Elected Officials Looking to Expand School Choice

Language in proposed plans will place parents in position of where to send their students to school.

By Daniel J. Malignaggi, EGP Staff Writer

It is no secret that many of California’s young students are struggling to meet educational standards. Elected officials at the state and local levels are writing up plans to allow for parents and school competition to lead the way for improvement. One bill calls for parents to be allowed to send their children to a school district of their choice, and one resolution would put parents in the position of recommending who should run their neighborhood schools.

The “District of Choice”(DOC) program, which allowed students to transfer to another school in another school district other than their residence, expired on July 1 after 16 years of existence. Senator Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles) and Senator Bob Huff (R-Glendora) passed SB 680 through the Senate Appropriations Committee, a bill that would allow any of the public school districts in California to decide to become a DOC.

“Parents choose where their child worships, what TV programs they watch, the food they eat and where their family shops and they must be allowed to choose where their child will receive the best public education to meet their academic needs,” said Romero in a released statement.

Romero’s spokeswoman Teala Schaff said that the main goal is to simply focus on the idea that parents would be able to make the choice that they feel is best for their child. There is no data that shows whether or not student achievement has improved, however in recent years, most parents move their students to a school with a greater Academic Performance Index (API) score, a result of the No Child Left Behind Act, according to Schaff.

A public lottery for parents wanting to move their students would be held with complete transparency. “District of Choice schools can only take on the amount of students they can seat,” says Schaff.  “If parents want to go to another school that they feel is better, than at least the choice is there if a school around them takes them on.”

Locally, Yolie Flores Aguilar, Vice President of the LAUSD Board of Education, proposed a resolution that put up for grabs the rights to operate over 50 schools to be constructed starting in 2010. The proposal called “Public School Choice: A New Way at LAUSD” will create an avenue for both internal and external stakeholders to submit plans to take over the running of the schools. The external stakeholders are “community partnerships, bargaining units, pilot school operators or charter schools” according to a release from Aguilar.

The resolution was proposed at a board meeting on July 14, but a decision was delayed because as Aguilar concedes, it was considered a major policy shift that needed to be looked over by the rest of the board members.

However, in a recent development, Aguilar said that she is negotiating with Superintendent Ray Cortines to add an addendum to the resolution that would pave the way for potential takeovers of many or all of the LAUSD schools in Program Improvement. Cortines, who was initially non-committal according to Aguilar, is now 100 percent on board with the new changes that she sees as a plan to be used all over the district.

However, not all are in line with this movement. “This is such an abrogation…if it goes through this will cause chaos” said A.J. Duffy, president of UTLA in reference to what he calls the “handout” of the funds recently paid for by taxpayers for over 50 schools. “In [recent bonds] charters [schools] got $500 million specifically—the idea that they will keep the money and get some of the [new] schools is beyond unbelievable…the facts show that charter schools aren’t doing any better.”

Duffy believes that it is a ploy for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Green Dot, a non-profit that already runs other LAUSD schools, to take over most of the new schools.
Aguilar disagrees and sees this as an opportunity for change. “I don’t think that when taxpayers funded these bonds that they expected that 50 percent of schools that were funded are failing already.” Aguilar explained that once the resolution is passed, the evaluation criteria for selecting the winning bidders would be created. Then the board will seek out local community groups so that parents may begin vetting the process. Aguilar noted that any decision made would come with evidence of what parents have to say. Aguilar said that the East Los Angeles Learning Collaborative would be among the groups consulted on the Eastside; however, no group has been identified yet to represent Northeast L.A. residents.

Any potential negotiation between opposing groups will be difficult. Duffy is pursuing legal action on behalf of the teachers’ union, which is concerned that new schools, which may be charter schools, will be non-union, affecting certificated (teachers, administrators) and classified (janitors, groundskeepers) staff.

Aguilar says her focus is on classified employees, not certificated. “I believe that that is where the change needs to be made.”

Clearly, the message in both SB 680 and Aguilar’s resolution is that parents will soon have a greater say in deciding the future of the local educational system. As Aguilar states, “At the end of the day, the intention is to give parents the upper hand…they shouldn’t be stuck with what they have in their neighborhood.”

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July 23, 2009  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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