A victory for charter schools in Los Angeles

Charter school backers have won a majority of seats on the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District for the first. The story is here, in a Los Angeles Times article. You have to dig it out, though. The Times leads off by talking about talking about “wealthy charter school advocates” and by giving voice to the unhappiness of a losing candidate.

Deep into the story, the Times finally provides this version of the contending positions in the decisive school board race:

Zimmer [the president of the board, who lost] said that he would prefer to limit charter school expansion, when possible, to charters that bring real innovation. He said the district should focus on making sure that existing charters and district-operated schools offer high-quality programs.

Melvoin [who defeated him] said he would not limit charter growth but would rely on the market forces of parent choice while also doing his best to make district schools a viable option.

Charter supporters see much room for growth, and they say low-income minorities in schools with low test scores should have more options.

In a better world, that proposition would not be disputed.

I can’t help but suspect that Zimmer’s position, as stated by the Times, might be a bit disingenuous. According to the Times, unions spent more than $2.5 million on behalf of Zimmer. Support came from labor groups across the county, with teachers unions spending the most.

I wonder whether these unions truly favor charter school expansion for schools that “bring real innovation.” For them, I suspect, the issue isn’t innovation; it’s clinging to the vestiges of monopoly power.

Melvoin reportedly received even more financial backing than Zimmerman did. The biggest backer of pro-charter school candidates was Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings. Hastings is a Democrat, as is Melvoin.

From all that appears, Hastings has nothing to gain financially from the expansion of charter schools. He just thinks they are good for students. For that matter, the same is true of Betsy DeVos and other center-right and conservative backers of charter schools.

One of the main virtues of charter schools is that they spur public schools to innovate and improve. We see evidence of this near the end of the article:

One of [school superintendent] King’s key aims is to increase enrollment to confront a looming budget crisis, which means competing with charter schools for students. To do this, she plans to launch an online enrollment system, which would help parents discover, find and apply for varied L.A. Unified programs.

However, the Times adds, “at present, there are no plans to include charters in that ‘unified’ system.”

Hastings insists, correctly, that school boards are monopolies. The way forward in education is to disrupt these monopolies. It looks like that’s what has happened in Los Angeles.


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