One of the nation’s most intense battles over the future of charter schools has been waged in Los Angeles, where public unions have been fending off a group of national reformers, including Michelle Rhee and Michael Bloomberg, to maintain majority control of the city’s school board.Two months ago, the board voted not to renew the charters for two schools run by the “Aspire” group. At no point was it claimed that these schools were underperforming: as the WSJ notes, they consistently performed at least 100 points better than their public school counterparts on California’s Academic Performance Index. Nor was it claimed that they were cherry-picking students: More than 90 percent of their students are low-income Latinos. Instead, the complaint was that the school was going its own way regarding special education services:
The board members wanted Aspire to subscribe to the district’s more expensive special-education plan in order to procure more state funds for the district and its unionized workforce.Of course, this isn’t how school board members explained their opposition. School board member Steve Zimmer claimed the district’s special-education plan provided more oversight. But according to the L.A. Times, parents of kids with autism effusively praised the Aspire schools at the meeting. And the board provided no evidence that Aspire students with disabilities fared any worse than those in the district’s special-education plan.
Not everyone in the city supports the board’s decision. The district superintendent has spoken out in favor of the two schools, and some board members are supporters of charters in general. The Aspire schools, for their part, have appealed the decision, and the Los Angeles County Office of Education will issue a decision this week.Whatever the outcome, the clash in LA signals that charter schools will remain a flashpoint in both local and national election campaigns. The debate between pro- and anti-charter groups has produced a significant rift within the Democratic Party, and the battles in blue cities like Los Angeles and New York will give us a clear sense of which side is winning.