CREDIT: Green Dot Public Schools

An English language art course at Ánimo Jefferson Charter Middle School in Los Angeles. Officials at the school operator Green Dot Public Schools deny a new uniform LA policy that would make it difficult for Green Dot to expand. But the LAUSD leaders say they just obey state law.

CREDIT: Green Dot Public Schools

An English language art course at Ánimo Jefferson Charter Middle School in Los Angeles. Officials at the school operator Green Dot Public Schools deny a new uniform LA policy that would make it difficult for Green Dot to expand. But the LAUSD leaders say they just obey state law.

With the upcoming school year already hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Los Angeles charter schools face greater uncertainty as they comply with a new state law.

California's new law, which went into effect last month to impose greater restrictions on charter schools, is being pushed back from charter schools in the district where most of the state's charter schools are located. It's about a draft of one new 80-page guideline Details of how Los Angeles Unified plans to implement the law. The guideline will be put to a vote in front of the school board on Tuesday.

L.A. Unified policies, developed by the Department of Charter Schools and reviewed by the district general counsel, are likely to set the stage for how other districts across the state interpret the new law, Assembly Bill 1505. The law gives school authorities more powers to reject new charter schools and changes the procedure for renewing charter schools.

Cassy Horton, vice president of the California Charter Schools Association, in an interview with EdSource, called L.A. Unified policies "deeply worrying" and said they essentially threaten a moratorium on new schools and close some existing schools. Horton and other supporters of charter schools dispute the district's interpretation of the law, arguing that the policy would add restrictions that they believe are inconsistent with the new law, such as: B. the possibility for the school authority to examine the facilities that a charter school would like to use and when to decide whether it should be approved.

However, district leaders say their policies are in line with the law, which has ambiguities that leave it open for interpretation. For example, the law allows school authorities to reject an application for a new charter school if "the school is unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community" but does not define in detail what constitutes the interests of the community, and school authorities do a lot Leaves discretion to make this decision.

“Language is very subjective these days. If you don't say you have to do something, there are exceptions, ”Richard Vladovic, president of the L.A. Unified School Board, said at a recent board meeting. "But when I read the law and the proposed implementation, it followed the law."

The policy is lauded by the California Teachers Association, the union that represents teachers across the state and calls for limiting the growth of charter schools. The final version of AB 1505 was viewed as a compromise between the CTA and the California Charter Schools Association after Governor Gavin Newsom's staff spent months negotiating with both groups.

The L.A. Unified Schools Board is expected to vote this week to approve the policy. However, other key factors that play a role in the final implementation of the directive will take months to resolve.

Two board memberships in Districts 3 and 7 are available for election in November. One of the biggest issues with the races will be charter schools and how to deal with efforts to expand school selection.

By next year, L.A. Unified and other districts will likely receive additional guidance from the California Department of Education, which is currently drafting regulations to help districts interpret and enforce the law.

Disputes over L.A. Unified policies can also be settled in court. Julie Marsh, a professor at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education, said she had "thought all along that we will see litigation at some point in the future."

“I think there are many opportunities for litigation down the line, whether it's to reject a petition based on tax implications and how a district interprets it, whether it's based on a disagreement with the way the district has determined to serve the community interest or whether it is over with a school denied renewal, ”she said.

Charter school critics say L.A. Unified policies will benefit the district by giving the school board more powers to regulate charter schools, which have grown rapidly in Los Angeles. With 277 charter schools, the district has more charter schools in its jurisdiction than any school district in the nation.

California Teachers Association board member and teacher in Los Angeles, Erika Jones, said she hopes LA Unified can limit growth of charter schools under the district's new guidelines.

"We can't sit here and deny that LA Unified is saturated with charter growth," said Jones. "In order to get the district to hold themselves accountable to the community they serve, I think that's important."

Last year Jones served on a State Charter School task force convened by State Superintendent of Public Education, Tony Thurmond, helped inform the final version of the law. The task force also included people from charter school operators, other unions and superintendents.

Photo credit: Gov. Newsom's Facebook feed

Newsom holds AB 1505 after it was signed last year. Directly to the right are MP Patrick O'Donnell and State Supt. Tony Thurmond. Myrna Castrejón, CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, is left, and CTA President Toby Boyd is left.

With so many charter schools within LA Unified, the district essentially has a “dual school system,” which district schools compete with charter schools, said board member Jackie Goldberg, who often criticizes charter schools.

"We have a system that has never had much accountability," Goldberg said, referring to charter schools. "And now finally."

However, the principals of the charter schools argue that the district's policy would add regulations that are contrary to the letter of the law. Their main concern is that the policy allows the school board to review a Charter School petitioner's facility plan and reject the petition if it is determined that the plan will not benefit the community in which the school wishes to locate. This applies to both new charter schools and existing schools trying to move to a new facility.

Marcia Aaron, CEO of KIPP SoCalKIPP Schools, one of the largest operators of charter schools in LA Unified, often start in temporary locations before moving to permanent locations. Now she said schools will find it harder to switch facilities if L.A. Unified guidelines are implemented as currently written.

Aaron described a hypothetical situation where KIPP funded and built a new facility to move an existing school, only to have the facility plan rejected by the school board. Aaron said KIPP would then have to pay for two facilities: the facility where the school already operates and the new building.

"And the impact of that is significant since you can't afford two locations," said Aaron, adding that some KIPP schools in Southern California "have had to move four or five times in their lifetime."

The new policy could also make it harder for charter schools to share campuses with district schools known as co-locations. If a charter school wishes to locate on a district campus, the charter school must provide "detailed information and analysis of the specific" district location it wishes to locate in accordance with the guidelines.

The district then has the option to decline the charter school's petition if it believes that sharing the space with a charter school is not in the best interests of the district school. The district could come to this conclusion if, for example, the presence of a charter school limited the ability of the district school's students to access science and computer laboratories.

The United Teachers Los Angeles union, which represents teachers in the district, has called for a moratorium on new co-locations during the coronavirus pandemic. The union argues that collocations require compliance with public health protocols such as B. physical distancing, would be difficult because students from two schools would share a campus.

Goldberg said the district had no choice under the new law but to screen facilities based on Proposition 39, the state law approved by voters in 2000 requiring districts to provide charter schools with schools "reasonably equivalent" to other district facilities.

"If there's no Prop. 39, we can't include facilities, but there is Prop. 39, so you have to include facilities," Goldberg said. “How could you not involve institutions? What if you don't have a place where they want to be? "

Some existing charter schools in Los Angeles are at risk of being completely closed under the new law.

Based on their performance in the California School Dashboard, existing charter schools are divided into one of three categories: high performance, medium performance, or low performance. The dashboard is that government system of assessing school performance based on multiple factors including test scores, suspensions, and college readiness.

Under the law, high performing charter schools are generally renewed and low performing schools are generally not renewed unless they can convince the school board that they are making significant progress. School authorities have more leeway with medium-performing schools, which are by far the largest group of charter schools in LA Unified. A school board can only refuse to renew a medium-performing school if it is determined that the school was “unsuccessful or has made insufficient progress” and the law states that it is in the interest of the students to close the school.

When evaluating medium and low-performing schools, school authorities need to match the school performance measurements on the dashboard, such as: B. assign a considerable weight to standardized test results. Proponents of charter schools want the district to consider student growth as well – Data the district collects measures how individual students are developing from year to year.

Charter school supporters hope the California Department of Education will encourage districts to consider growth data. The department is currently developing regulations to provide school districts with more clarity in implementing the law.

Thurmond, in a memo to the State Board of Education dated May 29, wrote that the department's staff "have sought written feedback from stakeholders on areas where regulations may be required and review comments." A department spokesman said in an email that the department is expected to propose regulations to the state board by January.

Cristina De Jesus, CEO of Green Dot Public Schools, an operator of 15 charter schools in Los Angeles, said growth data is the best measure of academic performance at Green Dot schools. Eleven Green Dot schools in Los Angeles are considered underperforming schools, while four fall into the underperforming school category.

"I'll say that each of the schools we have is behind the great job that is being done every day, and a closer look at student growth year-over-year actually tells that story," she said.

Michael Burke / EdSource

Apex Academy in Hollywood. The school, which shares a campus with Bernstein High School, could be refused renewal in 2022, admits its managing director Alfonso Paz.

In order not to be closed, underperforming schools must demonstrate to the school board that they are "taking reasonable steps to address the underlying causes," according to the district's policy. You must also provide “clear and compelling data” that shows either an increase in academic performance or strong post-secondary results, depending on your district policy.

Alfonso Paz, director of one of the district's underperforming charter schools, the Apex Academy in Hollywood, said he was "100% concerned" that the school will close when it is due for renewal in 2022. The Apex Academy in 2019 was rated below average across several areas of the dashboard, including graduation rates and student performance on standardized math and English tests.

"It is literally the death knell for us if we don't fight back," said Paz.

School board member George McKenna said he believes many of the underperforming charter schools are trying, "but their results are embarrassingly low."

"I tried to help them by saying we'd give you one more try on the apple," McKenna said in a school council meeting last month. "But we are at the core now."

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