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L.A. Unified leads nation by far in number of charter school students

December 30, 2010 | 10:13 am

The Los Angeles Unified School District continues to have more charter school students than any school system in the country, according to the latest data released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

L.A. Unified, with about 68,500 students in charter schools last year, was well ahead of the No. 2 district, the Detroit Public Schools, which has about 50,000 students in charters. Overall, about 10% of L.A. Unified students attend charters.

Charters are free, publicly funded schools operated by nonprofits and private companies. They continue to grow in number and are a key element in the school-reform strategy of President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as they were in the previous administration of George W. Bush.  Charter schools are typically free from many regulations that govern traditional schools; most in California are nonunion.

Overall, charters enroll about 3.2% of U.S. public school students, with wide variations from state to state, said Deborah Veney Robinson, a spokesperson for the alliance, based in Washington.

The school systems with the highest percentage of students in charter schools are the New Orleans Public School System at 61% and the District of Columbia Public Schools at 38%.

The charter surge in New Orleans was spurred in large measure by Hurricane Katrina, which put the school district virtually out of business for a time, opening the door to radical changes. Aggressive reforms in the District of Columbia, including the promotion of charter schools, were pursued by Chancellor Michelle Rhee. She resigned this fall after her most crucial political patron, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost his reelection bid.

As in nearly all places, charter school enrollment in Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. increased over the prior year. In Los Angeles, the rise occurred even as overall enrollment has declined.

Ten states do not allow charter schools, Robinson said.

California has 941 charter schools, more than 17% of the national total, according to data from the Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter organization which also is based in Washington.


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-- Howard Blume

California Schools Guide