Charter schools may face new era of opposition to funding

school busAfter a quarter-century of explosive increases in California, charter schools experienced all-time lows in growth the last two school years. And charters may also be facing an era of much harsher treatment from school boards allied with teachers unions who more than ever see charters as taking away resources that should go to conventional schools.

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That was many education observers’ takeaway this week from the Los Angeles Unified School Board’s decision to approve a local moratorium on approvals of new charters until their impact on the state’s largest district is freshly assessed. District leaders had agreed to pass the resolution as part of their deal with United Teachers Los Angeles to end a strike that shut LAUSD schools for six days earlier last month.

Charters are privately operated public schools that hope to attract students from regular schools with their freedom to follow different teaching regimens. Some also offer specialized language or academic programs. Most are non-union.

From 1992 to 2016, charter schools went from zero students to more than 600,000 – about 10 percent of total K-12 students in California. The last two years, however, there was less than 2 percent growth in the number of total charters for the first time.

Charters initially faced brisk opposition from the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, which had heavy influence in many districts thanks to the board members that union local chapters helped elect.

But in 2000, California voters approved Proposition 39 related to school financing. One provision requires that “school districts make available to all charter schools operating in their school district … facilities that will sufficiently accommodate all of the charter’s in-district students, and that facilities be ‘reasonably equivalent’ to other classrooms, buildings, or facilities in the district,” according to the state Department of Education page outlining how school districts should comply with the state law.

CalSTRS bailout spurs scrum for limited resources

Proposition 39 gave charters a potent tool to fight attempts to block them, leading to something of a cease-fire from unions. But the passage in 2014 of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System bailout not only isn’t having the effect of stabilizing school finances that some hoped, it’s created a more intense battle for district resources than ever.

Under the bailout, total contributions to CalSTRS will nearly double from 2013-14 to 2020-21 as hikes are phased in. But districts are required to contribute 70 percent of the new money – or close to $4 billion when the phase-in ends. Even with two more contribution hikes awaiting in 2019-20 and 2020-21, many districts across the state are already struggling to make their budgets balance.

That list starts with L.A. Unified, whose board was warned by the Los Angeles County Office of Education that the district couldn’t afford the two retroactive 3 percent raises it gave teachers to end the strike. The county office raised the possibility that the district’s finances could be so broken by 2020-21 that it could be subject to an outside takeover based on a state law requiring districts maintain minimum reserves.

L.A. Unified leaders hope to get the state Legislature to provide more funding for next school year. But the L.A. teachers union also wants the district to stop providing so much funding to the district’s 225 charters, which teach 112,000 of the district’s 486,000 students.

The wild card in a new cold war between teachers unions and charters is Gov. Gavin Newsom. While he has often praised charter schools as an important part of public education, he said while campaigning last year that he would sign legislation “requiring charter schools to be more transparent with their finances and operations and to adhere to stricter conflict of interest rules on their governing boards,” according to the EdSource website.

Charter school critics see this as an obvious response to the messy finances and scandals seen in some charters. Charter advocates see it as an ominous first step toward rolling back the charter movement. They backed former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the 2018 governor’s race.

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  1. The Captive says

    What is so hard to understand THAT CHARTER SCHOOLS TEACH BETTER than the union-government schools who are controlled by using sharia concepts which is wrong by all WESTERN CULTURE? May CA schools collapse because they are wrong.

  2. Boris Badenov says

    Our Marxists politicians and unions don’t like competition.

  3. Perhaps 10% is the top limit of parents who really are concerned about the quality of the education their children are receiving, not counting those who can afford to, and have, enrolled their kids in private schools.
    That being said, the final step in bringing the public school system into line are Universal Vouchers, where parents may spend their child’s educational Dollar in whichever public (and Charter’s are “public” as currently constituted), or private school, that fits the needs of the child best. In the 90’s the unions told us they would make schools better if only CA’s voters defeated a Universal Voucher proposition. We took them at their word, and now two decades later, are finally realizing that they lied through their teeth. A generation or more of kids consigned to a non-learning environment all on the deceit and selfishness of the AFT/NEA.

  4. Denise Erkeneff says

    I enrolled my two kids in St.Anne school in Laguna Niguel and paid big bucks for the smaller classroom, greater individual attention, etc. from pre school to 8th grade for one and pre-school to 6th for another. When it came time that the rubber meets the road, so to speak, in 5th and 6th grade, my first daughter was winning the middle school Nat. Geo Jeopardy initiative above the 8th graders!. And, also competing and winning as a top national longboard and shortboard recognized champion. We asked for the published test scores. That met with fierce resistance. Because, why? They were not meeting basic standards. I then moved our surfer daughter to a recognized middle school for GATE program. Best decision ever. And now she is a cum laude graduate and took 36 hours of AP testing to that degree while at Dana Hills High School. Glad to see more money put where it needs to be placed instead of people who run these so called “charter schools” who are not held to high standards, let alone do not publish test scores!

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