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L.A. school board to consider revised motion against rapid charter expansion

L.A. school board to consider revised motion against rapid charter expansion
L.A. school board member Scott Schmerelson remains concerned about a proposed expansion of charter schools and has amended the language in a motion targeting the issue. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles school board member Scott Schmerelson, who recently urged his colleagues to oppose a massive charter school expansion plan, has revised a proposal to make it more general — opposing market-driven education reforms.

Schmerelson's amended version has moved away from asking the board to vote to take a stand against efforts by the locally based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which had been spearheading the charter plan.

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As his motion is now written, Schmerelson criticizes the Broad plan but asks the Board of Education to oppose "external initiatives that seek to reduce public education in Los Angeles to an educational marketplace and our children to market shares."

A confidential draft of the charter proposal, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, called for half of district students to enroll in charters over the next eight years. The plan was developed without input from the L.A. Unified School District and could be pursued whether the district likes it or not.

Since then, the Broad Foundation has characterized the leaked plan, which called for raising $490 million, as a "preliminary discussion draft" rather than a call to action. And last month, two charter advocates formed a nonprofit organization that they said would be the next step in the effort. They insisted that the new entity would be devoted to creating superior public schools of any model, charter or otherwise, although documentation they provided mostly touted the benefits of charters.

Charter schools are publicly funded and independently managed; they are exempt from some rules that govern traditional campuses. Most are nonunion.

The nonprofit, called Great Public Schools Now, will include Broad as a board member, but he would not be in charge, according to former banker William E.B. Siart, who will chair the governing board.

Schmerelson modified his motion to move away from Broad as the central focus after the nonprofit was created. But he has not diverged from his publicly stated concerns that some charters don't serve all students and that the growth of charters could limit L.A. Unified's ability to provide adequate resources to district-operated campuses.

The motion criticizes external efforts that fail to support "districtwide programs and strategies that benefit every student whom we are sworn to serve."

Charter advocates said such criticisms are unfair and inaccurate. The schools have proved popular with many parents and currently enroll about 16% of district students. L.A. Unified has the most charter schools of any district in the nation.

Schmerelson also added to his resolution a recognition of efforts that could be expanded to serve, recruit and retain more students. They include expanding early learning opportunities, holding school leaders more accountable, better involving parents in their children's learning, improving student and staff attendance, and advocating for increased state and federal funding.

"He decided that the resolution also needed to include language that speaks to the accountability of the board and their commitment to attract and retain students," said Arlene Irlando, Schmerelson's chief of staff. "He felt that it's not enough to speak about what is opposed without some language affirming the need to improve outcomes for all LAUSD students."

Consideration of a separate, charter-related motion, requiring more disclosures from these schools, is being postponed, according to an agenda posted on the district's website Wednesday.

The board could vote on Schmerelson's motion at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

The Times receives funding for its digital initiative, Education Matters, from the California Endowment, the Wasserman Foundation and the Baxter Family Foundation. The California Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Los Angeles administer grants from the Broad Foundation to support this effort. Under terms of the grants, The Times retains complete control over editorial content.

Twitter: @howardblume 

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