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Unions Strike a Major Blow in Long Battle Against LA Charter Schools
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Published 2 months ago on
February 18, 2024

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New LA school board majority aims to evict some charter schools.

Resolution imposes tight limits on housing charters within traditional schools.

New policy affects over one-third of LAUSD’s 850 campuses.


Although California’s public schools are supposed to prepare millions of youngsters for adult lives, the quality of their educations is often overshadowed as adults squabble over money and power.

Author Profile Picture
Dan Walters

CalMatters

Opinion

There’s no better example of that syndrome than the decades-long battle between school unions, particularly those representing teachers, and advocates of charter schools, public schools that exist outside the traditional governance systems and receive shares of state and local education appropriations.

Charter advocates contend that they can better concentrate on educational outcomes if they are free from the bureaucracies and internal politics of school districts. Unions counter that charters cherry-pick their students and undermine the financial underpinnings of traditional schools.

The charter school conflict has figured prominently in campaigns for the state superintendent of schools. The current superintendent, Tony Thurmond, is a former state assemblyman who had strong backing from unions when he defeated charter school advocate Marshall Tuck in 2018 and is now running for governor in 2026.

Charter School War in Los Angeles

Because of its size, its demographic complexity, its history of poor academic outcomes, and its dramatic decline in enrollment, Los Angeles Unified School District – the nation’s second-largest system – has been a particularly contentious arena for the charter school war.

It’s been primarily waged in the periodic elections for the school board’s seven seats, with millions of dollars spent by the contending factions in hopes of tilting the board one way or the other. Charter advocates, with backing from some powerful political figures, had been fairly successful in carving out a friendly majority, leading to approval for dozens of charter schools, many of them housed within traditional schools.

However, the unions won the last round of contests and last September the four union-allied members struck back with a resolution imposing tight limits on housing charters within traditional schools, potentially affecting thousands of students.

The resolution directed Superintendent Alberto Carvalho – who’s obviously caught in the middle of the skirmishing – to write specific language implementing the majority’s demand.

Two weeks ago, Carvalho unveiled the new policy, barring charters from sharing space in schools considered to be serving vulnerable students, affecting more than one-third of LAUSD’s 850 campuses. The school board narrowly approved it this week. About 21 charter schools would be immediately affected, forcing them to find new quarters. That’s nearly half of the district’s 52 charter schools that share campuses and serve roughly 11,000 students.

“This is one of those situations that, no matter what, we’re going to have some people dissatisfied on either side,” Carvalho said. “I believe that what has been presented may in many ways alleviate some of the issues. However, we need to be vigilant and honest about unintended consequences of well-intentioned policies.”

Interests of Children Fall Prey to Adult Political Goals

The board’s chief advocate for the new policy is Jackie Goldberg, a former teacher and assemblymember.

“Schools that are struggling the most to educate our students should not be added, continuously, more things to do like figure out a bell schedule, and how to share the cafeteria and how to share the playground,” she said after Carvalho presented the policy.

Obviously, the charter school advocates won’t meekly accept the board’s decree and could sue. The California Charter School Association sent a letter to the board, citing a state law that requires school districts to provide space for charters.

Myrna Castrejón, the association’s president, said the new policy would damage children who would benefit from enrolling in a charter school.

“In the worst-case scenario, of course, the schools are literally evicted from campuses,” she said.

The LAUSD situation is a classic example of how adults pretend to serve the interests of children while pursuing their own political goals.

About the Author

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more columns by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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