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Give charters their due

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For years, the Los Angeles Unified School District has been shorting charter schools on space to house their students, and a new $3.2-billion bond measure doesn’t go nearly far enough to make up for it. Without a full $300 million earmarked for charters, a seat for them on the bond oversight committee and more authority over how to spend the money, the new bond will be difficult for this page and the voters to accept.

The district’s 2005 bond measure, for $4 billion, set aside a laughable $50 million for charter schools. We complained at the time but believed school construction was too important. Charter schools are still waiting for the board to release most of those funds. Meanwhile, charter operators complain that the district, rather than giving them money for facilities, forces them to buy its used furniture and in one case placed a school in an old administrative office -- and charged for it.

Earlier this year, Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines pulled back on an agreement to offer space in district schools to seven charters, saying it would disrupt operations at the schools by, for example, limiting their open-enrollment periods. Cortines’ move was understandable; even though state law and a legal settlement require the district to provide space, it should not have to do so at the expense of its own students.

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And yet the edict must be honored. Charter schools already get about $3,000 less per student than the district receives in funding. The district, meanwhile, largely uses bonds to pay for housing its students, while charters have to devise their own campuses.

Parents in L.A. Unified have repeatedly demonstrated that they want more of these innovative, independent schools, which already educate 7% of the district’s students and are expanding rapidly. The school board has the perfect opportunity to do the right thing with its new bond measure, but already the attempts to shortchange charters have begun. An expected allocation of $300 million for charter schools now might be halved, with the other half going to the district partnership schools.

Charters seek $200 million for direct school construction. An additional $100 million in seed money to obtain loans would eventually be returned to the district. This is the minimum the bond should provide. In addition, charter funds should be given as outright grants that allow the schools to build and equip their own campuses. And the bond committee should include a member from a charter school to act as an ongoing advocate.

We looked the other way on this injustice three years ago. Not this time.


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