Charter school advocates in Los Angeles have proposed an outline that would place half the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District in charter schools over the next eight years.
They believe that this move would serve as a model for the rest of the country, according to Howard Blume of The Los Angeles Times. The report revealed that the locally-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, along with other foundations, were responsible for the proposal.
In the 44-page report, which was published June 2015 and was subsequently obtained by The Los Angeles Times, a campaign of fundraising and encouraging political awareness is outlined to reach the reform goal. The cost of this process would be $490 million, said the report. Listed as potential donors are Bill and Melinda Gates, Bloomberg, Annenberg, and Hewlett organizations.
Some of the individuals targeted for fundraising were Eli Broad, Irvine Co. head Donald Bren, former entertainment mogul David Geffen and Tesla's Elon Musk. It also described strategies such as grassroots organizing and civic engagement to get parents interested in the charter school movement.
Already, LAUSD has the largest charter school program in the country, with approximately 16% total enrollment. Getting to 50% would mean adding 260 charter schools with 130,000 seats, the report said.
Charters are privately run, but publicly financed schools that are not bound to some of the regulations that traditional schools must follow. Also, most charters are not unionized.
In Los Angeles and across the nation, charter schools have been a point of controversy for years. But the schools have continued to expand thanks to support from the White House and philanthropy such as funding from the Broad Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. The Broad Foundation has granted funds to support Education Matters, a new Times digital initiative to create more in-depth reporting on schools.
A few hundred teachers protested the rapid growth of charter schools on Sunday in downtown Los Angeles at the Broad museum.
"Charter schools are destroying public education," retired kindergarten teacher Cheryl Ortega said at the demonstration. "Mr. Broad wants to own 50% of our schoolsâ¦. That's untenable."
Broad responded by saying:
"As families demand high-quality public school options — and more students want to attend public charter schools, we want to support them in meeting that demand. Our only interest is in supporting the growth of high-quality public schools."
LAUSD has faced several technological fiascoes in recent years, including a billion dollar iPad initiative that failed. Students in the district also score lower on tests than the overall statewide student average, reports Nicole Gorman for Education World. But critics of the charter school movement say the expensive plan will create an even further divide between children of motivated families and children in need. Charter schools have the option of turning away students with behavioral problems, which would put pressure on LAUSD, already struggling to teach children in need.
Steve Zimmer, president of the LA Unified school board, calls the Great Public Schools Now Initiative "a strategy to bring down LAUSD that leaves 250,000 kids vulnerable to damage." Zimmer adds that the plan is destructive and ignores the needs of thousands of other children who are living in segregation and significant poverty, writes Michael Janofsky, reporting for LA School Report.
He called the plan a proposal for some kids, when, in fact, LAUSD needs a plan for all kids. He stated that submitting "a business plan that focuses on market share is tantamount to commodifying our children." The authors of the report cite data from the California Charter Schools Association that shows charter students generally score better on statewide tests and have higher graduation rates. Still, says Zimmer, not all charter schools out-perform traditional schools.
The barriers to be crossed before the report's goals are met are include finding suitable facilities for the new schools; finding effective teachers and school leaders to meet the needs of the huge expansion; finding quality charter operators; and raising the money needed for the initiative to succeed.
KPCC Public Radio's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports the proposal could take tens of thousands of students out of LAUSD classrooms, which serve more than 600,000 students and employ approximately 30,000 teachers. When students leave a school district, their per-pupil funding goes with them even when they move to charters. A departure of students as large as the report suggests would mean serious financial loss for the districts they exit.
"It [the proposal] needs to be a conversation about ways we can come together as a community instead of going to war with each other," Zimmer said.