Los Angeles County Board of Education Blocks LAUSD “Blackmail” of Charter Schools

In February the Los Angeles Unified School District board revoked the charters of Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy and Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy—not because they didn’t perform, but because they did at a fraction of the cost.

LAUSD officials revoked the charters of these two top performing, high poverty schools enrolling 770 (mostly Latino) students because of cold, hard cash. Of course, the official reason board members gave was that they were acting on behalf of “the children,” special needs children to be exact.

The Los Angeles County Board of Education voted this week to restore the schools’ charters and at least one county board member publicly decried LAUSD’s earlier decision.  As The Wall Street Journal reported:

The [LAUSD] board’s only beef was that the Aspire schools had contracted out their special education to an agency in El Dorado County, which is used by 300 other California charters. According to Aspire, the El Dorado plan is cheaper and more effective than the district’s Special Education Local Plan Area. In any event, state law doesn’t require charters to subscribe to the public option.

According to L.A. County Board of Education member Doug Boyd, the district arguably acted illegally when it rejected Aspire schools on these grounds. ‘We were shocked that LAUSD would turn down the charters,’ he says. ‘The pretext that they used was ridiculous.’

…So why did the board vote to close the schools? ‘They want the money that the state attaches to each kid,’ Mr. Boyd says.

But more fundamentally, teachers unions and their allies on the board are opposed to offering parents educational options, especially if those options expose the failure of public schools. …While the county board which hears charter appeals has issued a resounding rebuke to L.A. Unified’s school board, Mr. Boyd says district officials have been threatening to close other charters that refuse to sign up with the district’s special-education plan. ‘How many of the charters will succumb to the blackmail?’ he muses.

Charter schools are public schools, which receive taxpayer dollars and administer the same state-approved tests as traditional district-run public schools. Two of the main charter school advantages from a taxpayer perspective are first that charters don’t have any taxing authority, so they must live within their annual budgets.

Charter schools must also compete for students and funding, and if they don’t perform, they can be shut down—and when was the last time a district-run school was shut down because it wasn’t performing? More likely than not, a failing district school gets more funding.

Currently, more than one out of every 10 public schools in California is a charter school, and more than half a million students attend charter schools instead of district schools. Yet the supply of charter schools isn’t keeping pace with demand, since close to 50,000 students are now on charter school waiting lists, including 15,000 in LAUSD alone.

Thankfully, Los Angeles’ County Board stepped up and did the right thing, but a more fundamental issue remains. When government entities are calling the schooling shots, they will punish what works for the sake of special-interests—not students.

Charter schools are a much-needed alternative for parents whose children would otherwise be assigned to government district-run schools that don’t work. Still, as long as government is involved in schooling, charter schools in Los Angeles and across the country will remain vulnerable to blackmail stunts like the one the LAUSD school board pulled.

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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