Open Discussion: Charter school or L.A. Unified? Lincoln Heights mom wants to keep her options open

Photo from L.A. Leadership Academy website

By Josefina Vargas

“Es mi hijo, yo elijo!” – “It’s my child, I choose!”  was what hundreds of parents enthusiastically chanted outside the LAUSD headquarters on the morning of September 11. We were there to oppose a resolution that Mr. Steve Zimmer, a school board member, plans to implement that would hurt the opening of any future charter schools. Parents showed up by the bus loads and filled the auditorium and the streets outside the school board.

I attended this meeting to represent my daughter’s charter school, Los Angeles Leadership Primary Academy, located in Lincoln Heights. We were called to action by the school and by The Families that Can organization that our presence was very important at this meeting. We were told that Mr. Zimmer wanted to limit our choice of schools.

It was my hope to speak at this meeting on behalf of my support of the charter school system, but wasn’t able to because the spots were filled. I wanted to relay the following message which showed why I was in favor of charter schools.

I have a daughter who just started kindergarten six weeks ago, so I myself am a new charter parent. I was there to tell the great outcome that my youngest sister Ruth Galaviz had while attending two charter schools. Ruth attended KIPP LA Prep in the 5th grade and went on to attend Los Angeles Leadership Academy High School. The continued support and guidance that she received from the staff at these schools made it possible for Ruth to excel academically and go places that would have not been easily accessible to her if she would have gone to the traditional middle school and high school. How many girls from our community can say that they spent their junior year of high school studying in Vietnam on a full scholarship? Not only that, she has been to New York, Washington D.C. and Utah because of her involvement at these schools.

Ruth is the first and only, of a family of four, to have attended a university right out of high school. Three weeks ago she started her freshman year at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, where she’s majoring in Environmental Studies. Ruth was lucky enough to get to choose what school she wanted to attend and received a full scholarship.
It is this experience that made me choose a charter school for my daughter.

When I hear that Mr. Zimmer wants to halt the opening of any further charter schools it upsets me. A decision that big should be put to a vote by the parents of the LAUSD since it ultimately affects us and our children. As I hear, Mr. Zimmer represents an affluent part of L.A [Zimmer’s school board district includes Brentwood and Pacific Palisades as well as East Hollywood and Hollywood]. that probably doesn’t have much of a burden when it comes to the quality of education that the kids there receive. So Mr. Zimmer, if your constituents have a top notch education, why don’t you want our kids to have the same opportunity?

I’m hoping that the parent turn out may have changed Mr. Zimmer’s mind. One thing for sure is that we will be at the school board in October to hear the outcome of this resolution. Though I agree that charter schools have been popping up all over the city, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. I just think that as parents we need to make a diligent decision when we choose what school we want our kids to attend. That’s the beauty of charter schools–we have a choice. We are no longer restricted to just sending them to the nearest assigned school.

I’m a 33 year old mother of a 5 year-old girl. I was born and still reside in Lincoln Heights. I’ve been married for 10 years. I’m a civil service employee. I only have this one child and believe that her future success relies on my personal involvement with school issues and being the best parent I can be.

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  1. Hi Josefina,

    I’m a 44 year old mother of 2 boys. I send both of them to our local public school. And to be upfront from the start, our school is the victim of a very unwelcome co-location, so, I admit, I don’t have too many warm, glowy feelings towards Charters.

    That said, there is nothing wrong with choice, I’m glad for your sister and I’m glad you found the right school for your daughter. We should all have that very important right… to be able to choose how our kids get educated.

    But I am very concerned about what the out-of-control proliferation of Charters is actually doing to public education. Public education IS a right… for everyone, and a Charter is not a public school in the one way that matters most: accessibility to all. A school that allows entrance via lottery, a school that has no accountability to anyone, a school that can (and does) reject or dump some students for reasons they need explain to no one… is not public.

    The Charter in and of itself is not a bad thing. It’s a great idea, and, on paper, a fantastic supplement to public schools that might not meet your own child’s needs. But it has become a competitor to public schools, not a supplement. The government, and parents themselves, have slowly been making it into a Charter vs. Public issue instead of a Charter AND Public issue, because the public system has been deemed too broken to fix. Something to be abandoned in favor of a voucher concept. The same mentality behind privatizing healthcare is behind this…ostensibly for the sake of choice, but really, what it means is taking the entire choice of education away from some and giving it to others.

    For example, I did not *choose* to have a Charter come onto my kids’ campus and take our classrooms and segregate my kids onto one half of their own school grounds. That was forced on us by our own district in full accordance with the law. A law that lets these unaccountable Charters (that can be anyone, run in any way they see fit) paw through public school resources like the sale bin at Best Buy.

    There are plenty of good Charters, just like there are plenty of public schools still worth saving. Unfortunately, parents and our own government seems to be working against the future when they allow this unchecked, unaccountable spread of Charters… many of which fail children just as badly as some public schools are. If we, as a nation – as parents – choose Charters *over* Public … if we take away the right to free education and replace it with hordes of niche schools started by parents who have money and have the legal right to turn away whomever they like… I don’t see a very bright future for our democracy.

    All I’m saying is don’t abandon public schools in favor of Charters. They should work hand in hand, not in direct competition. Capitalism and its inherent competition has no place in education. When the district tries to staunch the mass proliferation of Charters, they are not trying to take away your choice. They are trying to protect a right we should all have. This situation is not about harming you and your kids. When you protest the district trying to protect itself, you are unknowingly choosing the Charter system over free and accessible education.

    Just my two cents,


    • beautifully stated

    • Your point proves the necessity of charter schools. The lottery shows the popularity of the charter schools not the other way. Parents are not dumb. Would you draw lottery for something you don’t want?
      When the public schools exist only for the teacher’s union’s interest, parents says, give us more charter schools.

  2. I am a mother, grandmother and retired teacher. I understand parents’ concern about schools. There are no easy answers about how to make our schools better. But I can tell you from 45 years of experience in education that privatizing it is not the answer. Yes, a few students will be helped, but you must remember that charters selectively choose their students so they can ensure high test scores. In addition, their teacher turnover is enormous — because teachers, who have few rights in public schools, have almost no rights in charters. Charter teachers are expected to work extra hours with no pay, their benefits are much less, their performance is dependent on their popularity as people and not their ability to teach. So many more issues make this resolution by Mr. Zimmer super important to the future health of our children. Are there problems in public schools? Of course. No one will say no to that. But siphoning off money into charters will not solve the problems for the majority of our students who maybe English language learners, or ADD, or dyslexic, or have any number of issues that make them unable to score high on high stakes tests. LAUSD used to have one of the finest Special Education departments but unfortunately our superintendent intends to turn it over to a private company — in fact he already has — people who know nothing about teaching. We need to leave teaching to the teachers and not allow businesses to take over.

  3. I am happy for you sister’s child. But understand that the fact that your sister’s child had few resources to begin with, besides the charter school, shows just how important it is to support public education! It is important that our choices help lift everyone up and allow all people to live to their full potential. We need to get behind public school and by doing so, bring about its revitalization. If we do this, then there will be fewer people who are left desperate and searching, ultimately being “served” by a private entity or corporation whose powers to serve the community at large are non-existent. All this “Race to the Top” business is a great distraction and can lead us away from our humanity.

  4. You are lucky that your daughter was picked to get into the charter school of your choice, but what if she wasn’t? Where would she go if the local public school is being abandoned by the neighborhood and community, not to mention the lack of funding that your local public school is given since the charters are taking away a chunk of it?

    Worse yet, what if she had to be bused to another school outside of your neighborhood since the charters have sued to gain access more space in the schools they’ve usurped, thus taking away your classrooms?

    It’s not an easy answer, and the charters, though they may have started with the best of intentions, have grown into a greedy monster that wants to take over everything. Also keep in mind that they are supported and run by corporations. As we’ve seen from the housing crisis, corporations are motivated by money, not by communities or the betterment of its constituents.

  5. Charter schools in Los Angeles are exempt from many of the rules of the school district (public schools). For instance, charter schools are not required to offer their high school students a 5-unit, full semester, comprehensive health education course taught by a fully credentialed health teacher, as public schools are. Schools that offer comprehensive health education have higher APIs and lower rates of missed classes and drop outs.

    Los Angeles has the highest rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia in the nation and we’re second in cases of syphilis. Many of these cases are concentrated in hot spots, sections of the city served by charter schools and other non-traditional option schools.

    Tell me, why would a for-profit corporation invest in the health and well-being of your child? It would cost them additional resources that could be better spent opening up more charter schools that would deprive more children of their right to a comprehensive health education. The well-being of your children is not the priority of these businesses. Profit is.

    Not all parents are satisfied to have their – or any – child’s educational needs weighed against the ROI (return on investment) and P&L (profit/loss) of major corporations grasping for free taxpayer money.

    I hope you take the time to learn more about these important issues. We want the best education for all children.

  6. I have four children and have had three of my children enrolled in LAUSD only. The fourth child was in LAUSD through elementary only. He is now in a Charter school as I was not given a chance to enroll him at the residential middle school because they decided to allow the 6th grade to become magnet only and you had to score a certain score to attend. Well, that did not make me happy and I’m glad that I had an option at that point to enroll him in a charter school that is now a distinguished school. I appreciate having had that opportunity to choose. LAUSD AND CHARTER SCHOOLS are good options for all to enroll their children as they see fit. How do expect anything to change if there is no competition? My oldest child is now 19 years old and it’s the same story back then about all the complaints you hear now and I see nothing changes.
    Let everyone decide where they would like to enroll their children.

  7. Never mentioned in the public versus charter debate is the larger role a public school plays in a community. They coordinate much needed social services; food, clothes, housing, counseling, parenting classes, community meeting space.

    This ‘I got mine, who cares about you’ attitude people have these days will eventually undermine the foundation of our society.

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