Carl Petersen: Los Angeles Charter School Enrollment Declines (Again)
Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for public education in Los Angeles. In this post, he notes that despite noise to the contrary, charter enrollment is sagging. Reposted with permission.
Instead of admitting that the declining LAUSD enrollment in recent years is due to long-predicted demographic shifts, many opponents of public education have tried to construct a narrative that parents are simply leaving the district due to dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, a recent report released internally by Superintendent Carvalho shows that enrollment in charter schools is in its third year of decline.
While the General Counsel’s office continues to stonewall the release of the current version of the “3-Year Analysis of Independent Charter School Norm Enrollment Versus Enrollment per Approved Petition,” the Superintendent released the information to the School Board and senior District staffers in an email dated March 6, 2023. While this year’s report has a different title, “Charter School Enrollment Information”, it includes the same type of information that has been presented in the past, including directly lifting the passages from the two previous years. Instead of showing that it was authored by Jose Cole-Guitierez, Director of the Charter School Division, this year, Carvalho released it under his own name.
The data released by the Superintendent shows that this year there were 1,845 fewer students enrolled in independent charter schools authorized by the LAUSD. This represents a decrease of 1.6%.
While LAUSD bureaucrats have included declining enrollment projections when formulating their budgets, charter schools have overestimated the size of their student bodies for at least four years. According to Carvalho, “this enrollment trend appears to be consistent with both small and large charter operators.”
This inability to project accurate enrollment information is a problem that is seen broadly within Los Angeles’ charter school industry with 80.8% of the schools not able to meet their enrollment targets. Of the 225 independent charter schools authorized by the District, only 43 had student bodies at least as large as promised in their charter applications.
One example of a charter school facing potential fallout from underestimating its enrollment is the Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS), which only enrolled half of the students specified in its charter. While the charter school had 227 students two years ago, it only has 155 this year. Despite this decline, it is building a brand new facility in Van Nuys.
Even the highly vaulted Granada Hills Charter School seems to be struggling to fulfill its enrollment projections. This year it has 908 fewer students than specified in its charter renewal application. This will make it harder for the school to pay for the bonds it has issued, including the ones used to build its brand-new facility at the former Pinecrest campus.
This inability to accurately predict enrollment can have dire effects on these schools’ abilities to keep their doors open. The LAUSD is already plagued by a plethora of charter schools that have been forced to shut their doors, disrupting their students’ educations and throwing away the government grants that these schools received to incentivize their opening. Compounding the problem is that schools are allowed to open without adequate resources to complete the school year, sending parents scrambling to find another school to enroll their children when they suddenly close.
Not surprisingly, these school closures mainly affect students in the most economically challenged parts of the city, providing a further hurdle for these students to get the education that they require. George McKenna’s Board District 1 had the most closures and provides another opportunity for him to show leadership if he really wants to get reelected.
With the charter school enrollment data now available, public schools fighting PROP-39 co-locations will have the data needed to dispute the applications that have been submitted. For example, does Rise Kohyang High need all of the space that it has demanded from Berendo Middle School when it only has 472 of the 600 students it specified in its charter? Why is the LAUSD planning to give the WISH charter school chain the entire Orville Wright STEAM Magnet campus when its high school can only fill 281 of the 475 positions outlined in its charter?
Living up to its reputation of taking more space from public schools than it is entitled to receive, several franchisees of the Citizens of the World chain of charter schools are under-enrolled. In the cases of Mar Vista and Silver Lake, the number of enrolled students is substantially lower than what the chain specified in their charter applications:
Overall, the expanding discrepancy between the number of students that charter schools promise to serve and the ones they actually do provides another example of how the LAUSD is failing at its responsibility to oversee the schools that it has chosen to authorize. Surrounding districts, like Culver City, do not seem to have this same problem as they have put regulations in place to discourage bad actors from taking root in their school district. Los Angeles needs to do the same, beginning with a change in leadership at the Charter School Division.