L.A. Teachers' Union Challenges Charter School Lobby

In a full-page advertisement in the Sunday October 23, 2016 edition of the Los Angeles Times, the union representing Los Angeles teachers, challenged the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) to a "public debate on key educational issues relating to equity, access and accountability." United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) also posted the challenge in Spanish in Hoy and La Opinion.

The advertisement, written as an open letter to parents, attacks CCSA for "indefensible tactics, such as trying to shield charters from financial accountability and lobbying to defeat a bill protecting charter students from unfair expulsion."

According to Alex Caputo-Pearl, UTLA President. "We believe it is time for the community and parents to hear CCSA explain why they oppose financial transparency, student equity and access, open meeting laws and a democratically elected oversight body in schools that are funded by taxpayers. While charter schools use taxpayer money, they are privately run. This has led to documented cases of financial malfeasance, self-dealing and profiteering."

Groups associated with the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) are pouring money into legislative campaigns trying to elect a pro-charter majority in California. According to California's Secretary of State pro-charter forces spent more than $3 million on contested races. More than $1 million is being used to influence voters in just one state senatorial district. According to Colin Miller, acting Senior Vice President for Government Affairs at the CCSA, the group's top legislative priority is to make it easier to open new charter schools and expand existing schools.

With support from private philanthropy, the number of charter schools in the L.A. Unified school district has exploded to 225, the most in any American school system, attracting about 16% of enrollment. Many educators in traditional schools worry that this expansion could force L.A. Unified into bankruptcy, hurting public school students.

CCSA is a lobbying organization for the charter industry. UTLA charges that it "promoted an environment that is rife with discriminatory enrollment practices and biases against special needs students and English language learners at many charters across the state."

CCSA is funded by Eli Broad, the Waltons of Walmart, and other wealthy privatizers. CCSA and its Super PAC spend millions each year to promote the unchecked expansion of charter schools at the expense of neighborhood schools and the public education system.

Charter school operators in Los Angeles have recently come under fire from elected oversight agencies. On Oct 18, the Los Angeles Unified School Board refused to renew operating agreements for five charter schools, three campuses operated by Magnolia Public Schools and two others run by Celerity Educational Group. Some district officials were concerned with Magnolia's past practice of importing teachers from Turkey with their families and using taxpayer funds to pay their immigration fees. Magnolia officials also have ties to a controversial Turkish cleric implicated in a failed coup in Turkey last summer.

Other Los Angles charter schools have also been in trouble recently. Alliance College-Ready Public Schools (Alliance), the largest charter school chain operating in Los Angles, California faces an investigation for using public funds to while trying to defeat a teacher-led union drive at its schools. State Senator Tony Mendoza (D), who initiated the move against Alliance charged, "The purpose of those funds is to educate children inside the classroom -- not to intimidate teachers and parents." The LAUSD Board is now pushing for the resignation of the executive director of El Camino Real Charter School for misuse of school funds. In spring 2016

In spring 2016 The Los Angeles Times published a list of the 100 lowest performing high schools in Los Angeles County based on student performance on SAT tests. Eight of the ten worst performing schools, including one that has already been closed, were charter schools. This included the Animo Locke Charter High School #1 operated by the Green Dot Corporate Charter Schools chain whose founder, Steve Barr wants to run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2017 based on his record of educational "success."

The advertisements are part of UTLA's "We Are Public Schools" campaign to hold charter schools accountable and to fight to build community schools. The campaign web site includes a petition to get CCSA to debate UTLA representatives in a public forum.

Carol Burris, Executive Director of the Network for Public Education, and Valerie Strauss have produced a four-part in-depth expose of problems with California charter schools for the Washington Post. Among other findings, the South California branch of the ACLU and a group called Public Advocates charge that more than 20% of California charter schools have enrollment policies that violate state and federal law.

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