Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Michelle King says the district has been working to make it easier for parents to access LAUSD public school choice programs.
LAUSD’s enrollment has been declining for a decade. The district, which enrolls approximately 514,000 students, is projected to lose 13,000 students this year. Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) reports LAUSD’s school choice programs, including charter schools, language immersion schools, magnet programs, and transfer and open-enrollment policies, have been growing in popularity.
“In 2013–14, more than 135,000 students exercised school choice; that’s roughly one out of every four students in the L.A. Unified that year,” SCPR reported.
In an August interview with SCPR, King said, “Even though we have a lot of choice, it wasn’t a pipeline. … We’ve really tried to work hard to ensure that we make those connections, fill those gaps so that parents have that opportunity as well.”
King also said “there kind of comes a tipping point” with charter schools. Ensuring the best education for all students can’t be achieved by “just opening up more and more and more any type of school, cutting up and slicing up the pie in smaller and smaller pieces, because I feel, unfortunately, that would be an adverse impact on our kids,” said King.
Apparent Opposition to Charters
Earlier in 2016, a group of charter school operators sent a letter to the LAUSD Board expressing concern the district is “looking for reasons to prevent new charter schools from opening, even those proposed by the most respected, successful charter operators.”
Lance Izumi, senior director of the Pacific Research Institute’s Center for Education, says King is opposed to school choice programs that relinquish LAUSD’s control.
“Superintendent King says she wants more choices for parents and students, but her statements and, more importantly, the actions of her district demonstrate that the added choices she supports are limited to schools that she and her district control,” Izumi said. “For instance, King wants more magnet schools and language-immersion schools, which are schools controlled by and run by the district. She does not want more charter schools, which are independent of district control.
“The percentage of charter school applications approved by the Los Angeles School Board has fallen precipitously over the last several years, from about 90 percent two years ago to around 50 percent in the 2015–16 school year,” Izumi said.
‘A Disingenuous Façade’
Izumi says King’s true priority is keeping LAUSD well-funded.
“In view of the district’s anti-charter strategy and tactics, King’s talk of increasing choices for parents and children is just a disingenuous facade for keeping the revenue to LAUSD flowing,” Izumi said. “Her main concern is the loss in funding to LAUSD from the drop in student enrollment in district schools. The fact that the student enrollment increase in charter schools in Los Angeles accounts for about half of the drop in enrollment at district schools indicates that King and her district are using choice as a tactic to keep funding within the district and as a tool to fight charter school growth.
“The bottom line: Follow the money,” Izumi said.
‘Not Real Choice’
Larry Sand, president of California Teachers Empowerment Network, says if King delivers on her promises, it’s likely the LAUSD landscape will not change much.
“It may not look a whole lot different,” Sand said. “King is against small schools, saying, ‘[W]e won’t be able to have rich opportunities for kids, period, because all of the schools will be too small to offer that type of educational experience.’ Thus, there will be fewer schools that offer choice. In a city like Los Angeles, that means to go to a school of choice a child may have to travel a great distance to get to and from school. This is not real choice.
“The district needs to be broken up into smaller pieces, with various types of schools in each community,” Sand said. “The school board would not like that, however, because their power would evaporate. And it would not be acceptable to [the United Teachers Los Angeles], as the teachers union would be fractured.”
Izumi says LAUSD managers are acting in their own self-interest, not for students, parents, and taxpayers.
“Once again, the actions of King and the district show that the ultimate concern is for the adults in the system, not the parents and the children who would like to vote with their feet to leave the schools controlled and run by the Los Angeles Unified School District,” Izumi said.
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.