in reading.

The sad truth is that nearly half the students entering into the Cal State system need remediation in math or English. If you are a parent would you rather your kid go to a charter school where they will have good chance to be genuinely prepared for college, or take a chance on LAUSD’s quickie triage program?

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher who taught for over 24 years in LAUSD, is the president of the nonprofit California Teachers Empowerment Network.

Educating Students Not #1 Priority of L.A. School Board and Teachers Union

LAUSD school busOn February 11, LA School Report released an internal Los Angeles Unified School District document which stated that just 54 percent of seniors in L.A. are on track to graduate. The drop off from 74 percent last year was immediately attributed to the new “A through G” requirements, which ensure that graduating students are ready for acceptance into California public universities.

The rather lame, “This is the first year of the plan, so we are just getting the kinks out” excuse does not hold water. The A-G plan was initially formulated in 2005, but the LAUSD school board didn’t pay much attention to it. So instead of ramping up the rigor, they decided that in 2017 students could pass with a grade of “D,” instead of the “C” as was in the original plan. (This year’s class had been green-lighted for a “D” passing grade all along.)

Oh but wait, there is some “good” news. Due to the district’s “credit recovery plan” – allowing students to take crash courses on weekends, holidays, etc. – the graduation rate has just been upgraded to a less cataclysmic 63 percent. Yeah, 63 is better than 54, but it still stinks. And the demise of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) has been left out of the equation. The test was killed a few months ago by the California Legislature and, worse, the legislators chose to give diplomas retroactively (going back to 2006) to students who passed their coursework but failed the test.

The exam was hardly rigorous. According to the California Department of Education website, the English–language component addressed state content standards through tenth grade and the math part of the test addressed state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I. Hence, whatever the graduate rate actually turns out to be in 2016, it would have been lower had the state not knocked out a test that every high school grad should be able to easily pass.

So what’s a school board to do? Simply divert attention away from the problem.

The LAUSD school board’s major agenda item of late has been to slow charter school growth. According to Sarah Angel, managing director of advocacy for the California Charter Schools Association, “We are seeing an unprecedented uptick in the recommendation of denials of charter schools.” She pointed out that the L.A. school board approved 89 percent of the charter school applications it received in 2013, but that rate has been cut in half this year. The anti-charter push came about when the board went bananas over philanthropist Eli Broad’s plan to turn half the schools in L.A. into charters. Nothing will invigorate monopolists like a little old-fashioned competition.

Not to be outdone by the school board’s turf-protection moves, the United Teachers of Los Angeles has swung into action, joining a union-led national demonstration of support for traditional public school districts. Dubbed “walk ins,” these events were led in Los Angeles by UTLA and involved parents walking into schools with their kids at the beginning of the school day on February 17. What this was supposed to accomplish is anyone’s guess.

The union also just raised its dues 30 percent, claiming more money is needed to “battle foes of traditional public education.”

Then, UTLA boss and class warfare expert Alex Caputo-Pearl began beating the tax-the-rich drum at a fever pitch. In an obvious reference to Eli Broad and some other philanthropists, he recently averred, “If billionaires want to be involved, they should not undermine programs, they should contribute their fair share in taxes.” Wondering how he knew what taxes certain individuals paid, I sent an email to Mr. Caputo-Pearl and UTLA’s communication director, inquiring which billionaires he was referring to and how much they paid in taxes. They have not deigned to respond to my query thus far. (Note to AC-P: The rich pay plenty of taxes, but 44 percent of Americans don’t pay any, and rest assured, there are no billionaires in that group.)

As if the school board and teachers union’s effort to damage charters wasn’t enough, there is a plan afoot to get an initiative on the ballot this year that would make charter schools illegal. Why? Because, according to the “Voices Against Privatizing Education” website, charters are “racist  … cherry pick students, falsify records, commit enrollment fraud, close down community schools, destroy jobs, bust up unions and segregate students.” Not surprisingly this bundle of outright lies has the backing of several teachers unions and individual union leaders.

You see, charter schools are not being singled out for demolition because they haven’t worked; they are on the radar of the school board and the union precisely because they have been successful. At the same time that so many students in L.A.’s traditional schools are failing to meet graduation standards, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students at charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools.

Also, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) conducted an analysis of charter schools in LAUSD in 2014 and found that its students gain significantly more learning time than their peers in traditional public schools. Among its findings:

  • Charter school students gain 79 more days of learning than their traditional school peers in math, as well as 50 additional days of learning in reading.
  • Latino students gain 72 more days of learning in math and 43 extra days in reading.
  • Latino students living in poverty gain 115 additional days of learning in math and 58 additional days in reading.
  • African American students gain 14 extra days of learning in both reading and math.
  • African American students living in poverty gain 58 additional days of learning in math and 36 additional days in reading.

Evelyn Macias, mother of Julia Macias, one of nine student plaintiffs behind the Vergara lawsuit, recently penned an op-ed for LA School Report, in which she wrote:

We need to look at state policies, legislation and labor agreements that have, over the course of decades, eroded and diminished the rights of children, low-income working families, and ALL families, by claiming the higher moral ground for employees, while much of our leadership remains silent.

Our children are falling through the cracks, while we stand and watch. Who besides their parents and student advocacy groups will step up?

Who besides parents and certain advocacy groups? Who, indeed? Certainly not the obstructionist school board and teachers union. They are intent on protecting turf and maintaining their monopoly. Educating children is far down on their to-do list. Shame on them.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

CA churches and schools protect illegal immigrants from deportation

from the L.A. Times

Amid a fresh wave of immigration enforcement crackdowns, several powerful organizations in California have flexed their muscle to protect or benefit those present in the state illegally.

The city of Los Angeles has become a focal point for several different efforts, triggered by raids last month that “swept up more than 100 people from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who entered the country and stayed illegally,” as the Los Angeles times noted.

“The seizures motivated church leaders nationwide who say they feel compelled to offer physical protection on their premises even if it violates federal law,” as the paper added, with at least three L.A.-area churches “vowing in recent weeks to offer refuge to Central Americans with deportation orders[.]” It is the Obama administration that has taken heat for the roundups:

“Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics and other Christian leaders across the country say they are outraged with the Obama administration’s actions, said Noel Andersen, a grass-roots coordinator with the Church World Service group for refugees. The group has built a network of sanctuaries for Central Americans targeted by ICE.”

Sanctuary schools

At the same time that California churches have shifted toward the approach that defined the state’s so-called “sanctuary cities,” schools and universities have also advanced complementary new policies. Los Angeles Unified Schools, for instance, have declared themselves to be ICE-free zones. “The school board has banned Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from setting foot on any campus without the district’s permission,” according to Fox 11 Los Angeles. Not only must the Superintendent of Schools approve any ICE presence, by the terms of the new vote, but LAUSD lawyers must as well:

“ICE claims that they do not come to schools looking for students, but parents fear sending their kids to school after information they received of ICE agents conducting a series of raids across the U.S. in January targeting Central American immigrants.”

Simultaneously, administrators in the UC system have forged ahead with plans to extend so-called DREAM loans to students who could potentially be deported. “Officials at California’s four-year public universities are reaching out to an estimated 10,000 undergraduate students who might qualify for a special loan aimed at reducing their tuition,” as U-T San Diego reported, “a program that further distinguishes the state as a national trendsetter in providing services to unauthorized immigrants.”

“The California DREAM loan program’s initial $7 million allotment — $5 million for the UC and $2 million for CSU — will be distributed to eligible applicants in the following weeks,” the paper noted. “The state provided half of the sum and the two university systems covered the other half. The loans are for the 2015-16 academic year, and they’re retroactive to last fall.”

Driving policy

As the public education establishment has come to the aid of would-be deportees, the state of California itself has continued to reward those who go public in some fashion with their legal status. California’s program to extend slightly modified drivers license privileges to otherwise undocumented immigrants far outpaced predicted demand. “Under the new law, 605,000 undocumented residents received licenses, accounting for 40 percent of all of the licenses issued last year,” the International Business Times reported. “Exceeding expectations, even more attempted to obtain a license: Around 830,000 undocumented immigrants have applied for a license since Jan. 2, 2015, the first day of the new policy at the Department of Motor Vehicles.”

The state’s aggressive action on normalizing residents who immigrated unlawfully has been rooted in two realities — first, the relatively vast and stable population of long-time residents crossing over from Mexico and Central America, and, second, the prevailing political agenda of Democrats wielding near one-party control over state policy for years on end. “California is among 12 states that now allow immigrants in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses, areas covering an estimated 37 percent of that population,” the Times observed, citing a recent Pew report. But California has also surpassed all other states in its percentage of unlawful residents eligible for a license, according to the report.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

A Half-Charter School District for L.A.?

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Eli Broad made his fortune in construction and real estate. But he’s building a legacy as a philanthropist and an education reformer. In September, the Broad, a $140 million museum of contemporary art, opened in downtown Los Angeles at the corner of a revitalizing Grand Avenue and 2nd Street, across from the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That same month, the Los Angeles Times published a leaked memo detailing Broad’s proposal to revitalize L.A.’s sclerotic public school system. Working under the auspices of his family foundation, Broad would gather some of the biggest names in private philanthropy — Gates, Walton, Ahmanson, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett, as well as David Geffen, Kirk Kerkorian and Elon Musk — to open 260 new charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District over an eight-year period, with an enrollment goal of at least 130,000 students. The memo discusses how to raise $490 million to pay for the effort, which includes recruiting teachers, acquiring real estate, providing outreach to parents and navigating political battles. If the octogenarian Broad succeeds, half of L.A. Unified’s schools would be charters by the mid-2020s.

Naturally, L.A.’s education establishment detests the idea. The LAUSD board’s president, Steve Zimmer, denounced Broad’s plan as “a strategy to bring down LAUSD.” In November, board member Scott Schmerelson pushed a resolution announcing the board’s opposition to the Broad Foundation’s plan by name. Later, Schmerelson changed the language to say the board opposed any “external initiatives that seek to reduce public education to an educational marketplace and our children to market shares while not investing in District-wide programs and strategies that benefit every student.” As an L.A. Times editorial pointed out, by that standard, “the board would have to oppose many of its own programs — magnet schools, programs to teach students fluency in English and alternative schools for students with chronic behavioral problems.” (In response, Broad’s new educational nonprofit expanded its proposal to support traditional public schools, including pilots, magnets, and other high-performing schools that serve low-income children.)

Former LAUSD superintendent Ramon C. Cortines was more charitable. At a forum with Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez earlier this month, Cortines didn’t ascribe ill motives to Broad, but rather suggested the billionaire was ill advised. “I think somebody brought him an elixir without having it be tested to see if it will really do what it is promised to do,” he said. But United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl was predictably unsparing in his vitriol. “Billionaires should not be running public education,” he said. The union boss also claimed that charter schools are unregulated and “deregulation doesn’t work.” Not to be outdone, retired kindergarten teacher Cheryl Ortega groused, “Charter schools are destroying public education.”

Broad’s plan is ambitious, to be sure. In addition to fighting the school board and union, Broad and his foundation allies would need considerable community support to succeed. Charters already make up a sizable portion of schools in the district: nearly a quarter of LAUSD students — about 150,866 students — are enrolled in 282 charter schools from San Pedro to the San Fernando Valley. Another 40,000 students languish on waiting lists. The demand is there; it’s the supply that’s lacking, though procuring facilities for 260 new schools would take some doing.

California’s 1992 charter school law gives local districts the power to approve or deny charter applications, though applications cannot be denied without good reason, such as questionable management or shady finances. However, the district doesn’t have the last word. Charter applicants have the option to appeal first to the county board of education, and then to the state board of education, if necessary.

A closer look at many of the antagonists’ complaints reveals less anger about billionaires’ meddling in education than envy that Broad’s largess doesn’t extend to traditional public schools. But the schools already receive plenty of money. Official per-pupil spending in Los Angeles is $13,490, which is greater than the national average and doesn’t include expenses such as the cost of building and maintaining schools, interest on various payments, bonds and so forth. When those expenditures get added in, per-pupil spending comes to about $30,000 per year. If the new California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores are any indication, the money is not being well-spent. Only a third of the city’s students performed at grade level in English, while about a quarter performed at grade level or better in math. The district’s charter school students far outpaced their peers in traditional schools.

Don’t believe the anti-reform hype about lax regulation and looming public school destruction, either. Charter schools are public schools, funded by tax dollars and subject to regulation — just not to the same extent as traditional public schools, which are strangled by bulky union contracts that put seniority ahead of competence. Broad’s plan anticipates that 5,000 union members could be put out of work and replaced with staff hired through Teach For America, TNTP (formerly the New Teacher Project), and other groups that work with young instructors. The proposal makes no mention of recruiting teachers from within L.A. Unified.

Clearly, hundreds of new charter schools would find it difficult to fill their ranks with newbies. And therein lies an important but unstated aspect of the Broad plan. Those rehired from the current crop of experienced teachers would be the good and even great ones working now because they are qualified, not because they are protected by the state’s seniority statute. Needless to say, Caputo-Pearl has a different take. “The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union,” he said, “which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions.” That’s absurd, of course. Where is it written that that only unionized teachers speak up about “curriculum and school conditions”?

Some of the naysayers claim that a half-charter district would leave too many children behind, but other cities’ experience suggests otherwise. Washington, D.C., and Detroit have moved in recent years to a 50 percent charter model. New Orleans may offer the best evidence of how charter schools can serve a low-income and underprivileged population. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Crescent City in 2005, a much more vibrant charter system emerged in the aftermath. Today, 92 percent of the city’s students are enrolled in a charter school. Ten years ago, 62 percent of schools in Orleans Parish were failing. Today, just 7 percent of schools are failing. During the same period, the portion of city schools with students performing at or above grade level rose from 35 percent to 62 percent. As it happens, Paul Pastorek, the former superintendent of public education in Louisiana who helped oversee the turnaround, has been appointed to lead Broad’s effort in L.A.

Philanthropy has the power to transform institutions for the better. More charters in Los Angeles would certainly disrupt the dismal status quo—likely to the advantage of good teachers, their students, and taxpayers. Opponents see Broad’s proposal as a way of “bringing down LAUSD,” but building up alternatives to a dysfunctional system may be exactly what L.A.’s children need.

After closing all schools, LAUSD finds threat not credible

As reported by the L.A. Daily News:

It was a tale of two cities, with New York officials shrugging and Los Angeles officials quaking.

The threat came via email to Los Angeles Unified School District board members. It named schools. It talked about bombs and guns. It came less than two weeks after San Bernardino — just about 60 miles east of downtown — was rocked by a massacre that killed 14 and was linked to international terrorism. It came less than two weeks after an American casualty in the Paris terrorist attack was buried in Downey.

It was enough.

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines decided to close more than 900 schools, an unparalleled act at the nation’s second largest district. More than 700,000 students were suddenly given the day off and many parents were given to juggling anxiety, both for the threat and their disrupted workday. …

Click here to read the full story

L.A. Unified In Danger of Bankruptcy

Los-Angeles-Unified-School-District-LAUSDHere’s an old tune you’ve heard before: The Los Angeles Unified School District could face bankruptcy with one of the chief contributing factors being high pensions and health care costs for retired employees.

The L.A. School Board will discuss a new report raising that ominous red flag this week.

Pensions are not the only issue driving the school district toward insolvency. The report cited declining enrollment as a factor driving down revenue. Enrollment is falling due not only to fewer potential school age children but the fact that many students have decamped to independently operated charter schools.

Still, the pension issue is cited as part of the problem as it has been with so many financially struggling government agencies.

One year ago this week, the University of California announced it would have to seek a series of tuition increases. At the time, the UC Chief Financial Officer cited retirement costs in explaining the need for tuition increases. He said tuition hikes could be avoided if the state helped with retirement costs.

City bankruptcies or near bankruptcies in California also highlighted the pension burden. Stockton, for example, was spending $13 million in pensions at the turn of this century, a decade later the cost was $30 million and was predicted to double again in only a few years.

The possibility of the state’s largest school district facing bankruptcy will play into the push to extend the Proposition 30 tax increases beyond the date the so-called temporary taxes were to end. Voters won’t hear much from supporters of the tax extension about funding pensions – the campaign rhetoric will be about the students – but pensions are a major factor for those supporting the extension.

Last January, the Manhattan Institute’s Steve Malanga wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that a good portion of the original Prop. 30 tax increase was dedicated to pensions. (Disclosure: I was quoted in the article.) He wrote that the problem of school pension costs would continue and an effort would be made to continue the Prop. 30 tax increase to cover those costs.

Now it is almost certain a form of the Prop 30 extension will be on the November 2016 ballot just as he predicted. Malanga concluded his piece: “It’s a reminder that in some places the long struggle to pay off massive government pension debt is just starting.”

It is not starting but continuing in the Golden State.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily