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Broad Foundation defends charter plan after concerns about public school impact

The Broad Foundation Executive Director Gregory McGinity takes questions about his group's charter school expansion plan.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC
The Broad Foundation Executive Director Gregory McGinity takes questions about his group's charter school expansion plan.

The executive director of the Broad Foundation on Thursday defended his organization’s plan to lead a doubling of charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District over eight years.

“We’ve got over 50,000 students on wait lists in charters. Why is that? It’s because parents want different choices, they want something different,” Gregory McGinity said, speaking publicly on the plan for the first time since it was leaked in September.

McGinity made his remarks during a panel discussion at an invitation-only event sponsored by the education-reform advocacy group ABC. About 70 invitees attended the event at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

The event, which focused almost entirely on the charter expansion plan, prompted a tense exchange between McGinity and Los Angeles Unified School Board President Steve Zimmer regarding the proposal's financial impact on the public schools.

The plan’s stated goal is to increase the charters’ “market share” of Los Angeles' public education. That approach, Zimmer said, is contrary to the founding mission of charter schools.

“The idea was to use these networks, these schools, as incubators for change and then spread that change throughout the system so all kids could be part of that change,” he said.

Instead, Zimmer said, the plan to enroll 130,000 new students in charter schools could push LAUSD into bankruptcy because state funding would follow those students.

McGinity said he doesn't believe that would happen.

“I have a lot of faith in the school board and the team at LAUSD, but we also know we’ve seen a lot of school districts around the country with a high percentage of charter schools and they’re thriving,” he said.

The plan proposes spending $490 million to secure school sites around Los Angeles and hire charter school staff. Because many charter schools are non-union, the plan is opposed by the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, which was not invited to the event.

McGinity said the charter school plan is a work in progress and that Thursday's discussion would help shape the final proposal. He didn’t say when that proposal might be completed. 

Just where the charter schools would be located is still up for discussion.

“Is it just a few isolated communities? Is it the broader city? Is it the greater Los Angeles area as we think about access to high-quality education for families?” McGinity asked.

After the discussion, McGinity, and the other panelists went table to table, taking questions from participants.

Rob McGowan, an associate director at CADRE, a parent support group, said what he’s heard so far from the Broad Foundation assumes inner-city kids will enroll in the charters and automatically benefit. But, he said, “It takes something more than that. It takes a belief in that black child — that this black child is a human being and is capable.”

McGowan said his group pushes LAUSD to create disciplinary policies and instructional approaches that address the learning needs of African-American children. He said he'd like to see those goals included in the charter expansion plan.

Support or opposition to Broad’s charter school plan has become a litmus test in L.A.’s public school community to determine alliances, according to Claremont Graduate University’s Charles Kerchner.

“Clearly, the Broad plan has started something which I call the charter school wars in Los Angeles that’s going to be with us for some time,” Kerchner said.

To bring the battle to a peaceful end, Kerchner said a coalition is needed that includes representatives from Los Angeles City Hall, the school district, the business community, labor unions and charter supporters. However, he added that he didn't think it was likely the groups would sit down together any time soon.