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Charter school firm to open more L.A. campuses

April 29, 2009 |  2:26 pm

One of the nation’s most highly praised charter-school operators has landed another sizable donation to open campuses in the Los Angeles area.


L.A. residents Bruce and Martha Karsh have pledged $3 million to help KIPP LA reach its goal of expanding to seven elementary schools and seven middle schools over the next five years, the organization announced today.


KIPP LA currently manages two middle schools and one elementary school, which serve about 750 students. KIPP stands for Knowledge Is Power Program and was begun in Houston and New York City, expanding to a network of 66 schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Most of the schools have demonstrated large academic gains with the low-income and minority students who make up nearly all of their enrollment.

For students and parents, KIPP's growth means another educational option that offers small classes at a small school, as well as a chance to avoid Los Angeles Unified schools, which are some of the most crowded in the country.

District officials sometimes tout the success of charters, but they frequently assert charter schools drain enrollment at traditional schools, resulting in lower district revenue. Decreased revenue is especially a problem during the current economic crisis. Charter-school officials sometimes complain they don't get a full share of funds allocated based on attendance. L.A. Unified has more charters than any school system in the nation.


KIPP was slow to expand to California, in part because its model entails a higher level of funding than the state provides. The KIPP program includes a longer school day, a longer school year and an end-of-year field trip for students who meet behavior and achievement goals.


Local KIPP leaders are relying on philanthropy to pay for their extras and also to help front the start-up costs charter schools face. Charters are independently run public schools that are exempt from some provisions of the Education Code.


The Karsh gift comes a year after a $12-million pledge from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

Bruce Karsh heads Oaktree Capital Management, an international investment firm. Martha Karsh is an attorney with extensive experience in nonprofits. Their family foundation has made gifts and pledges totaling more than $50 million to support education.


-- Howard Blume


Blume is twittering about budget woes at the Los Angeles Unified School District. Follow his updates @howardblume.