Are privately operated charter schools accountable to the public that funds them and the parents who entrust their children to them? That fundamental question drives a new report, “Whose Schools? Community Representation and Transparency in Charter School Governance in Los Angeles,” that looks at the makeup of 224 charter governing boards within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) boundaries and reviews the incidences of meaningful parent representation.
Among the findings:
• Charter schools with fewer students in poverty have greater parent representation on governing boards.
• 10 out of 12 charter schools with majorities of African American students have no parental representation on governing boards.
• Corporations have a disproportionate influence on charter school governance, with 31% of board members identified as corporate professionals. Half of those come from the financial sector.
• None of the nine Charter Management Organizations operating more than five schools each has a designated parent representative in a governing role.
• Many charter schools hold meetings during hours or at locations that make meaningful participation difficult for working parents.
The report makes a number of policy recommendations to enhance representation and strengthen the voice of parents and the community, including requiring charter governing boards to include parents of current students on the board, instituting a method to recall board members, and requiring board meetings to be scheduled so that they are accessible to parents.
Greater parent representation would ensure oversight from those involved with the school on a daily basis and help guard against unethical or illegal behavior. Recent local scandals—including the FBI raid of Celerity and the conflict-of-interest charges against LAUSD School Board member Ref Rodriguez, founder of the PUC charter chain—underscore the need for greater accountability and transparency in the publically funded, privately operated charter sector.
The issues outlined in the “Whose Schools?” report are part of a larger group of problems driven by the rapid, unregulated expansion of charter operators in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Other serious issues that call out for increased accountability of charters include overly punitive student discipline policies, practices that push out high-need students, and funding and building patterns that destabilize neighborhood public schools.
The report was authored by Leigh Dingerson (Policy Director, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools), Grace Regullano (Strategic Research Director, UTLA), and Ed Gutierrez (Research Specialist, UTLA).