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L.A. school board will weigh new policy to both help and rein in charters

January 11, 2010 |  3:41 pm

The Los Angeles Board of Education Tuesday will consider new policies aimed at both assisting charters and holding them more accountable for their performance. The regulations, about a year in the making, include key provisions on conflicts of interest and services for disabled students that are opposed by the association that represents charter schools.

There are now more charter schools — enrolling more students — in Los Angeles than in any other city in the country. Their effect and performance were the subject of a Los Angeles Times special report on Sunday.

The number of charter schools is expected to increase sharply, partly as a result of a school board strategy that lets charter operators bid to take control of struggling traditional campuses as well as 50 new ones scheduled to open. Charter operators as well as groups of teachers are to submit final bids today for the first group of 30 campuses.

Charter schools are independently managed schools that are free from many rules that govern traditional schools, including abiding by a school district’s union contracts.

The new charter policy would require that charter school leaders submit financial disclosure forms, with the aim of discouraging as well as highlighting potential conflicts of interest. The California Charter Schools Assn. objects on the grounds that its nonprofit schools would be subject to more disclosure than other nonprofits and that the district's proposed rules represent a new, unnecessary layer of regulation. The association said it doesn’t want its members to have to play by more than one rulebook simultaneously.

The association also objects to falling under the sway of a district consent decree governing the education of disabled students. These rules and procedures would stifle innovation — and potentially undermine the effectiveness of services to disabled students — in the name of equity, said association President Jed Wallace.

Charter critics have alleged, in turn, that charter schools are avoiding their legal obligation to serve disabled students, especially those with more challenging disabilities. And the disclosure obligations, they argue, are vital because charters are paid for overwhelmingly with public funds.

Despite the issues in contention, Wallace praised the district for its improved efforts to work with charter schools, including attempts to streamline charter approvals and deal cooperatively with charters once they open.

--  Howard Blume