May 24, 2023

Carl J. Petersen: The Building Boom Continues Despite A Loss Of Students

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Carl Petersen keeps an eye on education in Los Angeles. In this post, he shows how the charter school looks an awful lot like a real estate business. It’s not just about capacity, but who gets to own it.

Decades of changing demographics have left public schools and charters competing for a share of the shrinking school-age population. This shift was predicted by the LAUSD years before it occurred and should have resulted in dramatic changes to how many new facilities the District planned to build. Instead, Monica Garcia led efforts to greatly expand the number of classrooms available in Los Angeles.

Perhaps by design, Garcia’s building spree has left charter schools with an opportunity to claim “empty “space on District campuses using PROP-39. At one school I visited during my 2017 campaign in BD2, the campus appeared to be built with a separate entrance for a charter school. The waste of taxpayer money was not an accident.

Over 15 years into the demographic shift, the use of scarce education funding to build more capacity has not stopped. A tour of a neighborhood near the intersection of North Vermont and West 1st Street near Korea Town provides an example.

Before charter schools, this small area had two campuses: Virgil Middle School, which was built in 1914, and Frank del Amo Elementary School. Despite the decades-long reduction in the number of school-age children, the Value chain of charters built a brand new building for the Everest Value School. Across the street, the Central City Value Charter High School was opened in what appears to be a converted commercial space. While enrollment declines are continuing in both public and charter schools, the Bright Star charter school chain is building the Rise Kohyang High School across the street from Virgil.

In addition to these five school campuses that will be located within blocks of each other, the Virgil campus hosts two other separate schools. The Sammy Lee Medical and Health Services Magnet is an elementary school operated by the LAUSD. The Citizens of the World charter chain has also forced one of its franchises onto the campus using PROP-39.

Over the years, Citizens of the World has consistently enrolled fewer students than specified in its charters. In the 2022–23 school year, the Silver Lake franchise enrollment went down by 79 students and had only 60% of its predicted enrollment.

Because the Citizens of the World chain could not accurately predict its enrollment it has taken more space from LAUSD schools under PROP-39 than it was entitled to resulting in overallocation penalties. As of the LAUSD’s last public update on December 31, 2022, this campus alone still owes the District’s students $124,243 for unpaid overallocation fees. This does not include the $355,306 that the Charter School Division credited the campus in 2022 without any explanation. This was part of a $7,678,022 gift to the charter school industry that appears to be contradictory to the California State Education Code.
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