Last Wednesday, I wrote about a charter school that was locating 8 miles away from the location proposed in the charter petition. Then, on Thursday, I got an interesting email: the California Charter School Association (CCSA) wanted to chat.
Ok, I’ll bite.
“The clarity that we wanted to point out is what happens after the petition was submitted and approved,” noted Rebecca Velasco, School Development Director, adding, “In the state, what happens in practice is schools get approved before they are able to secure a facility. Access to facilities is really challenging.” As a result, they argue that the data is not faulty, because it was the best data available at the time.
Ebony Wheaton, the Director of Regional Advocacy for Los Angeles added, “Schools lay out a target neighborhood, where they intend to locate and the population that they intend to serve, and what often happens is they are unable to secure a facility prior to their approval and, for some, they are unable to secure a facility in the target neighborhood. It is called target neighborhood because it is what you are aiming for, but not necessarily where they will settle.”
Through out the conversation, we kept coming back to this: “It is a target…it is a target, it is aspirational…” and they argued that this is what the law says and how it has been interpretted – that schools needs to make a reasonable effort to locate in their target neighborhood.
And they repeatedly used one example to support their argument: Westchester Secondary Charter School.
Ok, the saga of Westchester Secondary is one for the ages – but essentially, the charter was located in a church in Westchester until it was sold, then applied for Prop 39 colocation and were repeatedly given options that were 7.4 miles away at Crenshaw, in South Los Angeles. They sued the district for a better outcome, but failed. The court found “that “near” is a flexible concept in the statutory and regulatory scheme” and the offers were legitimate. Westchester Secondary will close this year for a variety of reasons, which no one seems to agree upon.
Their argument here is simple: If it was adequate to offer a location that was 7.4 miles from the target neighborhood, then the reverse is true – a charter can locate far from its target neighborhood without asking for approval from the district.
Ok, so I’ve tried my best to lay out their position. Now I am going to take a moment to inject my own opinion and analysis:
First, the CCSA is trying to have this both ways. When Westchester Secondary sued the LAUSD, there CCSA filed an amicus brief saying that 7.4 miles was too far. In CCSA’s own words:
Crenshaw is 6.5 and 7.4 miles from Westchester’s preferred campuses…Those are long distances in densely populated urban areas, and they reflect completely different neighborhoods.
But now for PUC iPrep, 8 miles is no problem because the target neighborhood is “aspirational”.
Second, all of this may be legal, but it has the feel of being unethical. The legality isn’t the part I’m upset about – it is the optics. It is bait and switch. A charter school petitions for a neighborhood with poor performing schools, which helps their cause. But then, once approved, they choose a neighborhood with high performing schools? That is what PUC iPrep seems to be doing, and it is just deceptive.
The CCSA team encouraged me to reach out the PUC iPrep to hear their story – to find out if they made efforts to secure a location near their target neighborhood. So I did. I emailed them on Friday. I have not heard back from them yet.
As we closed out our discussion, it really stuck with me that it doesn’t really matter if they can or cannot explain themselves. There is no review process for this. According to Wheaton, “The district has not ever required a charter to resubmit its petition or close or denied a renewal because they end up locating a few miles away from where they wanted to serve kids.”
Something tells me that even if the district tried to review it, the CCSA would have something to say about that too.