While private and parochial schools have long been options for parents seeking alternatives to Los Angeles Unified, tuition-free charters have become the district's biggest challenge in retaining students. The district now has about 582,000 students, down from 700,000 just five years ago.
By contrast, there are 198 charter schools within LAUSD's boundaries, compared with 183 last year. Charter officials said their growth is spurred by results, like the standardized API tests for 2009-10, when charters outperformed traditional LAUSD schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
It's heartening to witness the prospect of charters increasing the competition (and thus quality) amongst conventional public schools. But LAUSD will learn soon enough that they can't get this genie back in the bottle. A measure of intra-public school competition may act as a temporary balm, but it won't be able to replicate the results of local charters for the simple reason that it can't replicate their elevation of the needs of students beyond those of teachers unions. The fight for the future of Los Angeles's children has been joined. And the charters look ready for battle.
"We're showing the achievement gap can be closed, that's what's driving the reform effort," said Allison Bajracharya, managing director of the California Charter Schools Association."