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Charter school supporters raise concerns about impact on LAUSD

The Broad Foundation Executive Director Gregory McGinity takes questions about his group's charter school expansion plan.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC
FILE: The Broad Foundation Executive Director Gregory McGinity took questions about his group's charter school expansion plan at a recent panel discussion on Nov. 12, 2015.

Heads of three large California nonprofits that support charter schools called this week for careful consideration of a plan for a major expansion of charters and its impact on the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In a letter Tuesday to LAUSD, its teachers union, and the Broad Foundation that drafted the charter school expansion plan, the three leaders called on all parties to bring more members of the community into the discussion.

“As part of the analysis of the Broad proposal, careful consideration should also be given to the effect of such alternative school expansion on the LAUSD. School initiatives in other cities have demonstrated that the intended reforms often fall short if they are done to communities rather than with communities,” the letter said.

Signing the letter were Fred Ali, president of the Weingart Foundation, Antonia Hernandez, president of the California Community Foundation, and Robert Ross, president of the California Endowment.

The groups have awarded grants to charter schools to help the alternative campuses train parents to get involved in their children's education and improve student health, among other efforts.

The letter follows release of a report this month by a blue-ribbon panel that painted a grim picture of the district's financial future given rising worker benefits and declining enrollment that reduces state funding. 

At a recent panel discussion, LAUSD Board President Steve Zimmer criticized the expansion plan and its aim to enroll 130,000 new students in charter schools. He said it could push LAUSD into bankruptcy because state funding would follow the students.

Broad Foundation Executive Director Gregory McGinity responded that he didn't think that would happen, saying he had faith in the school board and arguing that other districts around the country have a high percentage of charter schools and are thriving.

The three nonprofit leaders who signed the letter said they are aware of the financial hardships the school district will be facing.

Ross told KPCC that given the district's problems, he's concerned that opening large numbers of new charters “actually leaves children who don’t have access to those charter schools with a lower quality of education than they had before.”

The foundation leaders propose that the charter plan be significantly modified to include input from other community groups. They also proposed using some of the $490 million funds projected to start 260 new charters envisioned in the plan to fund non-charter campuses in LAUSD, such as high-performing magnet schools and pilot schools that have modified teacher contracts.

The three said they were not interested in taking a position on the Broad initiative, but offered to act as neutral conveners of discussion about “doing what is best for all of our parents and children.”

Meanwhile, a new group called Great Public Schools Now is taking over administration of the charter expansion from the Broad Foundation. 

“The idea is not to give money to existing high-quality schools,” said the group’s spokesman Glenn Gritzner. “We want to fund those students that don’t have educational options.” 

That could include giving money to magnet schools or pilot schools run by LAUSD, if the district is expanding seats in those schools, he said.

Gritzner said the charter expansion plan is still in a draft form and will be modified before the final version is released in the first part of next year.

He also said $490 million price tag is on the high end and meant to attract funders. Some funders have already come forward, although he would not name them.

The Weingart Foundation, California Community Foundation and The California Endowment are among the supporters of SCPR, but are not involved with its editorial operations.

Letter on charter school expansion plan