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Backers want half of LAUSD students in charter schools in eight years, report says

Backers outlined an ambitious strategy to place half of the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District into charter schools over the next eight years, a move they said would serve as a model for the rest of the nation, according to documents obtained by The Times.

The 44-page report is dated June 2015 and outlines a campaign of fundraising and building political awareness aimed at reaching the goal, which the report said would require $490 million.

The report cited numerous foundations and individuals who could be tapped to raise money, including the Bill and Melinda Gates, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett organizations. Among the individuals cited as potential targets for fundraising were Eli Broad, Irvine Co. head Donald Bren, former entertainment mogul David Geffen and Tesla's Elon Musk.

It also suggested a strategy of grassroots organizing and civic engagement designed to generate more interest among parents in charter schools.

L.A. Unified already has the largest charter school program in the country, representing about 16% of total enrollment. But getting to 50% would mean creating 260 charter schools that would provide 130,000 seats, the report said. 

“The opportunity is ripe for a significant expansion of high-quality charter schools in Los Angeles,” the report states in its executive summary. “Thanks to the strength of its charter leaders and teachers, as well as its widespread civic and philanthropic support, Los Angeles is uniquely positioned to create the largest, highest-performing charter sector in the nation. Such an exemplar would serve as a model for all large cities to follow.”

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Charters are independently run, publicly financed schools that are exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools; most are non-union. 

The Times broke news of the charter expansion plan in August, relying on confidential sources who cited the 50% figure. When contacted last month, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation said the charter plan is in an early, exploratory phase, but declined to provide specific information.

The June draft talks of massive fundraising to affect three areas: facilities, talent and political climate.

“Los Angeles schools are currently on a trajectory to create around 62,000 seats,” the plan states. “With an added investment of $490 million, however, charter schools should be able to create an additional 68,000, reaching the goal of 130,000 seats by 2023.”

For years, the growth of charters has been a point of contention in Los Angeles and across the nation. Locally, the schools have proved popular with parents, contributing to their growth.

Their increase in number also has been fueled by grant support from the Obama administration and philanthropy, including from the Broad Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Broad and his wife have invested $144 million in charters in L.A. and elsewhere, according to their foundation.

The Broad Foundation has granted funds to the California Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles to support Education Matters, a new Times digital initiative devoted to more in-depth reporting on schools.

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A few hundred teachers on Sunday protested against rapid charter expansion at the new downtown Broad museum featuring the Broads’ extensive modern art holdings.

"Charter schools are destroying public education," retired kindergarten teacher Cheryl Ortega said at the demonstration. "Mr. Broad wants to own 50% of our schools.... That's untenable."

In a response a spokeswoman for Broad said, "As families demand high-quality public school options -- and more students want to attend public charter schools, we want to support them in meeting that demand. Our only interest is in supporting the growth of high-quality public schools."

For more education news, follow @howardblume.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

1:18 p.m.: Updated with new details on fundraising.

12:04 p.m.: An earlier version of this article has been updated throughout with additional details and background.

The post was initially published at 9:54 a.m.

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