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Will Charters Take Over Most of Los Angeles' Schooling Landscape?

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An influential foundation with a long record of supporting the expansion of charter schools has confirmed that it is looking into ways to dramatically grow the number of charters operating in Los Angeles. 

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that it obtained a memo detailing the proposal backed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. Called the Great Schools Now Initative, the $490 million plan calls for creating 260 new charter schools, with the capacity to enroll 130,000 students, over the next eight years. 

In a statement to Education Week, the Broad Foundation said that the memo is a preliminary discussion draft, and that the organization is "currently listening to educators and community members to determine how we can best support the growth of high-quality public schools in Los Angeles."

The foundation is perhaps best known for its annual prizes recognizing both charter school networks and traditional school districts in urban areas that are closing achievement gaps between minority and low-income students and their higher-income peers. It also invests heavily in training superintendents and other high-level managers and supports them in their quests to be hired in large districts. (The Broad Foundation has helped support Education Week's coverage of personalized learning and system leadership.)

But the organization put a hold on its $1 million prize for urban school districts for 2015, citing disappointing academic results. The year prior, the Broad Prize committee only nominated two districts for the award.

The Times first reported on the charter expansion plan last month, and news of the memo comes after teacher union members and supporters spent the weekend protesting the plan outside the opening of The Broad, a new, $140 million contemporary art museum in Los Angeles funded and largely stocked by the Broad family. 


The memo outlines details of the expansion strategy and also goes on to say that the city could become an example for the charter sector nationally.

Reporter Howard Blume writes in the Los Angeles Times that the proposal would double the number of charter schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District, which already has the highest number of charter schools than any other district in the country. Blume continues:

"The expansion campaign is shaping up to be something of a referendum on L.A. Unified's performance. The memo repeatedly criticizes the district for failing to prepare students for college and careers, robbing Los Angeles of a better-trained, smarter workforce.

'The opportunity is ripe for a significant expansion of high-quality charter schools in Los Angeles,' the memo states. 'Thanks to the strength of its charter leaders and teachers, as well as its widespread civic and philanthropic support, Los Angeles is uniquely positioned to create the largest, highest-performing charter sector in the nation. Such an exemplar would serve as a model for all large cities to follow.'"

The 44-page memo goes on to describe plans for recruitment, marketing, and fundraising, which you can read more about in the Times story here.

Some district school supporters were not pleased by news of the memo, with one LAUSD school board member telling the Times that, "this plan is not one for transforming our public schools, but an outline for a hostile takeover."

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