By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
A year ago, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced plans to push through a proposal to allow public charter school operators and other outside groups to bid for control of 50 new schools and hundreds of existing schools over several years. In a victory for teachers, labor and public education, the Los Angeles Unified board of education ultimately decided to hand over 29 out of 36 schools to teacher-led groups in the district.
Nonetheless, there are 161 charter schools in LAUSD, serving approximately 58,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Nearly all of them are funded by private corporate money issued through foundation grants. And much of it comes from Eli Broad, a retired life insurance magnate and homebuilder who is a staunch believer that schools should be run like businesses.
In 2007, the Broad Foundation issued $10 million in grants to the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools to open 13 new charter schools. In 2008, Broad awarded $23.3 million in grants to three charter school organizations: KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), Aspire Public Schools, and Pacific Charter School Development. These grants brought the total Broad Foundation investment in Los Angeles charters to $56 million since 2000, serving 25,000 total students, according to RedOrbit.com, a Texas-based Internet news source.
Recently, Eli Broad donated $10.5 million to the Green Dot charter schools organization that will go toward opening 21 new high school campuses and enrolling about one of every 10 high school students currently in LAUSD over the next several years.
"This trend for increasing charters is hurting teachers and kids," according to a statement issued by United Teachers Los Angeles. "It's creating a two-tiered educational system - one for the haves and one for the have-nots. Charters get the cream of the crop when it comes to kids because they are based on a lottery system that attracts parents who are the most motivated. These schools don't have the same percentages of English learners or special education students. And when they have discipline problems, they send them back to the public schools because they can't handle them."
When the school board rebuffed the mayor's plan it was a victory for educators, but pro-charter corporate foundations continue to wield tremendous power in LAUSD, where they are entrenched in top district administrative positions.
John Deasy, a top official with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was hired in June as second in command of the district. As deputy superintendent, his contract calls for a starting salary of $275,000 - $25,000 more than Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines - according to the Los Angeles Times, and puts him in position as top candidate for superintendent within two years. At the Gates Foundation, he managed the process through which school districts and charter schools apply for grants to develop new teacher-evaluation methods that include linking instructors to student test scores, reports the Times.
Deasy's position is paid for by LAUSD, but corporate foundation money is paying for other key staff positions within the district. Matt Hill manages the district's reform initiative, which pushed for the mayor's plan, and has a salary covered by the Broad Foundation. According to the Times, "The pay of more than a dozen others is funded by a nearly $4.4 million grant from the Wasserman Foundation, a $1.2 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation [founders of Wal-Mart] and smaller amounts from the Hewlett and Ford foundations."
These employees and consultants are developing a new system to evaluate teachers and administrators and were brought on board after the district superintendent helped Broad develop an academy to train school district leaders.
Broad's efforts to control the news media may strengthen his hold on schools. According to several reports, he has looked into purchasing the Los Angeles Times. Undoubtedly, he would use that as a vehicle to perpetuate the myth that schools are failing and should be governed by private industry.
"It certainly is worrisome and a cause for concern when you have non-educators in control of public education in the second-largest school district in the country," says the UTLA statement. "They come in with preconceived notions, without the view from being in the classroom, and it's very problematic.
"Foundations do some good, and given the right set of circumstances they can be good for public schools. But in a reasonable, sane world, why would anybody really choose a corporate entity to run public education, considering the worldwide economic straits the corporate world has gotten us into?"
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