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LA Unified to mull crackdown on charter schools

Posted: September 11, 2012 5:00 a.m.
Updated: September 11, 2012 5:00 a.m.
 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Unified school board on Tuesday was set to consider a proposal to declare a moratorium on new charter schools and tighten oversight of existing ones in move that charter advocates call illegal.

Board member Steve Zimmer planned to introduce a measure at a board meeting to form an independent charter oversight commission that would step up monitoring of the district's roughly 200 charters that enroll 110,000 students. It would also put a hold on new charter applications until new policies are hammered out.

Los Angeles Unified, the nation's second largest school system, hosts the highest number of charters in the country. Charters are public schools that are independently operated, although with loose oversight by the local district.

Board members have shown increasing exasperation in recent months with requests by charters to use more classroom space on district campuses, refusal by charters to submit student data, and their low enrollment of students with more severe disabilities.

Over the past year, the district has started more aggressively taking action against charters, closing several for financial irregularities, a cheating scandal and lackluster performance.

Zimmer said that with the district's charter enrollment the equivalent of California's fourth-largest school system, it is time to examine how charters are complying with state laws and district policies.

"There are very basic regulatory questions here," said Zimmer. "Do we play on the same basic playing field or is it radically deregulated? It warrants a second look."

Charters are lining up in opposition to the plan.

Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association, said a moratorium would violate the state Charter Schools Act and noted that 10,000 students are on charter waiting lists in Los Angeles Unified.

"It is certainly a striking gesture by board member Zimmer," Wallace said. "It is blatantly illegal."

In an email blast, Judy Burton, president of the Alliance for College-Ready Education, said a moratorium would unfairly punish successful charters that want to expand.

"This is a very serious challenge to one of the most successful school reform efforts of the past 20 years," she wrote.

Zimmer said he anticipates the proposal will generate "a robust conversation and heated debate" as it proceeds through public hearings and board discussion over the next month.

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