Charter schools get boost
Arts and education philanthropist Eli Broad today will announce his largest investment to date in Los Angeles charter schools, $23.3 million to jump-start at least 17 new campuses run by two major charter-school organizations.
Broad’s gift is believed to be the largest by any private donor to local charter schools and underscores his goal of creating effective schools outside the direct jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
L.A. Unified already has 128 charter schools, more than any school system in the nation, enrolling about 7% of the district’s 700,000 students.
KIPP schools, which will receive $12 million, are noted nationally for their regimented, character-building approach and extra-long school days and school years. The other charter group is Aspire Public Schools, which will receive $5 million; it requires every graduate to earn college course credits and $3,000 from a paid internship.
Charters are free, independently run, publicly funded schools that are not bound by either the state Education Code or many school district dictates.
Broad, 74, said Wednesday that creating more charters became an essential fallback when L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa retreated from pursuing outright control of the nation’s second-largest school system.
“In other cities, those with mayoral control -- Chicago, New York City, Boston -- things are happening from the top down,” Broad said in an interview. “And they’ve made great progress in all those cities. Here, we’ve got a different situation. If we want to see improvement here, charters are a route to get there. We think doing things from the bottom up, with charters, will help all public schoolchildren.”
Broad’s history with L.A. Unified spans several reform eras over the last decade. His support of local charter-school organizations has now grown to $56 million, reaching an estimated 25,000 students, arguably far surpassing the number affected by Villaraigosa’s higher-profile effort to oversee reforms at six schools through a community partnership.
The gift also builds on research suggesting that charter schools are especially effective in raising test scores at urban middle schools, a sore spot for L.A. Unified.
Broad’s donation, hailed in many quarters, was not greeted with enthusiasm by the leader of the teachers union. Most KIPP schools are non-union, as are all Aspire schools.
“Eli’s so enamored with charter schools, he’s willing to put millions and millions of dollars into them simply because they’re charter schools,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.
Duffy questioned both the staying power of higher test scores at some charter schools as well as what he called their focus on “teaching to the test,” which he characterized as simplistic and counterproductive.
Broad emerged as a force in the local school reform wars in 1999, when he helped bankroll then-Mayor Richard Riordan’s effort to elect school board allies. He also was the person most responsible for recruiting former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer to head L.A. Unified, which Romer did from 2000 to 2006. In addition, Broad has funded a training academy for school district leaders and awards the national Broad Prize to one well-regarded school district each year.
Broad has rarely donated directly to L.A. Unified, although he has supported the new arts high school under construction on Grand Avenue downtown. He has continued to make sizable campaign donations in school board elections -- preferring candidates who say they won’t micromanage, especially if he believes they will oppose the teachers union when he thinks it necessary.
Broad declined to comment on the district’s recent reform record, or on the mayor’s specific efforts. But he said progress in New York City shows that large school districts can make huge strides and that cooperative unions, such as the one in New York, can play an immensely helpful role.
“We’ve been trying to induce KIPP to come down here because, from what we’ve seen across America, it’s the gold or platinum standard of charter schools,” added Broad, who also praised Aspire highly.
Both KIPP and Aspire operate schools in traditionally underserved, poor and working-class urban communities with low-achieving Latino or African American students.
On test scores, the L.A.-area KIPP and Aspire schools slipped last year, but both still scored well ahead of schools serving similar students. And the KIPP schools scored better than average among all schools.
Researchers for the Mountain View, Calif.-based nonprofit EdSource concluded last year that, on balance, charter middle schools are clearly outperforming regular public middle schools. EdSource also asserted that schools run by charter-management organizations, such as KIPP and Aspire, are consistently doing better than other charter schools.
“Charter middle schools really have the secret sauce for educating middle school kids,” said Caprice Young, head of the California Charter Schools Assn. “And there’s no reason why L.A. Unified shouldn’t take advantage of it.”
Founded in Houston and based in San Francisco, KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) has two schools in Los Angeles -- one in South Los Angeles and another in Lincoln Heights. The Broad money will fund four new schools organized under a single Los Angeles-area board of directors. Most of the 57 KIPP schools nationwide are middle schools.
Operating a KIPP school costs more than some charters, in part, because KIPP typically pays teachers more and puts school leaders through intensive, lengthy training. California, in particular, requires a philanthropic subsidy because the state provides far less for schools than some other states where KIPP operates, said spokesman Steve Mancini.
Aspire began with $400,000 left over from the successful political campaign to remove a 100-school limit on the number of California charter schools. Veteran educator Don Shalvey, part of that campaign, also had overseen the 1992 opening of the state’s first charter school, in the Silicon Valley-area district where he served as superintendent.
With the Broad money, the Oakland-based organization runs a total of 21 schools in three regions: Oakland, the Stockton area and L.A. County. It intends to open 13 schools in Carson and Huntington Park, where it now operates four.
Aspire is one of two charter groups with permission from the state to bypass local school districts when seeking approval to open schools. The California School Boards Assn., among others, objects to the loss of local control. But supporters see it as a way to offer educational alternatives even where local school boards are hostile.
L.A. Unified has not been antagonistic, but Shalvey said he chose state authorization to allow for better data collection and consistent, comprehensive program evaluation by one entity -- the state.
To create a high school campus in Huntington Park, Aspire joined with Pacific Charter School Development, the third group funded by Broad today. The Huntington Park-based company finds space for schools and converts buildings into campuses, then leases them to charters on affordable terms until the school can purchase the property outright.
Broad’s foundation will give Pacific a no-interest $6-million loan, which it hopes to leverage into financing worth $30 million; plus $300,000 for operating expenses.
In the collaboration with Aspire, Pacific gutted and then refurbished a 77,000-square-foot warehouse that now contains two charters, the Aspire school and one run by the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, another group that has received significant Broad dollars.
Among the officials expected on hand for today’s Broad announcement is state Board of Education President Ted Mitchell, a charter supporter.
The movement, he said, “has really only begun to take hold in L.A. Unified.”
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KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program)
Founded: 1994, in Houston (now based in San Francisco), by teachers Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin
Schools: 57, mostly fifth- through-eighth grades; 10 in California; two in L.A. Unified
Amount from Broad: $12 million now; $6.3 million previously
Goal: Four new schools in the L.A. area, serving a total of 2,300 students by 2013
Some other funders: $50 million over seven years from Gap co-founders Doris and Donald Fisher; $18 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Philosophy: Longer school days, longer school years, character building, school climate focusing on skills such as how to pay attention.
Aspire Public Schools
Founded: 1998, by Don Shalvey, a Silicon Valley-area superintendent, and Netflix founder Reed Hastings
Schools: 21, various grade levels in three regions: Oakland, Stockton and Los Angeles County -- with four schools in Huntington Park
Amount from Broad: $5 million now; $3.5 million previously
Goal: 13 new schools in the Carson and Huntington Park areas of L.A. Unified
Some other funders: $8 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; about that same amount from the Walton Family Foundation
Philosophy: Focus on areas with large, underperforming schools. Graduates leave with college credits, job experience and money in the pocket.
Pacific Charter School Development
Founded: 2003, by Glenn Pierce, former bagel chain and pizza chain executive who attended the Broad Superintendents Academy
Amount from Broad: $6-million no-interest loan and $300,000 for operating expenses; at least that much in past funding
Goal: Leverage $30 million in a revolving fund to pay for thousands of charter seats
Some other funders: $6.9 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; $6.7 million from the Walton Family Foundation
Philosophy: Help charters find and pay for facilities.
Sources: Broad Foundation and
the three organizations