Elisa Vendor and her husband were so worried about where their son Andy would attend middle school after graduating from Pacoima Charter School, they considered going into debt to insure he had a good education.
“My husband and I were thinking about taking out a loan to put him in a private school,” the Pacoima resident said.
She did not want a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school. Instead, she wanted a charter school.
Her son eventually enrolled at the Alliance College-Ready Middle Academy 21, in Arleta.
“This school has everything I want for my son to learn,” she said.
Charter schools do have their critics. Detractors point out that not all charter schools offer services to all disabled students. They can require parents to volunteer at schools for a number of hours, and can limit the number of inexcusable absences before students are expelled.
An “Unequal Access” survey conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California and Public Advocates claims that more than 20 percent of all charter schools in California have enrollment policies that violate state and federal law.
Nonetheless, supporters like the Vendors are expected to take part in the “Rally in the Valley,” a march and community demonstration on Saturday, Sept. 17.
The march begins at 9 a.m. at Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in San Fernando, and ends at Vaughn G3 in Pacoima.
The event is organized by 20 northeast San Fernando Valley charter schools, including Discovery Prep, PUC schools, Fenton and Vaughn, to call upon elected and school officials to back the continued growth of charter schools.
“The message I want to send is that I would love for the LAUSD, the politicians, to give us parents the choice of where to put our children,” Vendor said.
Charter schools are public schools that operate through an operational agreement with the school district, but they administer their own funds. They can have greater flexibility in their operations, and each school can be very different from the next.
They must demonstrate performance in the areas of academic achievement, financial management, and organizational stability. If a charter school does not meet performance goals, it can be closed.
That doesn’t mean all schools are operating above board. Among the violations cited in the ACLU report released last month:
— denying enrollment to students who do not have strong grades or test scores, expelling students who do not maintain strong grades;
— denying enrollment to students who fail to meet a minimum level of English proficiency;
— selecting students based on onerous pre-enrollment requirements such as essays or interviews
— and discouraging or precluding immigrant students from attending by requiring information about the pupils’ or their parents’ immigration status and requiring parents to “volunteer” or donate money to the school.
A highly vocal critic of charter schools is the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA). At a protest outside the LAUSD offices in June, union president Alex Caputo-Pearl said, “The unregulated expansion of charter schools over the last 10 years – a 287 percent growth – has resulted in serious questions about LAUSD’s financial sustainability. For the sake of all students, LAUSD should be aggressively collecting reimbursements from charters that use district facilities — not cowering because of the bullying of the billionaire-funded California Charter Schools Association (CCSA).”
The statement was in reference to a report released by MGT of America titled the “Fiscal Impact of Charter Schools on Los Angeles Unified School District.” It stated the LAUSD lost more than $591 million in the 2015-16 academic year to charter schools. The amount includes the loss of student enrollment to charter schools and additional special education costs.
Recent accusations of mismanagement against the administrators of El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills have increased the scrutiny.
The LAUSD Board of Education has begun taking steps toward potentially revoking the El Camino Real High charter with a “notice of violations” for failing to meet generally accepted accounting principles, financial mismanagement, open meeting violations and breach of charter.
The board’s action was spurred in part by a Daily News investigation that claimed school Executive Director David Fehte made lavish charges to his school-issued American Express card, including $15,500 at Monty’s Prime Steaks & Seafood in 2014 and 2015, plus several personal expenses.
El Camino High administrators have denied any wrongdoing. They have until Sept. 23 to address the district’s listed violations.
Despite their denigrators, charter schools in Los Angeles have more than tripled since 2005 — from 58 to 221 — accounting for 139,000 of the more than 500,000 LAUSD students.
According to the CCSA, more than 68,000 students in Los Angeles are waiting for a seat at a charter school.