What’s next? Common-Sense Solutions at Every Level
The Charter Schools Act of 1992 was signed into law with the intent of enabling charter schools to be more innovative in the way they served students. Although independent charter schools have a separate governance structure and are granted significant exemptions from state laws, the district is still ultimately responsible for protecting the best interests of all students. However, in many ways the district’s options are limited, both from the limitations inherent in an Act that focuses primarily on growth opportunities for charter school operators rather than educational opportunities for all students, and from the growing fiscal impacts of unmitigated charter school growth. The financial crisis facing the district, the body that maintains ultimate accountability for students’ best interests, should be the defining reason we re-examine the current model of charter school approval, funding, and oversight.
UTLA and ITPI have outlined some solutions to the problems identified in the MGT report. There are opportunities at the local, state, and federal level to address the financial and accountability loopholes. These suggestions are not meant to be an exhaustive list of solutions to the problems. In addition, other proposals have been already put forward, such as the Annenberg Charter Accountability Standards, and the Public School Accountability Proposal put forward (but not ultimately implemented by the district) by UTLA in 2014 negotiations with LAUSD. For example, the Annenberg Standards proposed that local decisions to not authorize a charter school should be honored, and not overturned by another authorizing body. These are just a few examples of other solutions that could also be implemented to address the inequities in our current educational system.
All families, whether their children attend district or independent charter schools, want to see their neighborhood schools succeed, because stable neighborhood schools are critical to creating thriving communities and allowing students access to a broad array of educational opportunities. Addressing some of the funding inequities outlined in this brief will be the key to maintaining and growing neighborhood district schools and to providing the oversight and support necessary for independent charter schools. There is a mutual interest, across district and charter stakeholders, for LAUSD to survive and thrive – for the benefit of all students. District-led action is indispensable to this process.
District Action 1: Accurate assessment of current and future oversight costs
If the district wants to create new programs tailor-made to meet the needs of diverse communities, it will be necessary to forecast how much revenue will be available over the next five, 10, or 20 years. Sustainably operating and growing successful school models for district schools, and appropriately fulfilling oversight responsibilities for charter schools, is impossible without understanding all costs associated with independent charter school authorization and oversight. Quantifying and managing these costs is a necessary pre-condition to responsible financial planning. The district should include in the assessment a study of how much staff time outside the charter school division is being used to support independent charter schools, and assign those costs appropriately and transparently to CSD.
District Action 2: Assess all fees and reimbursements owed by independent charter schools for use of rent-free space under Proposition 39
The district must use all tools at its disposal to manage the costs associated with the growth of independent charter schools. This means using the tools outlined by Proposition 39 to recoup the costs associated with charters schools co-located within existing district facilities. According to MGT’s estimates, collecting these funds would generate an additional $2 million each year that could be reinvested into balancing out the stresses placed on co-located district schools. In addition, the district has the opportunity to thoroughly review its policies related to Proposition 39 so that all costs and revenues associated with co-located charters can be responsibly assessed. Within that review, the district must calculate the value of the over-allocation reimbursements it has foregone; assess how to retroactively collect those reimbursements, which likely figure in the tens of millions of dollars; and collect those reimbursements going forward.
District Action 3: Continue investing in high-quality district neighborhood schools
Every day, schools throughout the district provide a high-quality, comprehensive education. For example, magnet programs have a waiting list of 44,000 students. LAUSD should ensure the continued growth and replication of these successful programs. The district should also continue to invest in improving educational opportunities at those schools that need additional support.
The fiscal crisis outlined in the MGT report presents a chance for the district to analyze the reasons students and their families are attending independent charters, and to develop outreach and retention strategies. If enrollment declines are to be reversed, then it will be imperative for the district to lift up those schools that are providing Los Angeles students with the well rounded, high-quality education they need to succeed.