Big Sur charter school,” Dawn Danby

January 30, 2019; Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and EdSource

“The Los Angeles Board of Education is calling on the California legislature to impose a moratorium on new charter schools,” notes Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post. The measure approved by the school board calls for “a state study on how charter schools affect traditional schools, as well as an eight-to-ten-month local moratorium while the study is being completed,” explains Howard Bloom in the Los Angeles Times.

As readers may recall, L.A.’s schools have long been a laboratory for philanthropic “dabbling” in the schools, specifically by the Broad Foundation, and this resistance from the community, the local administration, and even among other philanthropists to school choice strategies has been long brewing.

Strauss points out that the vote marks “a remarkable shift by the pro-charter panel that struck a blow to the charter movement and may lead to stronger oversight of the schools.” Strauss adds that California “has more charter schools and charter school students than any other state. California has allowed charters—which are publicly funded but privately operated—to flourish with little oversight amid growing controversy over financial scandals and other issues.”

Los Angeles itself has more charter school students than any other US city. In L.A., an estimated 112,000 students attend one of the city’s 225 nonprofit-run charter schools, ten of which were approved in the last year. The public Los Angeles Unified School Districts serves about 486,000 students in the schools it operates. Overall, students at charter students constitute roughly 18.7 percent of all students, far higher than the national average of five-to-six percent.

In the settlement to the recent teacher strike, the district guaranteed that the school board would vote on a moratorium, but a vote to approve the moratorium was not certain. As Howard Bloom, writing in the Los Angeles Times, points out, district superintendent Austin Beutner “had agreed to bring forward a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charters in L.A. Unified until a study could be completed on how they affect traditional schools,” which is different than a promise that the measure would pass. Bloom adds that, “Initially, the resolution had seemed unlikely to get the four votes needed to pass. Three of the six board members were elected with substantial financial backing from charter school supporters.”

But it seems clear that it was understood among school board members that part of the deal with the union, albeit unwritten, involved passing the resolution. Board president Monica Garcia, a charter supporter, was one of two charter supporters voting in favor of the moratorium, leading to a 5–1 school board vote in favor of the moratorium. In explaining her vote, Garcia said, “The resolution was part of the package to end the strike. And I supported ending the strike, and the superintendent, and the negotiating team, and all partners that brought us back.”

But while the vote may be a product of union negotiations, the teachers’ union is not the only group in California calling for a charter school moratorium. Indeed, Strauss notes, “a growing number of education advocates and groups, including the NAACP, have called for a moratorium on charters until issues involving transparency and operations are resolved. California voters just elected a new schools superintendent, Tony Thurmond, who has said he wants to spend more money on traditional schools and stop the expansion of charters until concerns are addressed.” Governor Gavin Newsom has also signaled his support for traditional public schools.

Even some charter supporters seem to think that a pause in new charter school development might be a good idea. Beutner himself, long sympathetic to charter schools, indicated that, “It makes sense to pause while experts study the law at this point.”

The Los Angeles resolution is made in the form of a recommendation to the state of California. It remains to be seen how the state responds. John Fensterwald in Ed Source notes that “the legislature must now decide whether a moratorium makes sense, how long it should last and who it would apply to: just LA Unified, all districts on the state’s fiscal watch list or just districts with a lot of charter schools.” Fensterwald adds that, “By the California Charter Schools Association’s count, charter enrollment is 20 percent or more in 59 school districts of at least the median size of 1,927 students.”—Steve Dubb