A Few Suggestions to Address Steve Zimmer’s Legitimate Concerns

I just read this LA Times piece on a potential expansion of the Los Angeles charter sector.

The article includes the following quotation from Steve Zimmer, the chair of the Los Angeles School Board.

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I think Steve makes reasonable points.

A major charter expansion could leave the most at-risk students in traditional schools.

I also worry about the facilities costs. Uncoordinated charter growth at this level could leave the city with a lot of half-used buildings, which is ultimately a poor use of resources for all involved.

That being said, many children in Los Angeles are attending very low-performing schools, and rigorous research demonstrates that the L.A. charter sector is generally performing well (CREDO found .1 effects).

Fortunately, there is a way forward.

And most of the solutions needed, I think, are squarely under Zimmer’s jurisdiction. 

First, the city should build a unified enrollment system (that could be run by the district or a non-profit). This would ensure that all families can utilize a fair and easy process to enroll their children in a school that fits meets their expectations.

Second, the city should expand enrollment boundaries so that families can choose from multiple schools (in a city the size of L.A., citywide access with free transportation is probably unfeasible).

Third, the city should regulate transfers and expulsions, to ensure that no schools, be they traditional or charter, are kicking children out.

Fourth, the city should re-weight its per-pupil funding so that the schools serving the hardest to reach children, be they district or charter, receive more funds.

Fifth, the city should institute a unified accountability system that ensures that all schools receive an easy to understand letter grade, and schools that continue to receive an “F” change governance. Any child whose school is closed should automatically have preference of any top rated school in the city that has available slots.

Sixth, the city should create an independent facilities authority that assigns public building based on performance and works to consolidate under-enrolled schools.

Under this system:

1) Open and transparent choice could reduce the clustering of hard to serve students in specific schools.

2) To the extent that this does occur, increased weighted funding could provide more resources to these schools.

In short, Steve’s very legimate concerns can be addressed.

Increasing high-quality choices can have secondary effects that negatively affect children.

Fortunately, there are ways for government leaders to mitigate these effects and increase educational opportunity for all children.

5 thoughts on “A Few Suggestions to Address Steve Zimmer’s Legitimate Concerns

  1. Pam Kingsley

    Multiple Federal Title programs already subsidize students in poverty, ELL students, students with special needs, homeless students, etc. At the Federal level, the money follows the student. It would not go with a student leaving the district unless s/he were qualified under one of the programs.
    The elephant(s) in the room are all those superfluous central office folks who siphon a huge portion of funding away from the classroom.

  2. reckhow

    I think the bigger elephant is overall employee costs- not simply “highly paid” administrators. Yes charters in CA mostly contribute to state teacher pension. But retiree health and classified employee benefits play a big role here. And I think there are hard choices involved-

      1. reckhow

        Forgive me, as I’m not a public finance expert, but I’m very interested in this issue. So here’s my thought process:
        LAUSD has made significant promises to its employees, both current and former. Who shoulders the costs of those promises in the future if charter enrollment continues to significantly increase and LAUSD enrollment decreases? The dwindling population of students in LAUSD who would bear a higher share of employee benefit costs per student. Perhaps this forces LAUSD to renegotiate with unions, but these changes are not easy (and powerful players are involved).
        I’m just not sure if we’ve grappled with the long run consequences for districts of charter market share that pushes toward 50% when those districts bear significant legacy costs.
        This might be an extreme comparison, but I’m thinking about Detroit here (Michigan is different from CA in one key way– most charters do not pay into the state teacher pension system in MI). The report by the Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children (which proposes a portfolio model) highlights the district’s debt and responsibility for pension obligations as a linch pin for moving forward. DPS pays $1,120 per child in debt service. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzxmybUSSKuua3pPWVlMVGNrbG8/view

  3. nkingsl

    Got it. Thanks for fleshing out. I don’t know enough of details at LAUSD, but you’re surely right that this would be an issue in some form or another. Thanks for pointing out.


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