Commentary: UTLA says ‘unmitigated’ charter growth hurts LAUSD? Inconceivable!

The Los Angeles teachers union just spent $82,000 on a report that concludes that the thousands of Los Angeles families who are choosing to send their children to charter schools are costing the LA school district a half-billion dollars annually.

The report “doesn’t fault charters,” according to the LA Times, “saying that the problems have more to do with state and federal policies as well as district decisions.”

The union’s “analysis” of the report, not surprisingly, does blame charters: “Unmitigated charter school growth limits educational opportunities for the more than 542,000 students who continue to attend schools run by the district, and … further imperils the financial stability of LAUSD as an institution.”

So, let’s get this straight. Report concludes: Bureaucratic system is broken. Union’s analysis and solution: Charters are messing with our system! No more charters!

The union really likes that word—“unmitigated”—when talking about charter growth, which has quite a Princess Bride ring to it.

Charter growth in California is mitigated by a long, onerous application and approval process. It’s mitigated by performance contracts—the “charter” agreements—that must be approved before a charter school can open and that need to be re-approved every five years. But more importantly, charter growth is mitigated by families and their choices. If families don’t choose to send their children to a charter school, it is quite neatly mitigated away. Charter schools need people to sign up for them, or they don’t exist. It’s quite an efficient system of mitigation.

The problem that charters are presenting to the union is that lots of families in Los Angeles are signing up for charter schools, which generally are not unionized.

So LA families are seeking out charters in droves because they clearly found a charter school that is providing a better public service than what they were getting in the traditional LA school system. The LA union pays $82,000 to learn, allegedly, how that system is inefficient in funding schools. And instead of then analyzing the report and focusing on ways to mitigate the system’s inefficiencies and improve service, the union screams that we must mitigate parents’ choices to protect the system.

It’s prioritizing the system over service to families. And it’s a slap in the face to the families who are choosing charter schools, as LA parent Leticia Chavez-Garciawrites about here.

Of course charter schools are not immune from “system-itis.” Some charters create enrollment systems that have short application windows and favor “plugged-in” families. Some create systems that limit access to students with special needs or students with discipline issues. Some say their system doesn’t allow for students to enroll in their school in the middle of the school year.

So if charter schools want an airtight case for a fair share of the public dollars that go to schools, they need to make sure they’re also focusing more on serving the public—all of the public—than on their systems.

Public schools belong to the people who pay for them—the public. They don’t belong to any “system” or any “institution,” as the union likes to glorify.

And when that public wants more of any type of school that is providing them with good service—whether it’s a system-run school or a charter—the public should get them. The service is what needs to be protected and glorified and funded, not the institution.

We’ve seen what protecting the system looks like in urban public education. It went on for decades. And for millions of kids, it was an unmitigated disaster.

Michael Vaughn is director of communications for Education Post. He spent 18 years in urban public education, working in communications for the Chicago and Denver school districts.

This article was published in partnership with Education Post.

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Michael Vaughn

Michael Vaughn

Michael Vaughn joined Education Post as Director of Communications after working for 18 years in the communications offices of two urban school districts. He worked with the leadership teams of Paul Vallas and Arne Duncan in the Chicago Public Schools from the time Mayor Richard M. Daley took control of CPS to Duncan’s appointment as U.S. Secretary of Education. For the past five years, Mike served as the Chief Communications Officer for the Denver Public Schools, the nation’s fastest-growing urban school district in enrollment and a national leader in the areas of school choice and teacher recruitment and development.

Mike has a communications degree from Marquette University, and before his career in public education, he ran a string of community newspapers in suburban Chicago. He is married to Cheryl, a surgical nurse at the University of Colorado Hospital, and they have two daughters and two sons in public elementary, middle and high schools in suburban Denver.

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