by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com
With 6 LAUSD neighborhood schools converting to affiliated charter status last year and 25 more schools converting this year, we ask, is it contagious? A sign of the times?
Why would your perfectly good neighborhood school convert to affiliated charter status anyway, you ask?
It all comes down to the 3 Fs. Flexibility, Freedom…and Funding.
An affiliated charter is a unique sort of “charter lite” or hybrid model that was created in LAUSD to pacify all parties. While this type of charter doesn’t have the full autonomy an independent charter school has, they do have increased autonomy from the traditional district model.
A typcial LAUSD neighborhood school that converts to an affiliated charter school can keep its existing campus and facilities -no fighting for space or co-locations via Prop 39. They also keep their attendance area -maintaining the feel of a neighborhood school with priority enrollment given to area residents. The UTLA teacher contract and District-paid union positions stay in tact -but with it so does tenure and seniority-based bumping rights. The school gains some limited freedoms from the district – and the feeling of semi-autonomy. Most importantly the school once converted can apply to the state for a block charter grant -direct funds based on enrollment numbers, which can make up some of the budget shortfalls the school sustained as a non-charter.
While still overseen by LAUSD, an affiliated charter creates its own site-based governance system typically made up of parents, staff, and administration, so the decision-making body of the school resides on campus, not downtown. The school also gains flexibility in curricular focus, textbook selection, selecting programs and materials, as well as freedom in deciding how to allocate, manage and spend the funds that come unrestricted from the state.
The district still oversees and controls many policies in an affiliated charter, and when lateral budget cuts are made – when a staff position or program is reduced or eliminate districtwide – affiliated charters are affected. When the district decides to change the calendar and implement “Early Start,” or makes changes to the bell schedule, or the number of instructional days, class size ratios, or changes to the graduation A-G requirements – affiliated charters are affected. So ultimately, it’s a compromise. The District maintains some control, the unions maintain their contracts, and the school site gains some autonomy without going full-out independent charter.
There is money involved, surely, particularly important for schools that have fallen just below the now higher Title 1 (poverty level) school threshold. In fact, the majority of the schools that have converted one by one (or seven by sixteen) to affiliated charter, are schools that have lost their Title 1 status, meaning they have lost their additional federal funding. The loss in federal funds, in additional to the continued onslaught of yearly state and district budget cuts, has been devastating.
For an elementary school in LAUSD, already 48th in the country in per-pupil spending, the Title 1 funding loss can amount to $80-150,000 annually from a school’s operating budget. For a secondary school such as the highly-lauded LACES, the loss from their budget this year was $460,000. For Millikan Middle School, the loss was about $600,000. You can see the kind of fiscal pressure a school is under, and why that charter block grant, not to mention the thought of gaining some autonomy, starts to look not only attractive, but necessary for survival.
But what does this mean in terms of trends where predominantly high-performing motivated middle class schools capable of self-governance are converting to charter 25 – 30 at a time? What does it mean for the rest of the district’s schools, where high staff turnover, low parent participation, and unmotivated communities do not, or can not, advocate for their schools?
In California we have more students enrolled in charter schools than anywhere else in the nation. Ten years from now, will the majority of our schools be charters? Will the District be bankrupt? Will we (the people, the policy-makers) make public education a priority, an undeniable human right, a necessary investment in our collective futures, or will it become an obsolete novelty gone the way of social security and pension plans?
In updating my color-coded Valley Elementary school map with all the recent charter conversions, there is a clear green line. The charter line. Schools south of the Ventura Freeway in the foothills, in North Hills, and Granada Hills, see the most conversions. Make no mistake, they’re also the areas with the highest property values.
GoMamaGuide’s Valley Elementary Schools Map.