They Told Charter Schools to Innovate

Pastor K.W. Tulloss
Senior Pastor of The Historical Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church located in the Downtown, Boyle Heights region of Los Angeles

They told them to innovate. They told them to do things differently. They told them to take chances. They told them to be bold. They told them to increase expectations. They told them to reinvent education.

That’s exactly what charter schools did and now they are being punished for it.

As an early supporter of the charter school movement, I recall walking the neighborhoods of Compton imploring parents to demand more from the educational establishment.  Charter schools became the first light of hope for many of these families.  They offered new opportunities and a lifeline for thousands of underserved students.

Since the passage of the California Charter Schools Act in 1992, educators across California heeded the call to develop schools and give families a better option for their child’s education. In order to innovate, charter schools were given freedom and flexibility.

However, that freedom and flexibility no longer exists for charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Now, LAUSD forces new and renewing charters to add an additional 33 pages of “District Required Language” mandating stricter regulations which were originally exempted in State law.  Every year, LAUSD changes the rules and adds more to the regulatory burdens facing charters.

Yet still, charter schools in LAUSD outperform their traditional counterparts despite the strings attached, receiving less money, and often being placed across multiple campuses.

Now, LAUSD has taken on the new tactic “If you can’t beat them, indict them” or at least have someone else do the dirty work for you.

Over the past year, more and more charters along with their management organizations have been raked over the coals by LAUSD and the Office of the Inspector General. It was Magnolia, then El Camino, and now Celerity. Despite being admonished by the courts and even the State Auditor, LAUSD’s tactics continue.

Is closing a school down too unpopular? Just leak a few bad items to the media and have them question the reputation of school administrators. Not working? Conspire with seven federal agencies to orchestrate a suspiciously-timed raid even though the school was cooperating with all inquiries.

So what do all these schools have in common? They are highly successful, sought-after schools. They have out-performed their LAUSD counterparts. Their crime? They demonstrate that great outcomes can be achieved without spiraling into bankruptcy, unlike LAUSD.

The question that needs to be asked is not how these charters spend their money, but why isn’t LAUSD learning from them? Does LAUSD even care that the district is fiscally insolvent? Or, do they already know a bail-out is on the way despite decades of gross mismanagement.

Instead of spending hours griping about money spent on what it takes to run an efficient charter school, maybe the LAUSD Board of Education should take the time to address the billions of taxpayer dollars spent while producing lackluster, even abysmal, results that in turn continue the cycle of crime and poverty in our community.

Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are ultimately accountable to their students and parents. If a charter school fails to keep its promises to families, the school will lose enrollment, money, and will ultimately close. Can LAUSD say the same thing about their schools? The answer is a resounding NO.

About the Author: Pastor K.W. Tulloss is the Senior Pastor of The Historical Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church located in the Downtown, Boyle Heights region of Los Angeles. He also serves as the Los Angeles President and Western Regional Director of Rev. Al Sharpton’s local Civil Rights group National Action Network. Pastor Tulloss has been at the forefront of many of our nations most talked about demonstrations. He’s a 21st century drum major for social justice and is a nationally respected Pastor and Civil rights leader/Activist.

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