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Los Angeles Charter Schools Allowed to Write Their Own Rules

“The statute as I understand it…gives the District…the responsibility and authority of oversight” — LAUSD Board Member George McKenna

Under District rules, every charter that is submitted to the LAUSD for approval must contain District Required Language (DRL). Some of this language simply ensures that the charter conforms to the California Education Code. Other sections cover requirements specific to the LAUSD, like conforming to the Chanda Smith Modified Consent Decree. The most disputed sections require protections that have been successfully blocked in Sacramento by the California Charter School Association (CCSA). An example would be the requirement that the “charter school shall comply with the Brown Act and the Public Records Act.” Charter schools have also been critical of the language that gives the Office of the Inspector General “broad authority — including subpoena power — to sniff out ‘waste, fraud, and abuse’”.

Last November, 20 charter schools refused to include District Required Language in their charter petitions. As a result, the LAUSD Charter School Division took the rare step of recommending that 14 of these charters be rejected by the LAUSD School Board. The crisis was avoided in last-minute negotiations that took place out of the view of the public. This agreement granted “charters some, but not all of the changes to the ‘district-required language’ that they’d initially sought”. It also gave the School Board final say over the District Required Language. It’s important to note that the present Board is currently controlled by a majority bought and paid for by the CCSA.

At last week’s Board meeting, the results of the millions of dollars in campaign spending by the CCSA was on full display as a working group presented a “list of district policies to which charter schools are subject”. This working group consisted of representatives of 13 charter schools. It also included the CCSA, whom Board Member Scott Schmerelson correctly described as a lobbying organization. As Board Member George McKenna pointed out, principals from District operated schools were not included, even though they have to deal with issues, like Prop 39 colocations, that are caused by the expanding charter community. Public school teachers were also not represented. Neither were parents, whose children are ultimately affected by these policies.

Giving the charters exclusive input into the rulemaking process was not enough for the CCSA owned Board Member Nick Melvoin who asked what a charter could do if they did not want to consent to the new DRL. Kelly Gonez spouted another CCSA talking point by claiming that passing the recommendations would increase transparency relating to how the District oversees charters. This ignored the fact that the District Required Language was already published on the District Website and available to the public and for anyone wanting to open a charter.

Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian touted the “collaborative dialogue” and said that “we are much closer to a place of common understanding about the [district] policies that apply” to charters. Frances Gipson, the District’s Chief Academic Officer, claimed that the results provided a “neutral perspective” even though they did not include any input from individuals or organizations that are not affiliated with the charter industry and there was no collaboration with the stakeholders of the District. The charters were simply asked how they would like to be regulated.

The Board voted unanimously to approve the rules written by the charter industry. The fox is officially in charge of the henhouse.

The CCSA is a stakeholder in our district.”
- Charter Schools Division head Jose Cole-Gutierrez

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Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” Opinions are his own.