Five Recommendations to Solve LAUSD’s Looming Fiscal Crisis

These recommendations are excerpted from the policy study “A 2018 Evaluation of LAUSD’s Fiscal Outlook.” 

LAUSD school busFrom the Independent Financial Review Panel’s report of Los Angeles Unified School District emerges a dire picture that should alarm parents, educators and community stakeholders alike. It found that maintaining the status quo would grow the budget deficit to about $600 million by 2019–2020, concluding that failure to act would have real ramifications for the district’s 550,000 students including financial insolvency and even state takeover. For years district officials have avoided substantive reforms, but the warnings of distant fiscal calamity have now become a reality that leaders must address head-on. While the path ahead involves many difficult decisions and political headwinds, the process of right-sizing LAUSD presents an opportunity to lay the foundation for a 21st-century education system that’s productive, agile, and responsive to the needs of students and communities. In other words, right-sizing isn’t about budget cuts and layoffs, but rather optimizing all facets of operations with the goal of providing high-quality options to all students at a cost that aligns with revenues. To do this, LAUSD leaders should focus on five key reforms.

#1 OVERHAUL LONG-TERM DEBT OBLIGATIONS

LAUSD has little control over rising pension contributions because reducing these obligations requires state-level reforms. However, general staffing surges that are not supported by enrollment can increase pension costs, since the district must make pension contributions for each new hire.

Further, LAUSD does have discretion over OPEB costs as well as health and welfare benefits for active employees. The district has several significant cost-saving options available to it, ranging from ending retiree health care benefits altogether to engaging in a variety of cost-sharing and cost-reducing strategies.

At its August 2017 board retreat on reducing health care costs, LAUSD staff presented five cost-saving options, as shown in Table 20.

Ultimately the board upheld the status quo for health care benefits for another three years at an annual cost approaching $1 billion.

#2 GO AFTER LOW-HANGING FRUIT

It should come as no surprise that LAUSD can become more efficient, but what’s less obvious is how relatively minor changes in operations can result in substantial savings that can put a dent in the district’s budget deficit. In fact, the Independent Financial Review Panel’s report found over $143 million in potential savings outside of staffing and long-term obligations, including:

Improve student attendance ($45 million): Because the state of California provides revenue based on Average Daily Attendance, LAUSD loses money with every student absence from school. Increasing the district’s attendance to just the statewide average—a relatively low bar to achieve—would generate an additional $45 million per year. Of course, this would not only help boost LAUSD’s bottom-line but also improve academic outcomes such as graduation rates and college and career readiness. In 2009–2010, Long Beach Unified shifted 10 of its social workers and counselors to working with campuses on truancy issues to increase student attendance. The chronic absence rate in Long Beach Unified dropped from 19.8 percent in 2011 to 10 percent by 2014. By 2015, the school district’s overall attendance rate was 96.17 percent up from 96.01 percent in 2014 and above the state average.

Improve staff attendance ($15 million): Currently, only 75 percent of LAUSD staff members have strong attendance as defined by the district. Bolstering this number to 90 percent would save about $15 million on substitute teachers while also providing students with more stable classroom environments. To save even more money, LAUSD could require select administrators to substitute teach five days per year, a policy that saved Scottsdale, Arizona about 7 percent of their substitute budget and also allowed district staff to stay connected to the classroom.

#3 INITIATE STAFF REDUCTIONS AND STRATEGIC SCHOOL CLOSURES

The reality is that LAUSD’s financial quagmire requires district leaders to make substantive cutbacks in both staffing and schools. Even though its declining enrollment has necessitated a reduction of about 10,000 staff, LAUSD has actually increased staffing levels in recent years while seeing costs associated with salaries and benefits also rise. This problem will only magnify if projected enrollment declines continue to hold true.

To start, LAUSD must recognize that the lion’s share of new hires have been administrative staff, even during declining enrollment. Therefore, district officials should first evaluate every central office staff position as part of its school finance overhaul.

Next, teacher layoffs are unavoidable but LAUSD can approach them in a manner that will help increase student outcomes even as overall staffing levels decrease. Importantly, district and union officials should work together to review and renegotiate factors that hamstring flexibility and do nothing to further student achievement, such as automatic pay increases, rigid staffing requirements, and termination provisions that favor costly teachers with seniority. For example, Boston Public Schools replaced a seniority-driven system by renegotiating its collective bargaining contract to give more autonomy over staffing to school leaders, and Hartford Public Schools’ contract now provides principals with more flexibility over things such as scheduling. Increasing district and school-level flexibility will not only minimize staff reductions and protect against future layoffs, but also help ensure that the district retains its highest-performing talent in the process. LAUSD should also follow the Independent Financial Review Panel’s guidance by offering early retirement incentives to senior staff and help reduce the percentage of teachers who have reached the maximum salary level, which is currently 10 percent higher than the state-wide average.

Lastly, underutilized schools are costly for districts to maintain as fixed costs such as facilities, school administration, and custodial services increase per-pupil expenses as enrollment declines. This means that schools that are at or near capacity—which are often higher-performing—essentially subsidize schools with declining enrollment and have less funding to expand programs, services and enrollment as a result. Undoubtedly, closing schools is a difficult yet necessary process for LAUSD to undertake, but district officials should prioritize closing underperforming schools and proactively engage communities throughout the process in order to maximize transparency and build understanding. Kansas City Public Schools closed 26 schools and laid off about 1,000 staff members in 2010, which ultimately helped the district close its budget deficit, improve academically, and reverse enrollment declines, as students transferred to higher performing schools. According to Superintendent R. Stephen Green, “When you close a number of facilities, it creates a bit of disruption, but it was a much-needed process to go through, given the financial stability that was needed for the district.”

Los Angeles also has declining enrollment without ensuring that all school sites are self-sustaining. While many other large urban districts with significant enrollment declines have worked to close and realign some schools to save money, LAUSD continues to keep under-enrolled schools open, even as it has opened many new schools over the last decade. In some areas of the district where school sites are very close to one another, the older schools have lost enrollment to newer schools. The district has not released a transparent recent report about the current capacity from one school to another or identified which schools may be under-enrolled and subsidized by the district.

The key question is to examine whether a school has enough enrollment to sustain the cost of running the school. In 2008, the district estimated that its schools would have a 16 percent vacancy rate by 2012. It predicted it would have the capacity to seat 670,000 students, but only 560,000 were expected to enroll. A Los Angeles Times analysis in 2008 noted that “the district plans to build campuses that will take hundreds of students from those schools, further reducing their enrollment. By the time the building program is completed in 2012, there will be tens of thousands of empty seats at dozens of once-crowded schools.”

If we assume that LAUSD still has the capacity for 670,000 seats, then the current enrollment level of 500,000 students means that it is past time for the district to do a transparent audit of school capacity and how it might save money by closing the most under-enrolled schools. Independent charter schools have used some of this excess capacity for their students, but a transparent examination would ensure that the district can accurately assess all its financial options. In addition, evidence shows that closing the lowest performing and most under-enrolled schools can improve the quality of education for the most disadvantaged students.

A growing body of research indicates that school closure increases educational opportunity so long as students have access to better schools. Closure students who attended better schools tended to make greater academic gains than did their peers from low-performing schools in the same sector that remained open.

A new report on LAUSD’s real estate assets by the LAUSD Advisory Task Force calls for the district to “analyze the current occupancy of core District assets to determine whether consolidation of and/or relocation of certain tenants to more optimal locations could create savings, maximize revenue, and/or reduce functional obsolescence.” With a more thoughtful approach to managing individual school sites and vacant property, the district could actually raise money with long-term leases to charter operators or with other commercial or community uses of their underutilized real estate assets. In addition, school consolidation could help ensure every school has more qualified staff, rather than distributing LAUSD’s scarce resources over too many school sites.

When LAUSD keeps open schools that are under-capacity, district-wide personnel may continue to grow while individual school communities feel staff shortages at the school level. This is because each school, independent of enrollment, requires a certain fixed number of staff positions, some of which may be vacant as enrollment shrinks. As the Los Angeles School Report noted in a May 2016 feature, former Superintendent Michelle King cited feedback from a principals’ survey she received that “showed principals expressing frustration with a lack of clerical staff, a lack of time to complete tasks and limited opportunities for instructional training. ‘Principals say there are not enough hours in the day to get everything they need done and improve teaching and learning due to a lack of sufficient personnel,’ King said.” In this way, the district can have too many employees that are unsustainable given the current level of enrollment and district revenue, while individual schools can also be under-staffed and stretched thin.

But when schools consolidate, fewer fixed staff positions are needed and are more likely to be filled. The district is staffing too many schools at an inadequate level and could increase staff and school support at individual schools by consolidating and closing some schools. LAUSD needs to make a transparent accounting of site-based enrollment, spending, and revenue based on the students who are enrolled at each site, examine how each school uses resources, and determine how that impacts the district as a whole. Until that is accomplished, the district will continue to have too many staff members that are not effectively deployed to best serve the needs of students.

#4 MITIGATE ENROLLMENT DECLINES BY FOCUSING ON QUALITY OPTIONS

Over a six-year period, LAUSD’s enrollment fell by nearly 100,000 students, about half of which is due to families choosing charter schools, with many others opting to enroll in traditional public schools outside of the district. With forecasted student attrition of 2.8 percent per year and lackluster outcomes in many of LAUSD’s schools, fundamental changes within classrooms are clearly in order. The Independent Financial Review Panel found that “there may be lessons to be learned from the migration of students to charter schools” and “it is very important that the District carefully analyze charter programs and focus on which students are leaving and why” so that LAUSD can ultimately improve its programmatic offerings for families. More bluntly, the days of district monopoly and residential assignment are coming to an end, and if LAUSD is going to attract and retain students then officials must be more responsive to parent needs. Fortunately, numerous districts across the U.S. have already undertaken substantive reforms to adapt to this new operating environment, and LAUSD has much to learn from them. One prominent example is Denver Public Schools (DPS).

DPS has adopted “portfolio management,” a model in which a district’s primary role is to approve operators, provide support, and evaluate school outcomes. Portfolio management is based on the belief that school-level autonomy drives performance by allowing school leaders and teachers to more effectively meet student needs. While traditional districts tend to prescribe a one-size-fits-all model by mandating inputs (e.g. staffing ratios, curriculum, etc.) portfolio management recognizes that each school has unique challenges and is thus more concerned with holding educators accountable for outcomes rather than how they operate. Ultimately, this helps to promote a diverse supply of schools that, when combined with a strong intra-district choice policy, can give parents more meaningful options that in turn help improve overall satisfaction and retention. As part of its strategic roadmap, The Denver Plan 2020, DPS is striving to have 80 percent of its students attending a high-performing school by 2020.

New data by the advocacy group Parent Revolution show that 234 LA Unified schools scored in the bottom two levels — orange or red — for both English and math on the California accountability dashboard. In the 2016–2017 school year, 155,779 students were enrolled in those 234 schools. LAUSD has 34 schools that are red in both English and math. Last year those schools enrolled 26,400 students. At a minimum, 30 percent of LAUSD students could use a higher-performing school.

#5 MODERNIZE THE DISTRICT’S SCHOOL FINANCE SYSTEM

Currently, LAUSD employs an antiquated school finance system. Instead of providing principals with actual dollars based on students, it allocates staffing positions that are determined using rigid ratios and district-wide average salaries. As Marguerite Roza of Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab explains, “The district sends out teachers, principals, administrative assistants, lunchroom staff, librarians, and the like, and pays the bills out of the district coffers. Schools do not have their own bank accounts, nor do they receive reports that show the true costs of the resources that land in their buildings.” As well, according to Harvard researcher and former LAUSD budget director Jon Fullerton, the district’s budgeting systems “do not connect automatically with accounting systems, and both may be isolated from the human-resources systems that track who is hired, when, and for how much.” As a result, funding is delivered to schools in a manner that is non-transparent, inequitable, and less responsive to enrollment changes. This makes it difficult to provide leaders with valuable data that could help the district become more productive with its education dollars.

STUDENT-BASED BUDGETING

To modernize its school finance system, LAUSD should allocate dollars on a per-pupil basis by adopting student-based budgeting, a funding portability framework that sends dollars to schools rather than staffing positions. This not only promotes equity and portability across schools within the district, but it also empowers principals to have more decision-making authority over how dollars are ultimately spent. Allocating funding to schools in per-pupil terms would promote greater efficiency by allowing dollars to grow and contract in direct proportion to student needs. In this way, student-based budgeting would allow principals to make their schools more responsive to parents’ needs, increasing the likelihood of higher enrollment and potentially generating new revenue at the school level.

Moreover, when money goes directly to schools on a per-pupil basis, it becomes clear which schools are unable to financially sustain themselves and which schools may be candidates for consolidation to avoid insolvency. As part of this shift, LAUSD can also empower principals to purchase certain services from either the district or external vendors to optimize pricing and quality, which are often constrained by district contracts. This allows school leaders to make better use of their budgeted dollars while also helping to address central office bloat. Given LAUSD’s financial position and need to reduce personnel, student-based budgeting would allow school-level staffing based on the funding resources generated by the students in the school.

Student-based budgeting is based on five key principles:

  1. Funding systems should be as simple and transparent as possible.
  2. Per-pupil funding should be based on the needs of each student.
  3. Per-pupil funding should follow the student to the public school of their choice.
  4. Principals should receive actual dollars—not staffing positions or other allotments—to spend flexibly based on school needs.
  5. Funding allocation principles should apply to all sources of education revenue.

It requires a shift in mindset from top-down compliance to supporting autonomous school leaders, and some roles will fundamentally change or become obsolete in this new environment as a result. As one educator who participated in an Education Resource Strategies summit on school-level budgeting explained:

There has been a philosophical change: the principal is the CEO of the school. The central office is there to support them. We inverted the pyramid so that the principal is on top, telling the central office what they need, rather than on the bottom. That’s required a cultural change and huge structural changes in the district.

LAUSD has already laid the foundation for this reform by piloting autonomous schools through its Belmont Pilot Schools Network, which started in the 2007–2008 school year. In the 2017–2018 academic year LAUSD allocates $46 million to 83 schools that receive their resources based on a per-pupil formula that is allocated directly to schools. In these schools, principals have more autonomy to purchase school-based staffing and differentiated district support. LAUSD should take the next step by adopting a district-wide program as numerous districts such as Boston Public Schools, Houston Independent School District, and New York City Department of Education have already done.

THE CHANGING ROLE OF THE DISTRICT

Under a student-based budgeting system, the district itself still monitors school performance and makes big-picture decisions about which schools may need to be closed or consolidated based on enrollment and academic performance. The district’s new role would be to hold individual schools accountable for district-wide student goals, such as improving graduation rates or increasing proficiency in 3rd-grade reading. The district would not mandate how a principal and school community use their resources to meet district-wide instructional
goals, but would instead set the benchmarks and goals for the district.

In order to measure progress and monitor performance, LAUSD should revamp its knowledge infrastructure to better integrate key information systems. This means going beyond merging budgeting, accounting and human resource data by ensuring that student enrollment and achievement data are also readily available for cross-referencing analysis. This would ensure that individual school leaders and district leaders have the tools necessary to make sound financial decisions that are driven by academic strategy and outcomes.

For example, district leaders should know not only exactly how much is spent on each school but also how dollars are allocated across classrooms and courses. Disaggregating data to per-pupil terms at the classroom-level would help school leaders and district administrators assess the alignment of funding with strategic instructional intent and student outcomes, and more effectively consider trade-offs in how money is spent. This is especially important since research has shown that districts allocate funding in a manner that doesn’t align with stated priorities such as focusing on low-achieving students, a fact that leaders are often unaware of given antiquated accounting and budgeting practices. For example, a district may say its goal is to improve 3rd-grade reading and then spend all of its resources on high school AP classes. Without attaching school- and classroom-level expenditures to instructional priorities, school leaders, and districts have little information about how they are targeting resources to instructional priorities.

Such transparency would help LAUSD’s current measurement of progress, as the district doesn’t track or publicly report its allocations at the school level based on student characteristics. As a result, education stakeholders and policymakers cannot easily determine if the new LCFF revenue, which the California Legislature intended to help high-needs students, is boosting spending in the schools these students attend. As Marguerite Roza noted in a recent report evaluating California’s LCFF revenue, “this lack of financial transparency makes it difficult to assess the degree to which LCFF is delivering—or not delivering—on the state’s pledge to drive resources to the highest-need students.” A more transparent student-based system would allow district leaders to track these dollars and make more informed decisions about how best to use the district’s scarce resources to improve student outcomes.

Student-based budgeting has helped other districts determine which schools should be closed or consolidated and which schools should be expanded or replicated. For example, after adopting student-based budgeting, the Denver school board approved the closing of eight schools that were under-enrolled and low-performing. The board projected that the realignment of students from these schools to higher performing schools would achieve projected yearly operating savings of $3.5 million. Those resources were used to improve the education of students who were affected by the school closures, delivering additional resources to under-performing schools, and creating funding opportunities for new schools and new programs. In addition to the standard per-pupil revenue that followed students to their new schools, the district reinvested $2 million, or 60 percent of the savings from school closures, into the schools of reassignment. In this way, a student-based budgeting funding system is an important modern financial tool that can help right-size LAUSD’s financial ship.

Full Study: A 2018 Evaluation of LAUSD’s Fiscal Outlook: Revisiting the Findings of the 2015 Independent Financial Review Panel

This article was originally published by the Reason Foundation

LAUSD Questioned Over Positive Reviews for Teachers at Struggling Schools

LAUSD school busA new study raises fresh concerns about the giant Los Angeles Unified School District and whether it shows good faith in its dealings with struggling schools in poor minority communities.

The Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution group, which focuses on improving education and increasing educational opportunities for poor minority students, analyzed 44 LAUSD schools with weak test scores last school year. At these schools, only 20 percent of students met or did better than state math standards and only 28 percent in English.

Yet last school year, 68 percent of teachers in these schools were not subject to official evaluations – either through oversight or via exemptions ordered by their principals. Of teachers who were evaluated, 96 percent were found to meet or do better than district performance standards. Over the past three school years, the figure edged up to 97 percent getting positive evaluations – meaning only about one in every 30 evaluated teachers is found wanting.

“We do see this in other districts, where almost everyone has a satisfactory rating and it’s disconnected from student achievement,” Seth Litt, Parent Revolution’s executive director, told the Los Angeles Times. “It shouldn’t be disconnected.”

The findings parallel those that emerged from the landmark Vergara v. California lawsuit, in which nine students from state public schools represented by civil-rights attorneys hired by the Students Matter group alleged five state teacher job protection laws were so powerful that they had the unconstitutional effect of keeping incompetent teachers on the job and funneling them toward schools in poor communities.

Evidence presented by the plaintiffs in the case showed that only 2.2 teachers on average are fired each year for unsatisfactory performance in a state with 275,000 teachers at its public schools.

The case’s primary focus was on Los Angeles Unified. In a twist that few expected, some of the most powerful testimony against the teacher protection laws came from then-LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy. He testified in early 2014 that even if a teacher were “grossly ineffective,” it could cost the district millions in legal bills to fire the teacher.

Later that year, state Judge Rolf Treu agreed with the plaintiffs that the five teacher protection laws unconstitutionally deprived the students of their right to a good public education. Treu likened the laws’ effects to those of segregation before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Treu’s decision was overturned on appeal on the grounds that the trial failed to clearly establish a factual nexus between student performance and the job protection laws.

3 state justices wanted to hear teacher tenure case

But education reformers were somewhat heartened by what happened next. Three members of the California Supreme Court wanted to hear an appeal of the appellate ruling, suggesting at the least some interest in Treu’s reasoning, which was mocked as novel and weak by attorneys for teacher unions. While they were voted down by the state high court’s other four justices, they could be a factor in future litigation.

As for Los Angeles Unified, litigation over school practices affecting minorities and high-needs students has been common for decades. In September 2017, for a recent example, the district reached a $151 million settlement in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU over the improper diversion of Local Control Funding Formula dollars that were supposed to be used to help struggling students in poor communities, especially English-language learners.

LAUSD was also the target in 2010 of what a federal government statement called “the first proactive civil rights enforcement action taken by the Department of Education under the Obama administration” – prompted by what then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the district’s failure to adequately educate many Latino and African-American students. The case was settled in 2011 after the district agreed to make several substantial changes meant to improve these students’ performance.

But evidence presented in the Vergara case showed no subsequent gains by these student groups.

Los Angeles Unified has 640,000 students, making it by far the largest school district in California. Only the New York City school system, which has about 1 million students, is larger in the U.S.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Unions defend recent strikes — but voters should make up their own minds

Teachers unionIn a USA Today op-ed last month, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten defended the teachers’ strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and Colorado, by sketching a familiar hero-villain scenario. “Teachers are standing up for their students and themselves against largely red states with weak labor laws and where governors and legislators have opted for tax cuts for the wealthy instead of investments for children,” she wrote. Pointing to the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court case, which she portrayed as a right-wing ploy to “get public sector unions out of politics,” Weingarten proclaimed, “Teachers’ voices — and their votes — are powerful, and educators have parents and communities supporting them.”

Some voters may be persuaded by the argument that teachers are picketing for more money “for children,” but they would be better off looking at some basic facts. While teachers in some cases are underpaid and certain school districts underfunded, teachers on the whole, according to researcher James Agresti, get paid much better than commonly acknowledged. For the 2016–2017 school year, the average salary of full-time public school teachers was $58,950. That figure excludes benefits such as health insurance, paid leave, and pensions, which, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, make up an average of 33 percent of total compensation for public school teachers. When benefits get added in, teachers’ average annual compensation jumps to $87,854. And even that amount doesn’t include unfunded pension liabilities and certain post-employment benefits like health insurance, not measured by the Labor Department. Private-industry employees work an average of 37 percent more hours per year than public school teachers, including the time that teachers spend for lesson preparation, grading, and other activities. “Unlike less rigorous studies, this data from the DOL is based on detailed records of work hours instead of subjective estimates about how long people think they work,” Agresti adds.

Teachers aren’t just well compensated; they’re also more numerous than ever before, especially in proportion to their students. Researcher and economics professor Benjamin Scafidi found that, between 1950 and 2015, the number of teachers increased about 2.5 times faster than the number of students, and hiring of other education employees—administrators, teacher aides, counselors, social workers—rose more than seven times faster than the increase in students. Despite the staffing surge, students’ academic achievement has stagnated or fallen during that time. Scafidi suggests that, had non-teaching personnel growth been in line with student population growth, and the teaching force risen “only” 1.5 times as fast as student growth, U.S. schools would have had an additional $37.2 billion to spend annually. With that windfall, he suggests, we could have raised every public school teacher’s salary by more than $11,700 per year, given poor families more than $2,600 in cash per child to attend private schools of their parents’ choice, and more than doubled taxpayer funding for early-childhood education.

It’s no secret that lavish teacher pensions are eating up money that should be spent on students. Robert Costrell, a finance expert at the University of Arkansas, found that 10.6 percent of all education spending goes toward teacher-retirement benefits—more than double the proportion spent on pensions in 2004. “As a percentage of their total compensation package, teacher retirement benefits eat up twice as much as other workers,” Bellwether Education Partners policy analyst Chad Alderman explains. Teachers—including bad teachers—have a powerful incentive to stay on in their jobs, since they automatically earn more just by showing up each fall, regardless of how effective they are. Pension benefits start accruing later in a teacher’s career, so younger teachers are helping to prop up pensions for lifers, with little to show for it; if a teacher leaves the field early, he gets no pension at all.

States typically administer teacher pensions, but health-care benefits frequently vary according to the local school district. While some districts cut teachers’ health benefits off when Medicare kicks in, others, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, are much more generous. LAUSD provides the same expansive health coverage for retirees (and their spouses) as it does for current employees; neither group pays a premium for its insurance. The district recently announced that the unfunded liability for retiree health benefits has risen to $15.2 billion, up from a reported $13.5 billion in 2016, which translates to a cost of $525 per student.

Come November, the teachers’ unions and their unhappy members will be taking their case to the voters. Taxpayers need to look at the facts underneath the teachers-as-victims rhetoric and vote for fiscal sanity.

LAUSD Is Tormenting Its High-Performing Charter Schools to Death

LAUSD school busEDUCATION POLITICS – The Los Angeles Unified School District and some of the nation’s highest-performing charter schools are engaged in what one report has called a “game of chicken” – with the fate of 14 of these schools and their nearly 4,600 students hanging the balance. But that suggests this is about two parties engaged in dangerous brinksmanship. In fact, it is about charter schools finally standing up to teachers union’s bullying.

Charters are publicly funded schools that offer students an alternative to the local public school monopoly. They have been a particular boon to low-income and special-needs students who are stuck in ill-performing districts. Major school systems, such as LAUSD, and their unions often are hostile to these thriving education alternatives, yet they hold the charters’ fates in their hands – and they use their power to hobble them.

In LA, district staff are requiring the charters to accept 39 pages of newly updated “district-approved language” – regulations that affect nearly every aspect of the schools’ operation. One provision the charters find particularly troublesome is a requirement that allows LAUSD to change the rules any time for any reason.

The stepped-up requirements aren’t that different from what the charter schools have put up with before, but the movement is more united than in the past and has finally had enough. A more favorable political climate has strengthened its resolve. Bottom line: the rules require the charters to comply with increasing portions of the education code, this making them more like public-school appendages than independent entities that can innovate and chart their own path.

The rules increasingly put the charters under the thumb of a frequently hostile school bureaucracy. Just like traditional public schools, they are being forced to focus more time and resources on filling out paperwork and complying with regulatory audits and paperwork requirements. It makes them less able to innovate and focus on the students.

The charters can accept the edicts, or else – the “else” being a denial of the schools’ renewal petition or a refusal by the district to grant petitions that would let new schools begin their operation. The fair-minded LA School Report explains, “An unprecedented number of charter school petitions could be denied (this Tuesday) because Los Angeles charter leaders are standing up against district policies they say require increasing amounts of time and money to satisfy and take away resources from the classroom.”

The head of the leftist, anti-charter “In The Public Interest” offers the full anti-charter spin in the Huffington Post, noting, “A number of Los Angeles charter schools up for renewal this week are throwing a tantrum if they don’t get their way” and “have refused to comply” with LAUSD’s charter policies. Well, it’s hardly a tantrum to contest ham-fisted government rules that are designed to destroy the essence of what they are.

“It’s quite ironic,” said Michael MeCey, director of the Sacramento-based California Parents for Public Virtual Education, which represents online charter families. “For years these districts have told successful charter schools: Either conform to our draconian rules which have created student failure factories or lose your charter.” Such a choice.

So, good for the schools for fighting back, given that conforming to these open-ended rules threatens the very things that make these charters successful. The battle is about their independence, freedom from bureaucracy, ability to experiment, and hold their teachers accountable rather than be subject to the union work rules that coddle poor-performing educators.

The battle has drawn widespread media coverage for local political reasons. The charter-school movement helped elect its first majority of school-board members. So the dispute will highlight whether the new supposedly pro-charter board majority will support these charters in this existential battle. The question is in doubt given that the board last month sided unanimously with the district staff by turning down a high-performing Hebrew-language charter that wouldn’t accept the district’s required language, according to the LA School Report article.

But all is not lost for the charters even if the board votes to deny all the petitions. In fact, a rejection – however unsettling that would be for these local schools – could be good news for them and the state’s charter-school movement by setting a precedent whereby charters could more easily bypass recalcitrant school districts. State law allows charters to appeal their rejection to the county or the state boards of education – both of which are more friendly to charters, and more likely to closely follow California’s generally pro-charter statutes.

This dispute explains why teachers’ unions tried to pass Senate Bill 808 in the last session. Deemed the “charter killer,” the measure would have, in part, prevented “charters who are rejected by their districts from appealing to the county or state,” according to a California Charter Schools Association explanation. The measure would have made the LAUSD board the final arbiter in the current dispute. Fortunately, it died in committee and might not have gotten a signature even if it passed. Gov. Jerry Brown has been supportive of charter schools.

“We are high-performing public schools serving nearly 20,000 students who are mostly students of color in communities with limited access to free, high-quality education options like the ones our schools provide,” declared leaders of LA charter schools in a Nov. 1 media statement. They noted that some of their schools “have been recognized as among the best in the nation” by the U.S. and California departments of education and US News & World Report.

Critics of public schools often note that they put bureaucratic concerns above the education of children. That’s exactly what we’re seeing here, isn’t it? The LAUSD staff has recommended shutting down these schools – not because of any educational problems, but because the charter-school operators are chafing at a set of heavy-handed and bureaucratic rules.

Seriously, who would accept a set of rules that gives one side the freedom to change the rules at any time? “It would be irresponsible for me to include language in our school charter that would include policies that the district hasn’t even invented yet,” said Emilio Pack, CEO of the Stem Preparatory Schools, which are involved in the LAUSD dispute.

While some of the district-approved language requirements are reasonable and not the source of any contention, others go too far. The rules allow for endless investigations, sap time and energy from the classroom and leave the kids and teachers with constant anxiety, as they worry about whether they will have a school to attend the next semester.

Charters thrive because they are freed from the edict-driven, bureaucratic and union-controlled model. Expecting them to thrive while being under the thumb of LAUSD’s sprawling bureaucracy is like expecting an innovative tech firm to succeed while being controlled by the NSA. It’s not a game of chicken, but a game of control. It’s time for such nonsense to end.

Steven Greenhut is contributing editor for the California Policy Center where this perspective originated. He is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at [email protected].

Reformers Achieve School Board Shakeup in Los Angeles

Los-Angeles-Unified-School-District-LAUSDLike many big-city school systems, the Los Angeles Unified School District is in disarray. On track for a graduation rate of 49 percent last June, the district instituted “a “credit-recovery plan,” which allows students to take crash courses on weekends and holidays to make up for classes they failed or missed. Combined with the elimination of the California High School Exit Examination, the classes, which many claimed were short on content, raised the district’s graduation rate to 75 percent practically overnight. In 2015, only in five fourth-graders in Los Angeles performed at or above “proficient” in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Due to out-migration and the proliferation of charter schools, student enrollment in the district—now about 500,000—has dropped nearly 250,000 since 2004.

Fiscally, the situation is no better. In December, LAUSD Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly told the school board that the district may not be able to meet its financial obligations because it faces a cumulative deficit of $1.46 billion through the 2018-2019 school year. While the deficit figure has been disputed in some quarters, there’s no doubt that the district is facing a daunting budgetary crisis.

Many of L.A.’s education woes can be traced to its school board and the United Teachers of Los Angeles union, which has controlled the board for years. And that’s why what happened on May 6 is so remarkable. Two reformers—Nick Melvoin, a former inner-city middle school teacher who lost his job due to union-backed seniority rules, and Kelly Gonez, currently a charter school science teacher—were elected to the LAUSD board. Reformers now constitute a majority of the seven-member governing body in America’s second-largest city.

Melvoin, especially, was vocal in his campaign that the school district needed a major shakeup, calling for more charter schools. He also stressed the need for fiscal reform, including a reworking of the district’s out-of-control pension and health-care obligations. His opponent, sitting board president Steve Zimmer, said in February that the election was about “losing children to the charter movement.” Zimmer garnered 47.5 percent of the vote against Melvoin and two other candidates in the March election, but he needed 50 percent to avoid a run-off in May.

Not only did the young Turks (Melvoin is 31 and Gonez 28) defeat the unions’ candidates; they also raised more money than their opponents, a rarity in school-board elections, where teachers’ unions historically outspend their challengers. But this time, the unions could not compete with the likes of philanthropist Eli Broad, who donated $450,000 to the campaign, and former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, who contributed over $2 million. Additionally, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings donated nearly $7 million since last September to CCSA Advocates, the political wing of the California Charter School Association, which spent nearly $3 million on the school board election.

On the union side, United Teachers Los Angeles was the big spender, pitching in about $4.13 million, according to city filings. But much of this money came from the UTLA’s national partners: the American Federation of Teachers gave UTLA $1.2 million, and the National Education Association contributed $700,000.

The spending disparity and resulting defeat did not sit well with the unions. The NEA speciously claimed that parents and educators were pitted against “a group of out-of-town billionaires,” an ironic charge for a Washington, D.C.-based organization to make. According to its latest Labor Department filing, the NEA sent money to Colorado, Georgia, Maine, and other states in 2016 in attempts to sway voters, donating nearly $27 million in all. And besides, the NEA’s charge was wrong. The bulk of the reformers’ donations came from three Californians—Broad and Riordan are Angelenos and Hastings lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

In a press release, California Teachers Association President Eric Heins reiterated the NEA message about billionaire donations and, alluding to charter schools, added, “public education should be about kids, not profits.” Heins and other union leaders sound this theme constantly, though there is no evidence to support the claim that anyone is getting rich off of charter schools: the California Charter School Association reports that out of the state’s 1,200 charter schools, only six are organized as limited-liability corporations.

“We will fight against privatizing our public schools and against creating ‘separate and unequal’ for our kids,” said UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl—and he’s eager for the fight to begin. In anticipation of the upcoming June 30 expiration of the teachers’ contract, Caputo-Pearl told his union’s leadership last year that, “the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018. There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

With the June 30 deadline looming, and Melvoin and Gonez set to be sworn in on the school board the next day, the fireworks you hear coming from L.A. on July 4 may come only in part from patriotic celebrations. The Los Angeles school district has distinguished itself by poorly educated students, a dubious graduation rate, shrinking enrollment, a serious financial shortfall, and a zealous teachers’ union leader who, more than anything, wants to maintain—and in fact increase—his union’s power, even if it takes a “state crisis” to do so. Should UTLA succeed, it will be a disaster for children, their parents, and the already beleaguered taxpayer.

Teachers Unions Losing Long War Over Parental Choice

LAUSD school busSupporters of charter schools, homeschooling and other forms of school choice are so used to fighting in the trenches against the state’s muscular teachers unions that they often forget how much progress they’ve made in the last decade or so. Recent events have shown the degree of progress, even if they still face an uphill — and increasingly costly — battle.

The big news came from a local school-district race, although it wasn’t just any school district but the second-largest one in the nation. Charter-school supporters won two school board seats (there’s still some vote counting in one of them) in the massive Los Angeles Unified School District, and handily disposed of the union-allied board president. The race was followed nationally, and set the record for the most money spent on a school-board race in the United States, ever.

The total cost was estimated at $15 million, with charter supporters spending $9.7 million, according to estimates from the Los Angeles Times. Typically, choice supporters get eaten alive by the teachers’-union spending juggernaut. It’s usually good news if our side can at least raise enough money to get the message out, but it’s a shocker — in a pleasant way — to find the charter folks nearly doubled the spending of the union candidates.

Various reformers, including Netflix cofounder and Democrat Reed Hastings, invested serious money in the race. He donated $7 million to one charter group, the Times reported. Another top donor was former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a moderate Republican, who spent more than $2 million. Once again, we saw that this was not some right-wing attack on unions. Victory didn’t come cheap, but it’s hard to understate the importance, from a reform perspective, of having a major school board run by a pro-charter majority.

LAUSD’s school Board President Steve Zimmer led the board in March to make a controversial — and largely symbolic — vote in favor of one of the more noxious school-union-backed bills to get a hearing in the state Capitol. Some charter supporters say Senate Bill 808 could be the death knell for most of the state’s charter schools, yet Zimmer’s support for it appears to have badly damaged his re-election chances. That’s another good-news event.

SB 808 is a brazen attempt to bring charter schools under the total control of local school districts, many of which are hostile to their very existence. According to the Senate bill analysis, “This bill requires all charter school petitions to be approved by the governing board of the school district in which the charter school is located, prohibits a charter school from locating outside its authorizer’s boundaries, and limits the current charter appeal process to claims of procedural violations.”

If educators wanted to create a charter school within any district in California and that district is run by a union-controlled school board that hates charters, then there would no longer will be any real workaround if the bill passes. That’s because the bill would wipe out appeals to the county and state level, except for some minor procedural matters.

Furthermore, the bill would let school boards decommission or reject charter schools if they are a financial burden. As the 74 Million blog reports, “that argument could be made about any charter, as state funds follow students as they leave school districts.” The bill allows the board to revoke a school’s charter upon a variety of broad findings, including any improper use of funds or “sustained departure” from “measurably successful practices,” or “failure to improve pupil outcomes across multiple state and school priorities…”

So, one instance of improper use of funds could shut down a school. Imagine if that standard were applied to the LAUSD itself, given its scandals. Charters succeed because they have the freedom to have a “sustained departure” from the failed union-controlled teaching policies. Under this bill, the core of their success could be cause for their shut down. And no school can always improve pupil outcomes in every category. These things take time, and measurements can be subject to interpretation.

In other words, the bill would place the fate of California’s charter schools in the hands of those most committed to their destruction. Given that the makeup of school boards can change every election, it would destroy any security parents could have in these schools: one successful union board election could mean the beginning of the end for the school, as union-backed boards use these new “tools” to dismantle the competition.

But there is good news. The bill was recently shelved, turned into one of those two-year bills that is technically alive but going nowhere fast. The Democrats control the state Capitol and the California Teachers’ Association arguably is the most powerful force under the dome, but many Democrats representing low-income districts aren’t about to mess with successful charters.

In other words, charter schools have come into their own, and we’re probably well past the point that the unions could so directly stomp them. They’ll do what they can to harass and hobble them, but such frontal attacks remain symbolic. And the courts continue to have their say, and frequently end up siding with the charter-school movement.

For instance, in late April the California Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Anaheim parents who want to use the state’s parent-trigger law to turn a traditional public elementary school into a charter school. Under the trigger law, a vote by 50-percent of the student body’s parents can force low-performing schools to change the administration or staff, or revamp themselves into a publicly funded charter with more teaching flexibility.

The school district was adamantly against the change and made various challenges to a 2015 court decision approving the trigger. This is another victory for charter schools in California, although it has to be dispiriting to parents who have to continually fight in the courtroom while their kids get older. It’s been two years since the court approved changes at the school, which already has delayed improved education for two more class years.

But the court’s decision is still encouraging news, as the cultural sands shift in favor of educational alternatives, especially for low-income kids.

California candidates already are lining up for the 2018 gubernatorial race to replace Jerry Brown, who has been friendly to charters. One of the candidates is Delaine Eastin. She’s a close ally of the teachers’ unions. In the early 2000s, when she served as the superintendent of public instruction, Eastin tried to essentially outlaw homeschooling throughout the state.

California’s education code doesn’t directly mention homeschooling. The state’s compulsory education law mentions only an exemption for “children who are being instructed in a private full-time day school by persons capable of teaching … .” Homeschooling parents have long embraced a state-approved work around: They register as small private schools with their respective county boards of education.

Under Eastin’s leadership, however, those homeschools were required to file with the state Department of Education rather than the counties. And then Eastin sent a letter to district officials explaining that homeschooling as it is generally understood (parents without a teaching credential who teach their kids at home) “is not authorized in California, and children receiving homeschooling of this kind are in violation of the state’s truancy laws.”

Yet I talked to Eastin recently and she said she recanted her position long ago after getting quite an education from homeschooling parents. She even described herself as a supporter of charter schools. As with everything, we must follow Ronald Reagan’s advice for dealing with the Soviet Union (“trust, but verify”). But what does it say when one of the most dogged allies of unionized public schools now takes a position acknowledging the importance of parental choice?

It says that we’re making progress. It’s frustrating, plodding and expensive. But such progress should keep charter supporters encouraged as they head into the next round of battles.

This column was first published by the California Policy Center.

How LAUSD’s Chocolate Milk Ban Became an Environmental Disaster

chocolate-milkThe Merriam-Webster dictionary defines idiocy as “extreme stupidity; something that is extremely stupid or foolish.”

That’s the best thing that can be said about the Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision in 2011 to ban chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk. It might be worse than idiocy, but let’s go with that.

LAUSD has more than 640,000 students enrolled, a population that would make it the 26th largest city in America. When the district discards its trash every week, it’s an event.

Republic Services, the company that has had the LAUSD rubbish-hauling contract for nearly five years, estimated last year that the district throws out 600 tons of organic waste, including liquids, every week. Most of that is uneaten food. The liquid is unconsumed milk. White milk.

LAUSD serves milk to students from kindergarten through 12th grade every day for breakfast and lunch. The “milk options” on the menu are “White Low Fat 1%,” “White Fat Free” and “White Non-fat Lactose Free.”

But this segregated milk policy is a failure with the students and a hazard for the environment. It’s not easy to throw away two servings of milk per day for the population of the 26th largest city in America.

At a recent meeting of the LAUSD school board’s Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee, board member and committee chair Monica Ratliff asked Robert Laughton, director of the district’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, about a photo in his report that showed students pouring milk into a trash can.

“Do we throw it down the drain?” she asked. “Where does it go?”

“Originally, they poured it down the drain,” Laughton said, “but the city didn’t like milk going down the sewer system. You can’t put it down the storm drain, that’s against the law. The city isn’t crazy about it going to Hyperion (the wastewater treatment plant) either so now they’re pouring it into black trash bags and putting it into the trash bin. So it’s pretty much going across the counter and into a trash can.”

From there, the milk in the trash bags is hauled to local landfills. That probably includes the notorious Sunshine Canyon, a city- and county-owned facility operated by Republic Services, which takes in about a third of L.A. County’s garbage. It has become Granada Hills’ most obnoxious neighbor due to worsening odors.

If milk is causing problems at Sunshine Canyon, the situation may improve next year. That’s when LAUSD plans to start hauling its organic waste to another county in order to comply with new state regulations for mandatory organic waste recycling. The issue was before the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee because it’s going to cost a lot of money to haul 600 tons per week of organic waste to a composting facility as far away as southern Kern County.

The district would like to reduce food waste. Board member Scott Schmerelson said he’s been trying for a year to help nonprofits pick up unserved meals for food banks. “It’s the most convoluted and difficult process to have the correct insurance to be able to do that, and people just give up,” he said.

Different menus might help. If there’s one thing that’s certain about a “Turkey Pastrami Croissandwich with Cheese” (lunch, grades 9-12, September 27), it’s that a carton of white 1-percent milk will not pair well with it. …

Click here to read the full column from the L.A. Daily News

Susan Shelley is a columnist for the Southern California News Group. Reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley. 

Are LAUSD graduation rates legitimate or triage?

LAUSD school busFrom a document unearthed by LA School Report in early February, we learned that just 54 percent of Los Angeles high school seniors are on track to graduate this June. The eye-opening 20 point gap from last year’s 74 percent was blamed on the new “A through G” requirements, which ensure that graduating students are ready for acceptance into California public universities. Subsequently, the projected grad rate was raised to 63 percent due to the district’s credit recovery plan, which allows students to take online classes, crash courses on weekends, holidays, etc. The latest happy talk by some is that the grad rate could now be as high as 80 percent.

Upon hearing the latest numbers, school board member George McKenna gushed, “I’m really enthusiastically encouraged.” However, a more skeptical board member, Monica Ratliff, asked, “But are these credit recovery courses really rigorous [college-preparation] courses? How do we know? What is our evidence? How do we make sure the … diploma is the same for everyone?”

Put me squarely in Ratliff’s camp. There are still way too many questions for anyone to be exchanging high-fives at this point.

First, where has the school board been on the implementation of the new “A through G” requirements? The plan was originally formulated in 2005, but the board did nothing to ensure that its schools were following through on them. So now, instead of pushing harder for success, the board lowered the ceiling and decided that in 2017 students could pass with a grade of “D,” instead of the “C” as was in the original plan. (This year’s class had been green-lighted for a “D” passing grade all along.)

Second, last year’s 74 percent grad rate (and whatever it turns out to be this year) is itself a stretch; it would be lower had the state decided not to kill the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE). The test was done away with a few months ago by the California Legislature, which chose to give diplomas retroactively (going back to 2006) to students who passed their coursework but failed the test.

It should be noted that the CAHSEE was hardly a rigorous test. According to the California Department of Education website, the English-language component addressed state content standards through tenth grade and the math part of the test addressed state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I.

Also, if the quickie classes taken on free periods, weekends, online, etc. are effective, what does that say about traditional education? Could it be that traditional classes are not necessary and that students can just take filler classes here and there to get what they need? Former L.A. school board member David Tokofsky is unconvinced, pointing out that, “Credit recovery is not content recovery.”

What the school board won’t acknowledge is that while so many students in L.A.’s traditional schools are having trouble meeting graduation standards, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students attending charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools. Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) conducted an analysis of charter schools in LAUSD in 2014 and found that its students gain significantly more learning time than their peers in traditional public schools. Among its findings are that charter school students gain 79 more days of learning than their traditional school peers in math, as well as 50 additional days of learning in reading. Latino students living in poverty gain 115 additional days of learning in math and 58 additional days in reading. And African-American students living in poverty gain 58 additional days of learning in math and 36 additional days in reading.

The sad truth is that nearly half the students entering into the Cal State system need remediation in math or English. If you are a parent would you rather your kid go to a charter school where they will have good chance to be genuinely prepared for college, or take a chance on LAUSD’s quickie triage program?

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher who taught for over 24 years in LAUSD, is the president of the nonprofit California Teachers Empowerment Network.

Educating Students Not #1 Priority of L.A. School Board and Teachers Union

LAUSD school busOn February 11, LA School Report released an internal Los Angeles Unified School District document which stated that just 54 percent of seniors in L.A. are on track to graduate. The drop off from 74 percent last year was immediately attributed to the new “A through G” requirements, which ensure that graduating students are ready for acceptance into California public universities.

The rather lame, “This is the first year of the plan, so we are just getting the kinks out” excuse does not hold water. The A-G plan was initially formulated in 2005, but the LAUSD school board didn’t pay much attention to it. So instead of ramping up the rigor, they decided that in 2017 students could pass with a grade of “D,” instead of the “C” as was in the original plan. (This year’s class had been green-lighted for a “D” passing grade all along.)

Oh but wait, there is some “good” news. Due to the district’s “credit recovery plan” – allowing students to take crash courses on weekends, holidays, etc. – the graduation rate has just been upgraded to a less cataclysmic 63 percent. Yeah, 63 is better than 54, but it still stinks. And the demise of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) has been left out of the equation. The test was killed a few months ago by the California Legislature and, worse, the legislators chose to give diplomas retroactively (going back to 2006) to students who passed their coursework but failed the test.

The exam was hardly rigorous. According to the California Department of Education website, the English–language component addressed state content standards through tenth grade and the math part of the test addressed state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I. Hence, whatever the graduate rate actually turns out to be in 2016, it would have been lower had the state not knocked out a test that every high school grad should be able to easily pass.

So what’s a school board to do? Simply divert attention away from the problem.

The LAUSD school board’s major agenda item of late has been to slow charter school growth. According to Sarah Angel, managing director of advocacy for the California Charter Schools Association, “We are seeing an unprecedented uptick in the recommendation of denials of charter schools.” She pointed out that the L.A. school board approved 89 percent of the charter school applications it received in 2013, but that rate has been cut in half this year. The anti-charter push came about when the board went bananas over philanthropist Eli Broad’s plan to turn half the schools in L.A. into charters. Nothing will invigorate monopolists like a little old-fashioned competition.

Not to be outdone by the school board’s turf-protection moves, the United Teachers of Los Angeles has swung into action, joining a union-led national demonstration of support for traditional public school districts. Dubbed “walk ins,” these events were led in Los Angeles by UTLA and involved parents walking into schools with their kids at the beginning of the school day on February 17. What this was supposed to accomplish is anyone’s guess.

The union also just raised its dues 30 percent, claiming more money is needed to “battle foes of traditional public education.”

Then, UTLA boss and class warfare expert Alex Caputo-Pearl began beating the tax-the-rich drum at a fever pitch. In an obvious reference to Eli Broad and some other philanthropists, he recently averred, “If billionaires want to be involved, they should not undermine programs, they should contribute their fair share in taxes.” Wondering how he knew what taxes certain individuals paid, I sent an email to Mr. Caputo-Pearl and UTLA’s communication director, inquiring which billionaires he was referring to and how much they paid in taxes. They have not deigned to respond to my query thus far. (Note to AC-P: The rich pay plenty of taxes, but 44 percent of Americans don’t pay any, and rest assured, there are no billionaires in that group.)

As if the school board and teachers union’s effort to damage charters wasn’t enough, there is a plan afoot to get an initiative on the ballot this year that would make charter schools illegal. Why? Because, according to the “Voices Against Privatizing Education” website, charters are “racist  … cherry pick students, falsify records, commit enrollment fraud, close down community schools, destroy jobs, bust up unions and segregate students.” Not surprisingly this bundle of outright lies has the backing of several teachers unions and individual union leaders.

You see, charter schools are not being singled out for demolition because they haven’t worked; they are on the radar of the school board and the union precisely because they have been successful. At the same time that so many students in L.A.’s traditional schools are failing to meet graduation standards, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students at charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools.

Also, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) conducted an analysis of charter schools in LAUSD in 2014 and found that its students gain significantly more learning time than their peers in traditional public schools. Among its findings:

  • Charter school students gain 79 more days of learning than their traditional school peers in math, as well as 50 additional days of learning in reading.
  • Latino students gain 72 more days of learning in math and 43 extra days in reading.
  • Latino students living in poverty gain 115 additional days of learning in math and 58 additional days in reading.
  • African American students gain 14 extra days of learning in both reading and math.
  • African American students living in poverty gain 58 additional days of learning in math and 36 additional days in reading.

Evelyn Macias, mother of Julia Macias, one of nine student plaintiffs behind the Vergara lawsuit, recently penned an op-ed for LA School Report, in which she wrote:

We need to look at state policies, legislation and labor agreements that have, over the course of decades, eroded and diminished the rights of children, low-income working families, and ALL families, by claiming the higher moral ground for employees, while much of our leadership remains silent.

Our children are falling through the cracks, while we stand and watch. Who besides their parents and student advocacy groups will step up?

Who besides parents and certain advocacy groups? Who, indeed? Certainly not the obstructionist school board and teachers union. They are intent on protecting turf and maintaining their monopoly. Educating children is far down on their to-do list. Shame on them.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

CA churches and schools protect illegal immigrants from deportation

from the L.A. Times

Amid a fresh wave of immigration enforcement crackdowns, several powerful organizations in California have flexed their muscle to protect or benefit those present in the state illegally.

The city of Los Angeles has become a focal point for several different efforts, triggered by raids last month that “swept up more than 100 people from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who entered the country and stayed illegally,” as the Los Angeles times noted.

“The seizures motivated church leaders nationwide who say they feel compelled to offer physical protection on their premises even if it violates federal law,” as the paper added, with at least three L.A.-area churches “vowing in recent weeks to offer refuge to Central Americans with deportation orders[.]” It is the Obama administration that has taken heat for the roundups:

“Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics and other Christian leaders across the country say they are outraged with the Obama administration’s actions, said Noel Andersen, a grass-roots coordinator with the Church World Service group for refugees. The group has built a network of sanctuaries for Central Americans targeted by ICE.”

Sanctuary schools

At the same time that California churches have shifted toward the approach that defined the state’s so-called “sanctuary cities,” schools and universities have also advanced complementary new policies. Los Angeles Unified Schools, for instance, have declared themselves to be ICE-free zones. “The school board has banned Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from setting foot on any campus without the district’s permission,” according to Fox 11 Los Angeles. Not only must the Superintendent of Schools approve any ICE presence, by the terms of the new vote, but LAUSD lawyers must as well:

“ICE claims that they do not come to schools looking for students, but parents fear sending their kids to school after information they received of ICE agents conducting a series of raids across the U.S. in January targeting Central American immigrants.”

Simultaneously, administrators in the UC system have forged ahead with plans to extend so-called DREAM loans to students who could potentially be deported. “Officials at California’s four-year public universities are reaching out to an estimated 10,000 undergraduate students who might qualify for a special loan aimed at reducing their tuition,” as U-T San Diego reported, “a program that further distinguishes the state as a national trendsetter in providing services to unauthorized immigrants.”

“The California DREAM loan program’s initial $7 million allotment — $5 million for the UC and $2 million for CSU — will be distributed to eligible applicants in the following weeks,” the paper noted. “The state provided half of the sum and the two university systems covered the other half. The loans are for the 2015-16 academic year, and they’re retroactive to last fall.”

Driving policy

As the public education establishment has come to the aid of would-be deportees, the state of California itself has continued to reward those who go public in some fashion with their legal status. California’s program to extend slightly modified drivers license privileges to otherwise undocumented immigrants far outpaced predicted demand. “Under the new law, 605,000 undocumented residents received licenses, accounting for 40 percent of all of the licenses issued last year,” the International Business Times reported. “Exceeding expectations, even more attempted to obtain a license: Around 830,000 undocumented immigrants have applied for a license since Jan. 2, 2015, the first day of the new policy at the Department of Motor Vehicles.”

The state’s aggressive action on normalizing residents who immigrated unlawfully has been rooted in two realities — first, the relatively vast and stable population of long-time residents crossing over from Mexico and Central America, and, second, the prevailing political agenda of Democrats wielding near one-party control over state policy for years on end. “California is among 12 states that now allow immigrants in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses, areas covering an estimated 37 percent of that population,” the Times observed, citing a recent Pew report. But California has also surpassed all other states in its percentage of unlawful residents eligible for a license, according to the report.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com