Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 6
Brings Big Shift
To L.A. Unified
Pricey fight for control
Now that pro-charter-school forces have
taken control of a coveted piece of K-12 real estate-the Los Angeles Unified school board-
proponents of school choice are hoping the expensive and hard-fought victory in the nation's
second-largest district will lead to a more robust expansion of charters around the country.
After years of trying, charter school supporters succeeded in seizing the majority of seats
on the Los Angeles board in a runoff election
earlier this month, guaranteeing that the
panel with broad powers over the 640,000-student district will support stalled efforts to expand the city's charter sector.
It was a stinging defeat for the city's teachers' union, long the dominant player in the
Los Angeles Unified is the largest district
in the country governed by an elected board,
and the race for influence over its future direction pitted pro-charter forces who want to significantly grow charter schools there against
teachers' unions that have been aggressively
fighting to hold the line on charters.
The election's price tag-which brought an
unprecedented $15 million in independent
spending-underscored the tactical importance these groups see in Los Angeles.
Some view the Los Angeles race as a harbinger for battles over school board elections
in other cities, and possibly bigger legislative
battles in states over the expansion of the
charter school market.
"I think this is a tectonic shift," said Steve
Zimmer, the union-backed school board president and one of two incumbents who were
"This was financed by private-sector reformers," he said. "You can't get away from that [...]
the way that they're going to be emboldened
now, in terms of other school districts, in terms
of the California legislature and beyond."
Zimmer, a two-term incumbent, lost his seat
to Nick Melvoin, whose candidacy was heavily bankrolled by pro-charter forces, including
billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad. (The Eli
and Edythe Broad Foundation has provided
support to Education Week.)
With wealthy pro-charter-school backers
like Broad and Netflix founder Reed Hastings, and the powerful 35,000-member United
Teachers of Los Angeles in its backyard, the
district has become well-trod turf in the proxy
wars between charter supporters and unions.
Spending in the 2013 school board race-the
last time Zimmer was up for re-election-was
also driven by a heated battle between charter- and union-backed candidates and broke
campaign spending records at that time.
Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times/TNS
By Arianna Prothero
Nick Melvoin, newly elected
to the Los Angeles school
board, greets supporter Amy
Baker, right, at his election
night party in May. Melvoin,
with millions of dollars in
backing from charter school
supporters, unseated a
two-term incumbent who was
heavily supported by the
city's teachers' union.
I think this election
opens up the
possibility for the
district to increase
innovation ... and that
should happen in both
Great Public Schools Now
Marketplace for Charters
But while charters have made meaningful
inroads into Los Angeles, they have nowhere
near the market share that charters have in
Detroit, the District of Columbia, and New
Orleans, which enroll 40 percent or more of
students in their respective cities.
Twenty-four percent of Los Angeles students
attend charters, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Nationally,
charter school growth has remained relatively
flat in recent years, with just about 5 percent
of public school students enrolled.
6 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 31, 2017 | www.edweek.org
Upping the ante in this election was the future of an initiative spearheaded by the Broad
Foundation to expand the number of charters
in the city.
Initially the plan, which was leaked in its
preliminary stages to the Los Angeles Times in
2015, called for doubling the number of charter
schools in the city. After strong pushback, the
plan was subsequently revamped to include investments in district schools. Any charter school
expansion depends on the school board, which
gets first crack at approving or denying new
charter school applications.
"I certainly think that the elections signal an
appetite for reform as opposed to a status quo,"
said Myrna Castrejon, the executive director of
Great Public Schools Now, the organization that
was set up to carry out the Broad plan for charter
The group is currently developing grant programs to create new schools and tackle other issues such as teacher retention and recruitment
for charters and noncharters.
"I think this election opens up the possibility
for the district to increase innovation ... and that
should happen in both sectors," Castrejon said,
"and we stand ready to be part of that citywide
The city is already home to several fast-expanding, nationally recognized charter networks
run by nonprofit management organizations.
A Confidence Booster
Nationally, charter school advocates are trying to glean lessons learned from the election's
results and how they might replicate their success in Los Angeles to other jurisdictions. The
victory in Los Angeles comes a few months after
a bruising defeat for the charter sector in Massachusetts.
"If you invest in a strong set of candidates
in a city that has a base of support for charter
schools both in terms of the sheer number of
charters and public knowledge of charters, you
can impact the outcome of a board election," said
Nina Rees, the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the
country's largest charter-advocacy group.
"The fact that it happened in Los Angeles is
very significant; it gave us confidence that we
can play in these school board races and win," she
Rees said outspending opponents is no guarantee of victory. Charter advocates are still
smarting from last fall's loss in Massachusetts,
when their pricey ballot initiative to lift the
cap on the number of charters in the state was
The effort to keep the cap was organized and
mostly funded by teachers' unions.
Although charter backers spent handsomely
on their campaigns-$26 million was poured
into lifting the cap against the $16 million
raised to keep it-62 percent of Massachusetts
voters sided with the unions.
In Los Angeles, the California Charter Schools
Association (and various groups it funds) and
Broad accounted for nearly $9.5 million of the
almost $15 million in independent expenditures
that flooded the school board race, according to
"It's important to note that what the key distinguishing factor was between these two scenarios was the fact that a lot of people were
already familiar with charter schools [in Los Angeles]," said Rees. "Whereas in Massachusetts,
you only had a handful of people impacted by
The winning charter-backed candidates also
had backgrounds working as teachers in Los Angeles Unified, an important asset, Rees added.
But even with a newly configured school board
that's supportive of robust charter growth, those
ambitions may shatter against the realities of
running the vast school district, said Lawrence
Picus, a professor of education finance and policy at the University of Southern California's
Rossier School of Education.
All the school district's baggage-declining
enrollment and a largely failed effort to put
iPads in the hands of every student-which
haunted Zimmer throughout his campaign, remains.
"The school district faces what appears to be
some difficult financial times due to declining
enrollment," said Picus, who lives in the district
that was represented by Zimmer.
"The new board members will find themselves enmeshed in very complex budget challenges that will distract them from more charter
Coverage of how parents work with educators, community leaders and policymakers to make informed
decisions about their children's education is supported
by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, at waltonk12.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control
over the content of this coverage.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 31, 2017
Education Week - May 31, 2017
Where Career Plans Start Early
States Struggle to Define ‘Ineffective Teachers’
Trump Priorities on Full Display In K-12 Budget
For Schools, Rating Students’ Character Is a Tricky Prospect
News in Brief
Charter Win Brings Big Shift to L.A. Unified
Reading and the Mind : An Author Q&A
Letters to Districts Prompt Worries About E-Rate’s Future
States’ Spec. Ed. Work Offers a Jump on ESSA’s Demands
Amid Fiscal Crisis, Puerto Rico Shuts Down Scores of Schools
Budget Plan Spares Some Ed. Research Efforts, Cuts Others
Trump Budget Draws Ire, Tepid Support From School Choice Worl
Darienne Driver: A Collective-Impact Approach to Equity
Steve Canavero:Two-Party Support Gives School Funding Wider Reach
Peggy Lehner: Money Doesn’t Ensure Equity
Veronica Palmer: Empowering Families to Lead
Pedro A. Rivera: A Fair Formula for Funding
John Schoenig: Our Children Are Made for Greatness
Tammy Wawro: Confronting the Realities of a Changing Population
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Danielle Gonzales & Ross Wiener: Yes, Schools Have an Equity Problem. What Should We Do About It?
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - For Schools, Rating Students’ Character Is a Tricky Prospect
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 2
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 3
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Report Roundup
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Charter Win Brings Big Shift to L.A. Unified
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Reading and the Mind : An Author Q&A
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Letters to Districts Prompt Worries About E-Rate’s Future
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 9
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 10
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 11
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 12
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Amid Fiscal Crisis, Puerto Rico Shuts Down Scores of Schools
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 14
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 15
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 16
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 17
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Trump Budget Draws Ire, Tepid Support From School Choice Worl
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 19
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Steve Canavero:Two-Party Support Gives School Funding Wider Reach
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Pedro A. Rivera: A Fair Formula for Funding
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 24
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 25
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 26
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 27
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Danielle Gonzales & Ross Wiener: Yes, Schools Have an Equity Problem. What Should We Do About It?
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - CW4