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Pro-charter school philanthropic group says it will give to traditional schools too, but not yet

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 Los Angeles-based Great Public Schools Now announced on Thursday that its first batch of grants totaling $4.5 million would go to a charter school, an after-school program and the teacher preparation program Teach for America.

The group took over a proposal that came to light last year to double the number of charter schools in Los Angeles. L.A. philanthropist Eli Broad promoted the plan. But at the grant announcement, the group’s leaders said non-charter schools will also benefit from its private philanthropy.

“Regardless of whether they are charter schools or pilots or magnets or traditional district schools, if it’s working, we will be there to support,” said Myrna Castrejon, director of Great Public Schools Now.

The group is planning to fund education efforts in ten L.A.-area neighborhoods, including Boyle Heights, Pico Union, and the city of South Gate. Residents of these areas, the group said, are low income while schools have high drop out rates and low test scores.

Funding will go towards community outreach and engagement, training teachers and administrators, finding and building school facilities, and replicating successful schools.  

The group is raising funds from individuals and groups. Donors include the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the W.M. Keck Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. Great Public Schools Now is not saying how much it has raised, nor will it say which individuals are donating to the effort.

The initial $4.5 million in grants will be split by the L.A. charter school Equitas, the L.A. branch of Teach for America – which places beginning teachers in charter and public schools – and the after school program Heart of L.A., which serves traditional and charter school students in L.A.’s MacArthur Park area. All three will use the funds to help grow their programs.

The group’s promotion of charter schools has been criticized by United Teachers Los Angeles and L.A. Unified’s school board president. Both said an increase in charter schools would siphon students and money that could lead to the school district’s bankruptcy.

Teachers union officials said they don't see the group’s goal to include of traditional schools as an olive branch.

“That’s a public relations stunt by Eli Broad and his friends,” said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl. He said the group's philanthropic funds should go directly to the school district for school board members to give out to hire more teachers and counselors.

He underlined that the first batch of grants from Great Public Schools Now will not go to any traditional schools.

Great Public Schools Now leaders said they wanted non-charter schools to be in the first batch of grantees but it’s taken time to sit down with school district leaders to make that happen.

“Those things don’t happen very fast, they take a lot of discussion, a lot of collaboration. There are some people on the school board that are more hesitant about getting involved than others. It’s politics, if you want to call it that,” said William Siart, a board chairman of Great Public Schools Now.

He predicts the group will meet with L.A. Unified leaders in the coming weeks. Future grants, he said, could go toward adding seats at a successful magnet school or pilot school.

The chief of staff for L.A. Unified Superintendent Michelle King and the spokeswoman for the school district’s facilities division attended the announcement to report back to King, they said, but did not comment further on the group’s efforts.