New Report: LA charters siphon away almost half a billion from public school students

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by Brian Washington

East Los Angeles educator Gloria Martinez says she and her education colleagues have been fighting off groups looking to privatize public education and turn a profit on the backs of students for years.

So when a new report came out this week which said the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)–which is already under great financial strain–has lost close to half a billion dollars this year alone due to charter schools, Martinez was not surprised.

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“I was not shocked by the findings of the report,” said Martinez. “If anything I am hoping this report opens up a dialogue with the district to take a closer look at the economic impact of charter school growth.”

Charter schools are funded using taxpayer dollars but are run by private or non-profit organizations. They are also given more freedom—not held to the same rigorous standards as traditional public schools.

Within the last ten years, charter schools in LA have experienced a 287% growth. The city is now home to 221 charter schools. That’s up from 58 when the movement began in 2005.

“I would like to see lawmakers pay attention to this report,” said Martinez. “I really do believe that a quality public education is for all and we have to make sure our resources are being spent in the best interest of students.”

Educators have already presented the report, entitled “Fiscal Impact of Charter Schools on Los Angles Unified School District”, to city school board members along with policy recommendations. Martinez is hoping this will spur them to take positive action to protect students and public education.

At the beginning of the charter movement, there were some very good intentions, and I still believe some charter organizations still want to meet the needs of communities. But what has happened is that it has led to a free-market approach to education and that’s not the approach public education needs.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), which represents more than 35,000 educators across the city, said the growth of unmitigated charters is draining public school enrollment. He says the report, which was commissioned by UTLA, will help elected leaders figure out what is needed to create a sustainable education system for both public and charter school students.

“It took over 12 years of declining enrollment at LAUSD to get an accounting of the financial strain of charter school growth,” said Caputo-Pearl. “We cannot wait another 12 years to address the consequences it is having on public education and our students.”

Meanwhile, Martinez, a special education teacher, is especially concerned about the impact charters are having on students with special needs, who make up a significant portion of the city’s student population.

“I feel a lot of parents in that population are lured into enrolling their students into charter schools, but later find out that the schools are not prepared to serve their children,” said Martinez, who is worried that too many charters are putting profits above student needs.

“Students are not stock. They are children. We (educators) provide a service and want a quality learning environment for our students. I feel some charters have deviated from that because we don’t regulate them enough. This report will shed light on the fact that this is not the way to run an education system.”

Reader Comments

  1. Melissa,

    I took a class called True Colors, it has to do with teaching styles of teachers and learning styles of students.
    Google True Colors teaching styles, I think you will find it very interesting. Ask your son’s teacher if they are familiar with True Colors.

  2. Speaking from what’s occurred in my own state, what bothers me is that charter schools have literally skimmed our best kids from the public system and found inventive ways not to absorb the special needs kids many of whom are poor and minority. Afterwards, the general public points to how well the charter system works at producing the academically successful and how the public system turns out a substandard product. Well no wonder, that’s what happens when you can cherry pick your clientele!

  3. The subject of charter schools is a difficult one.
    First, at least in California charter school students take the same standardized tests that public school students take and the results are made public.
    Charter schools have the freedom that many of us would like to have. Some make good use of it; others don’t.
    Some of Michael’s points are well taken–the charter school teachers don’t have to put up with some of the nonsense regulations that some of us in public schools do.
    I know I am frustrated with the bureaucracy and wish our schools were open to more new ideas, but I don’t think that privatizing will help anyone.
    Most of the charter schools I am familiar with are either really really good or really really bad and I know of many that have folded after a few years leaving students who attended with a substandard education. The good ones give students really good opportunities.
    We ned a Soloman-like solution that will shake up our stodgy bureaucracies and give teachers the support they deserve.

    1. Thank you Larry for noting the difference between Charter organizations. I don’t agree with Ms. Martinez’ or the article’s generalization of Charter schools because some ate held to rigorous standards and undergo multiple evaluations. I was lucky to work in a public charter organization in south LA that provided support for teachers and has worked on CCSA and NGSS transitions. Now,I work for a public school district H.S. and their is a difference in pd,student support,and parent involvement – I miss these pieces from my previous employer. I moved to be closer to home.

  4. The problem I have with charter schools is : Who is making money off of the tax payer dollars? Also, I am concerned with the idea of semi privatizing the education system. I know in Utah many of the charter schools have direct ties to legislators who pass the laws concerning them and allot monies to them. The legislators or close family members stand to benefit financially from the charter schools when an increase in funding occurs. I worry that the motivation of the education system will become monetary and not the altruistic principal of educating the masses.

  5. Why did Michael leave his charter school to be in a union school with a union he clearly hates? Why didn’t he negotiate a clearly superior contract for himself that would have been better thsn any union contract? The whole point of charter schools for teachers is that they can negotiate a better contract for themselves than a union can. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a charter teacher who has been able to do that yet, including 7 new teachers to our district who couldn’t leave their charter school fast enough.

    1. Left because of change in family. Had a great contract. Took a pay cut with a union job.

      Not anti-Union either. My bargaining unit is simply ineffective and perpetuates a labor vs. management narrative not reflective of the real needs of teachers and families.

      Maybe if District teacher unions would cease trying to govern the minutiae of working conditions-maximum instructional minutes, seniority “bumping” rights, and engage their members in purposeful professional development we’d see positive change in who chooses our profession.

      Again, charter schools ARE public schools. If Green Dot, Aspire, and others see opportunity in crafting more creative ways to teach the standards than District school monopolies that fine with me.

      If you want to see the results of a monopoly, go eat a federally subsidized school lunch. The lunch program is a closed-shop. No competitor is allowed on campuses. Ask yourself would you eat the pre-packaged slop we serve kids? Applied to education, that’s what District schools before charters.

  6. What is the per student dollar amount paid by the state to public and charter schools? Same or different….let’s have a fair look; put this in perspective instead of random large numbers thrown out there.

  7. The formula of the right is DEMONIZE, PAUPERIZE, PRIVATIZE! It works time and again to veer public opinion so they can make “their” millions, siphoned out of our pockets in the form of taxes, unmolested. The only reason ghetto schools are deficient is because the school boards and city legislators make them so. It is another form of Jim Crow in disguise. In come the capitalists, swooping down like buzzards because they smell money to be ripped off. It is little different than 1933 Germany “Youth are to be trained in the service of a new National State. ( today’s charter schools). Students opposite the University of Berlin burn a huge pile of books, under the approving eye of Göbbels. Complaints are equated with treason.” In other words, those who opposed fascism were “whining and screaming”

  8. Pure rubbish! There’s no “siphon”. It’s the law. Charter schools are public schools. LAUSD and district schools don’t have rigorous standards. Quite the contrary. I teach in a district school after seven years in an Oakland charter school. I’m now in a bargaining unit that negotiates contracts that destroy professionalism, stifle initiative, and takes a pass on improving our craft. Instead of examing and visiting charter schools to see what’s working as the “competition ” we just whine and scream. NEA- pick a different issue.

    1. Why did you leave the charter and go work for a public union school you so obviously hate? Why didn’t you stay at the charter and negotiate your own contract which should have been clearly superior to any contract your union school has achieved? Any charter school teacher reading thus needs to tell us union teachers how you were able to neotiate a clearly superior contract for yourself than any could. Haven’t heard from one yet.

    2. I’m not sure if I follow Michael’s reasoning—”There’s no “siphon”. It’s the law.” I would assert that there can be siphoning as well as a law that supports it, and that’s basically what you have: schools that siphon off the money that could be used to make all schools better. I don’t have to visit a charter school to learn what’s working; they have the cash to make things work. It would be like visiting an eight-figure-salaried CEO to see how he, oh let’s say, plans a vacation. It isn’t going to help me plan mine unless I have the same eight figures to play with. Public school educators know what works; in fact, they invented what works. The problem is that the money to make it work is being siphoned elsewhere.

      1. With all due respect, I don’t think you are familiar with school finance law. Most charters in CA make things work with significantly less money than their large district counterparts. This is particularly true for charters with one or two sites.

    3. If charter schools really care, then they should also have to absorb special needs students and problem students who do have learning deficiencies. It is not fair to accept only the very best students over those who struggle. Even when standards are held up many of the public schools do just as well as chartered ones, despite the handicap, according to some recent studies, like one that came out of Stanford University some time ago.

      1. You are missing the point. The public schools are being overrun with the kids you mentioned and the rest of the students are having their education stolen. Public school needs to clean up their own house as they have let things get completely out of control. Hence why students who want an education are flocking to charter schools.

    4. While independent charter schools are public schools they do not work under the same constraints or accountability that traditional public schools do. If the Los Angeles Unified School District has not collected from the charter schools money that, under the law, the District is entitled to than a great disservice continues to be done to the students of the District.
      I agree with you that educators should visit any schools that are successful. We can learn from each other. However, I am more interested in why you left an Oakland charter school to work in a school whose union engages in activities you object to. As a member you could be a force for change. Get involved with leadership and policy making.

  9. This report is absolutely biased. LAUSD did not “lose” money. They simply weren’t paid by the state for students they were not educating.

    Does anyone wish to see this information studied by an objective source? CTA and UTLA are not objective.

    Charters are often held to higher standards, because they have the authorizer and the county looking at them, in addition to the state. This is true for both finances and academics.

    The answer is simple. If school districts don’t want kids going to charter schools, ensure the parents and students feel the district schools are safe and that they are achieving.

  10. I wish it was all charter schools. My son goes to one of the best public schools in California, but it’s still all geared to one sort of teaching style. He comes home feeling bad about who he is because he isn’t fully getting that style of teaching. Of course, the teacher’s answer is drugs. Awesome, thanks. I wish I had a charter option.

  11. How do we change this? If LAUSD is require to follow standards and an open book for budget oversight, shouldn’t Charter Schools? Our kids should not be a cash cow!

    1. Charters do follow the standards and have significant financial oversight. Open Board meetings, LCAPs, publicly approved budgets, and accountability for restricted funds are all in place at charter schools.

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