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Los Angeles: UTLA Calls for Halt to Charter Expansion

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Just released by the United Teachers of Los Angeles:

Contact: Anna Bakalis

UTLA calls for immediate cap on charter school growth in Los Angeles and to invest in existing schools

UTLA is calling on civic leaders to place an immediate cap on charter school growth within the Los Angeles Unified School District to address the unregulated expansion of charter operators and its impact on the sustainability of existing district and charter schools.

“The need for our students to have a stable public education system in Los Angeles must be a priority over the aggressive expansion of charter school growth, and that means an immediate halt to opening new charter schools,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said.

Los Angeles is home to 224 charter schools – schools that are funded by public dollars but privately managed — more than any other city in the country. Charter schools in LAUSD have grown more than 250% over the past 10 years and siphon more than $600 million from our existing public schools. That explosive growth has happened without oversight or analysis of the educational and economic impact on the community. Schools are being built without simple questions being answered: Does this neighborhood need another school? Can the land be used for something more impactful for the community, such as housing or green space? In addition, Opening new schools has duplicative administrative costs, facility costs, and so on, further reducing money available for students’ needs.

UTLA represents educators who work in district and in charter schools, and the call for a cap was developed in consultation with the UTLA Charter Educator Standing Committee.

“The lack of oversight means an oversaturation of new schools opening in certain areas, and existing schools suffer underenrollment as a result,” said Carlos Monroy Jr., a Resources Specialist Program teacher at El Camino Real Charter High School in the San Fernando Valley. “We simply cannot continue to have the unregulated growth of new charter schools at the expense of our current students. It is not sustainable for existing district schools or charter schools alike. We need to prioritize investing in the schools we have now.”

Declining student enrollment impacts district and charter schools

The unregulated growth of charters has occurred while shifting demographics and the high cost of housing has meant that overall student enrollment in LAUSD is declining, leaving schools to fight for resources and students. In 2002-2003, the total student enrollment in both district and charter schools in the LAUSD geographic area was 746,831. In 2018-2019, estimated total enrollment has dropped to 609,756—despite the fact there are 200 more charter schools now than in 2002-2003.

This summer, a PUC charter school in Eagle Rock closed its doors because of underenrollment on the fourth day of school, without any notice to students and parents. When a charter school closes during the academic year—due to financial insolvency, misconduct, or low enrollment—students’ academics and families’ lives are severely disrupted.

Unchecked charter school growth hits low-income communities facing gentrification especially hard.

“My school is located in Lincoln Heights, and some of our students’ families are struggling with the harsh realities of housing costs rising substantially,” says Sylvia Cabrera, a charter school teacher at Alliance College-Ready Middle Academy #5. “It seems like every week we get an email notifying us of another student unenrolling because their family is being displaced. Between more charter schools being authorized and the impact of gentrification, we are finding it more and more difficult to meet our enrollment capacity with each passing year as the student population in the community declines.”

Expansion pulls resources from public school system

University of Oregon Professor Gordon Lafer, author of “Breaking Point: The High Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts,” confirms that the expansion of charter schools pulls significant resources from the public school system. District and charter school funding is largely determined by the number of students enrolled at a school, and that per-pupil funding covers much more than the direct costs of educating a particular student. For every student who leaves a public school, there is revenue lost that is greater than the cost of that student. That translates into cuts in schools to libraries, special education, art and music classes, and other essential student programs

Charter schools drift from original mission of innovation

The mission of many charter schools has drifted from teacher-driven laboratories meant to inform and improve public school education to the establishment of a competing system of corporate-managed schools that too often deprive parents and educators of any real input. These forces, combined with the challenge of inadequate funding, are undermining the educational opportunities of our LA student community and the long-term sustainability of the public school district as an essential civic institution.

Charter industry prioritizes expansion over student needs

The proliferation of charter schools is driven by the California Charter Schools Association; its wealthy benefactors, such as Eli Broad; and the LAUSD School Board members it elects through massive political donations. CCSA’s political support has secured the group and like-minded organizations exclusive access to elected board members. Through a public records request, the news organization ChalkBeat obtained a lengthy digest of emails between former CCSA CEO Myrna Castrejón, her staff, and school board members Monica Garcia and Nick Melvoin.

LAUSD Supt. Austin Beutner, a former Wall Street banker with no educational experience, is developing a plan to break LAUSD into 32 networks and build a so-called portfolio district—a Wall Street model that has closed neighborhood schools, turned over more schools to unaccountable private operators, increased segregation, and undermined learning conditions in other cities.

“LAUSD has been a target of unregulated charter expansion by groups like CCSA and wealthy privatizers Eli Broad, who see public education as an industry to be broken up rather than reinvested in and supported,” Caputo-Pearl said. “We call on our civic leaders to finally address the rampant expansion of charter operators at the expense of our current schools.”

Watch the press conference live here.

UTLA, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union local, is proud to represent more than 35,000 teachers and health & human services professionals in district and charter schools in LAUSD.

Anna Bakalis
UTLA Communications Director
(213) 305-9654 (c)
(213) 368-6247 (o)
[email protected]

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