Whining about charter schools won’t make them go away. Yet Los Angeles Unified board member Scott Schmerelson is proposing the equivalent of that with a resolution that comes before the board Tuesday taking a symbolic position against a plan to roughly double the number of charter schools in the district. Under the plan Schmerelson opposes, close to half of all students in the district would attend publicly-funded but privately-operated schools.
Concerns about the charter push aren’t without foundation. The loss of more students to charters would reduce funding for the district’s public schools and its programs. But many parents have embraced charter schools, which, by and large, have been well run in L.A. Unified. The expansion could be a good thing for L.A. students, providing them with more chances to attend excellent new schools.
(The charter expansion plan is being spearheaded by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which has also given money to the California Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles to support Education Matters, a Times digital initiative.)
Schmerelson’s resolution is a blunt instrument, yet one without real force. It would create division without action, and could backfire by making any future votes against individual charter school applications appear biased. The board is required by state law to approve all sound applications for charter schools.
The resolution declares the board’s opposition to any efforts to serve some and not all students. The wording refers to concerns that some charter schools might be discouraging low-achieving students from enrolling, or pushing those who do enroll to return to their traditional public schools. Under this definition, though, the board would have to oppose many of its own programs — magnet schools, programs to teach students fluency in English and alternative schools for students with chronic behavioral problems.
A more useful proposal on the agenda, by board member Monica Ratliff, would require charter schools to disclose information to parents and staffs about their special-education offerings and curriculums, and any time the school has been served with a notice that its charter might be revoked. But the proposal would go overboard by requiring schools to reveal their teacher pay scales, calorie contents of their meals and the square footage of their play areas. Important information should be revealed to parents, but this proposal reaches beyond what’s useful.
Here is the charter school resolution that L.A. Unified needs: It’s time to end the conjecture about whether charter schools enroll students selectively or whether they make the achievements of their students look better by pushing out low performers. L.A. Unified should research the issue. If charters are doing that, go after them; if not, stop complaining about them.