Charter schools may face new era of opposition to funding

After a quarter-century of explosive increases in California, charter schools experienced all-time lows in growth the last two school years. And charters may also be facing an era of much harsher treatment from school boards allied with teachers unions who more than ever see charters as taking away resources that should go to conventional schools.

That was many education observers’ takeaway this week from the Los Angeles Unified School Board’s decision to approve a local moratorium on approvals of new charters until their impact on the state’s largest district is freshly assessed. District leaders had agreed to pass the resolution as part of their deal with United Teachers Los Angeles to end a strike that shut LAUSD schools for six days earlier last month.

Charters are privately operated public schools that hope to attract students from regular schools with their freedom to follow different teaching regimens. Some also offer specialized language or academic programs. Most are non-union.

From 1992 to 2016, charter schools went from zero students to more than 600,000 – about 10 percent of total K-12 students in California. The last two years, however, there was less than 2 percent growth in the number of total charters for the first time.

Charters initially faced brisk opposition from the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, which had heavy influence in many districts thanks to the board members that union local chapters helped elect.

But in 2000, California voters approved Proposition 39 related to school financing. One provision requires that “school districts make available to all charter schools operating in their school district … facilities that will sufficiently accommodate all of the charter’s in-district students, and that facilities be ‘reasonably equivalent’ to other classrooms, buildings, or facilities in the district,” according to the state Department of Education page outlining how school districts should comply with the state law.

CalSTRS bailout spurs scrum for limited resources

Proposition 39 gave charters a potent tool to fight attempts to block them, leading to something of a cease-fire from unions. But the passage in 2014 of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System bailout not only isn’t having the effect of stabilizing school finances that some hoped, it’s created a more intense battle for district resources than ever.

Under the bailout, total contributions to CalSTRS will nearly double from 2013-14 to 2020-21 as hikes are phased in. But districts are required to contribute 70 percent of the new money – or close to $4 billion when the phase-in ends. Even with two more contribution hikes awaiting in 2019-20 and 2020-21, many districts across the state are already struggling to make their budgets balance.

That list starts with L.A. Unified, whose board was warned by the Los Angeles County Office of Education that the district couldn’t afford the two retroactive 3 percent raises it gave teachers to end the strike. The county office raised the possibility that the district’s finances could be so broken by 2020-21 that it could be subject to an outside takeover based on a state law requiring districts maintain minimum reserves.

L.A. Unified leaders hope to get the state Legislature to provide more funding for next school year. But the L.A. teachers union also wants the district to stop providing so much funding to the district’s 225 charters, which teach 112,000 of the district’s 486,000 students.

The wild card in a new cold war between teachers unions and charters is Gov. Gavin Newsom. While he has often praised charter schools as an important part of public education, he said while campaigning last year that he would sign legislation “requiring charter schools to be more transparent with their finances and operations and to adhere to stricter conflict of interest rules on their governing boards,” according to the EdSource website.

Charter school critics see this as an obvious response to the messy finances and scandals seen in some charters. Charter advocates see it as an ominous first step toward rolling back the charter movement. They backed former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the 2018 governor’s race.


Write a comment
  1. Sean
    Sean 1 February, 2019, 06:28

    This is a consequence of pension reform passed in 2012. As usual, the pain was back loaded almost 10 years out and school district operating budgets will see as much as ~20% of their funds diverted to retiree pensions and healthcare. Declining enrollments exacerbate this problem as does diversion to charter schools. I wonder if the messy pension finances will also get an airing if more transparency is demanded.

    Reply this comment
  2. Steele
    Steele 3 February, 2019, 17:23

    the stupid GOP loves to back stab public education


    nothing to do with pensions– they have always hated the government educating their brats

    Reply this comment
  3. Sean
    Sean 5 February, 2019, 09:38

    Mr. Steele, The stupid GOP is no longer in a position to do anything to the teacher’s of California, the budget and all governing is solidly in control of the Democratic party.

    Pension reform has mandated much higher contributions to CSTRS as shown in Figure 1 of this report where the contributions are shown as a percentage of overall salaries. Note that the bulk of the increase falls to the local school districts and tops out in the early 2020’s. By 2021, 35% of the school district salaries will go to CSTRS with the employee contributing 10%, the school district 18% and the state 7%.

    Reply this comment
    • Teddy Steele Cakes Trump Cult Fighter
      Teddy Steele Cakes Trump Cult Fighter 10 February, 2019, 09:04

      This is how and why Gov Brown’s reform was so important and effective– it would be far worse if not for the ex Gov. The funds are still solid— Please don’t bother sending any Fox News talking points about “unfunded liabilities”– total sleeper and a top construct only a few years old now…snore time….zzzzzz

      I am aware of the ratio of Democrats to Top cultists currently in Sacto and by golly even federally. I like it very much……….My post was that Top cult morons never miss a chance to bash public education. It’s dull-normal behavior from a once great party that was populated by statesmen and thinkers— now? Not so much. Mostly now filled with corpulent city gadfly types who read part of an A.Rand dope treatise and bloviate ad nauseum about all things civic, as if, they knew ANYthing.

      Oh Lordy, are you one too?

      Reply this comment
      • Sean
        Sean 19 February, 2019, 07:05

        Most people don’t have a problem with effective public education. That’s why people with sufficient income move to high performing school districts so their kids can get a good education. But there are many school districts that have serious performance issues, enrollment is in decline and a third of the operating budget for salaries goes to the pension system. They are being starved for funds by poor pension decisions 20 years ago. A good charter schools gives low income parents in these districts options wealthier parents exercise with their choices on where to live.

        Reply this comment
  4. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 5 February, 2019, 16:54


    This the year of $10,000.00. State income/property tax deductions cap on Federal taxes.

    Brutal……nowhere to hide 🤪🤪🤪🤪

    Reply this comment
  5. Art
    Art 8 January, 2021, 09:11

    Much of our public schools suck. We need small community minded schools. Ineffective uncaring teachers should be kicked out. Too bad the public school administration just hires teachers as if it’s a job to fill.

    Reply this comment

Write a Comment

Leave a Reply

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

Related Articles

Dems Put Brakes on Budget Train Wreck

MARCH 28, 2011 By WAYNE LUSVARDI A new Field Poll  found that a supermajority of Democrats has swung against tax increases

San Jose Mayor Reed folds on pension initiative

In a disappointing indicator of the challenges facing public pension reform, outgoing San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed has shelved his

Brown’s State of the State address is both conciliatory and defiant

Jerry Brown teetered between conciliatory and defiant in his annual State of the State address on Tuesday.   The popular