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Nonprofit formed to promote charter school expansion plan gets new director

Second graders Mark G. and Brandon C. play educational games on iPads at a charter school in Huntington Park.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Second graders Mark G. and Brandon C. play educational games on iPads at a charter school in Huntington Park.

The nonprofit formed to advance a plan to rapidly expand the number of Los Angeles students who attend charter schools announced on Thursday that it will be led by a long-time charter school lobbyist and activist.

Myrna Castrejón will lead Great Public Schools Now, which launched in November by the backers of the charter expansion plan that was first developed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. 

The strategy is evolving, she said, the group still wants to help students to get out of low performing LA schools and she sees high performing district schools as another option in addition to charters.

"The job is to raise funds, the job is to build a powerful coalition all of the people that we know are important stakeholders to make Los Angeles a success," she said.

Some funds, she said, will be used as grants to help schools find facilities and to train school staff.

Castrejón was most recently the director of lobbying and advocacy efforts at the California Charter School Association, where she has held various leadership roles since the association was launched in 2003. 

Backers of the Broad plan have said they intend to promote many different school models that could rapidly increase the number of high-quality school options for Los Angeles families, who have been leaving the district. 

But the plan, which originally proposed to double the number of charter schools in L.A. Unified over the next eight years, has been widely interpreted as a threat to the stability of the traditional school district. Opponents of the plan point to a looming budget deficit that could worsen if traditional district schools lose large numbers of students.  

“The Broad proposal is a deep, deep challenge to the future of the district as a conventional public school district,” said Pomona College professor David Menefee-Libey.

On Tuesday, LAUSD board members unanimously approved a motion that puts the board on record in opposition to “external initiatives that seek to reduce public education in Los Angeles to an educational marketplace and our children to market shares,” according to the resolution.

The resolution doesn’t do anything to slow charter school approval, and the board has historically approved most of the petitions to open new charters that have been submitted.

The resolution did give newly-appointed superintendent Michelle King one of her first orders from the school board: Find out how the Broad charter proposal will affect student enrollment and L.A. Unified’s financial health.

On the day of her appointment, new L.A. Unified Superintendent Michelle King said she neither supports nor opposes a proposal by billionaire Eli Broad to significantly grow charter schools in the school district.

King said her response to the plan would be to nurture and duplicate good schools.

Menefee-Libey said that King will have to take a more decisive stand on charter school growth and that response will shape her legacy as superintendent of the second largest school district in the nation.

Whatever approach she takes, he added, King – a political novice – will have to reach outside school district headquarters for support.

“She needs the attention of the mayor, she needs the attention of community organizations and community leaders, she needs the support of legislators who are based in L.A.,” he said.

Charter school advocates want King to know that the waiting lists at many existing charter schools should signal desire for more charter schools. 

“We will definitely be inviting Superintendent King to town halls with charter school parents,” said Sarah Angel, managing director for advocacy at the California Charter Schools Association.

The association is part of a powerful group of charter advocates that have spent millions of dollars on lobbying and elections to promote charter school growth. However, King answers to the seven-member board of education.

Board member Scott Schmerelson, who has vocally opposed the expansion of charter schools, said that he will press King to more vocally take a stand.

“I think that she will see where we’re coming from and I think she will follow our lead,” Schmerelson said. 

This story has been updated.