Public education supporters in Los Angeles are shocked and gratified to learn that the staff of the Los Angeles school district has recommended rejection of several charter school petitions to be considered at next week’s school board meeting. For years, it seemed there was no reason to ever expect LAUSD to reject charters and recent reports show senior district staff coordinating with Eli Broad's nonprofit to expand charter choices even as it grapples with decreasing enrollment.
The board will decide whether the staff recommendations will stand at the Tuesday, October 18 meeting. Presumably, that meeting will include heated discussion among the school board and district staff, as well as comments from charter advocates and the public. It’s common for charter schools to organize large showings of supporters at their hearings, usually with matching t-shirts.
The recommendations were posted on the district’s website today. The district’s Charter Schools Division made the recommendations after facing heavy criticism for its perceived mishandling of oversight responsibilities in the wake of financial scandals at El Camino Real Charter High School.
The recommendation which has drawn the most speculation is the one to approve the issuance of a Notice of Intent to Revoke the charter of El Camino Real.
Staff has also recommended the denial of the renewal of three Magnolia Science Academy Schools, part of the Gulen chain of charters which are associated with the Turkish Imam suspected of organizing a coup against the government of Turkey. That California chain has been under fire since a legal complaint was filed last February, calling on the California Department of Education to investigate. The complaint was first reported on the PSconnect blog. It cited more than accusations, and included findings made in a state audit such as 69% of Magnolia's financial transactions being unaccounted for; that Magnolia routinely awarded large contracts to vendors with overlapping connections to their own employees and board of directors; and that Magnolia had illegally used hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to pay for visas for Turkish nationals. A report in today’s Los Angeles Times shows that number is closer to $1 million.
Other charter proposals facing the new wrath of the LAUSD: WISH Charter is hoping to add more grades to its school. Citizens of the World wants an additional school and to grow an existing school. Celerity Dyad and Celerity Troika schools are petitioning to renew their charters. Staff is recommending that the board reject all those petitions.
It is unprecedented in recent memory for the LAUSD staff to recommend rejection of so many charters since the district began instituting market based reforms years ago. A top priority of so-called reformers is charter school expansion, and the wind has been at their backs. One year, LAUSD voted for 67 out of 72 charters. California lifted its cap on charters when Netflix founder Reed Hastings forced the California legislature to accept a measure similar to the one currently on Massachusetts' November ballot. Senator Elizabeth Warren has taken a stand against that measure, called Question 2, and it's more and more common to see criticism of charter schools in major news outlets. The Washington Post recently published two pieces (here and here) by the Network for Public Education's Executive Director, Carol Burris. Capital and Main, a leading Sacramento political blog, has been posting a series (here and here) featuring the billionaires funding California's charter industry, and the NAACP has recommended its board pass a moratorium on new charters. (Diane Ravitch posted phone numbers to call to express support for the moratorium.)
Whether next week’s agenda represents the beginning of a reversal of fortune for the charter juggernaut in Los Angeles remains to be seen.