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.”