There's a new push in the Los Angeles and Oakland public school systems to give charter schools more access to district students -- pitting public school advocates against self-described education reformers.
In Los Angeles, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, backed by wealthy charter school advocates, confirmed a massive plan last month that would double the number of charter schools in the city over the next eight years.
Charters are publicly funded but independently operated, meaning they do not have to follow all the rules and regulations that govern traditional schools.
Los Angeles already has more charter schools than most cities in California.
“When you have more charters, the performance of the school district actually improves,” says Gregory McGinity, executive director of the Broad Foundation.
The notion that charters improve a district’s performance is still up for debate, but the idea of getting Los Angeles Unified School District’s support to enroll more than half of the district’s 1 million students in charter schools would certainly reshape the country’s second-largest school system.
“If we’re going to make sure that every child has access to a high-quality school, we have to do it together,” McGinity says.
L.A. school district officials are fighting back, and many parents believe creating more charters is not the answer because these schools do not guarantee student success.
“It takes something more than that,” says Rob McGowen, a parent organizer for African-American families in South L.A. “It takes a belief that a black child is a human being and is capable.”
Meanwhile, in the Oakland Unified School District, many parents are opposing a controversial plan that would change the district’s enrollment process so families could put in for district and charter schools with one application.
Oakland also has one of the highest concentrations of charter schools in the state, and the district would be the first in California to take on this reform.
Critics are slamming the plan, saying Oakland Unified should be doing all it can to keep students in district schools.
“We have no right to be the innovators of enrollment when we can’t get the basics right,” says Oakland school board member Roseann Torres. “First we start with our own. Then we can invite others.”
Torres and other critics also say the plan would leave the district with fewer resources to serve students with learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
Charter school advocates, however, say the enrollment proposal would help all families find the best school.