Picture this: L.A. Unified school board member Steve Zimmer and the California Charter Schools Association are in a moving car. The Association is in the driver’s seat trying to shift the car into third gear. Zimmer’s struggling to get the car into neutral and shoves his foot on the brake.
Zimmer plans to introduce a charter school oversight proposal during Tuesday’s L.A. Unified board meeting. It would stop new charter school approvals in the massive school district while a commission or similar body convenes to more closely scrutinize the independent, publicly funded campuses.
Zimmer told me that two charter school scandals in recent years – one having to do with standardized test cheating and the other with charter school founders' misuse of public money - prompted him to want to create another school district body in addition to the L.A. Unified's Charter Schools Division.
“I think that the significant question that we need to examine is whether or not we as authorizers really have a sense of both academic progress, fiscal stability and solvency and what is the effect of this exodus on the parents and students who choose to remain in LAUSD,” Zimmer said.
The growth of charter schools contributes to layoffs, and a shortage of resources at traditional campuses as funding follows students to charter schools, he said.
Zimmer’s proposal would put on hold the district's approval of new charter school applications.
Corri Tate-Ravare, the L.A. regional director of the California Charter Schools Association, agreed with Zimmer that more needs to be done to make sure charter operators don’t break the law and that low-performing charter schools are held to account and closed when they can’t improve student performance. Last year the Association called for 10 state charters to be shut down. She criticized Zimmer’s proposed moratorium on new charters.
“I feel like Mr. Zimmer is going counter to the direction has gone itself. If you look back 10-12 years ago, the district didn’t have as many options within its own portfolio. I’d like to think that charters have contributed to that mindset,” she said.
L.A. Unified’s approving more and more charter schools each year. About 100,000 students are enrolled in L.A. Unified-authorized charters this year. Zimmer and Tate-Ravare agreed that the tally is a watershed for the school district. Zimmer’s proposal is set for a vote at a later school board meeting.
Do you think charter schools are doing a good job?