UTLA Calls for Charter Schools Cap, But Issue Is Not Tied to Contract Talks

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Two days after setting a strike deadline of Jan. 10 unless an 11th-hour labor deal is reached, the union representing 33,000 Los Angeles Unified School District teachers today called for a cap on charter schools -- although the issue is not directly tied to contract negotiations.

United Teachers Los Angeles has long called for more regulation of charter schools, and listed it as one of the union's contract demands during a news conference on Wednesday, along with reduction in class sizes, more hiring of nurses and counselors, salary raises and reductions in standardized testing.

But Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of UTLA, called another news conference Friday and said the union wants a cap on charter schools, and called on Los Angeles' civic leaders to help get one enacted, although he made clear his statements were not a bargaining proposal tied to the stalemate in contract negotiations or a condition on reaching a deal.

“We must do this instead of continuing the unsustainable, destructive practice of unregulated charter school growth,” Caputo-Pearl said at a news conference outside UTLA's headquarters in Koreatown. “It is time for a cap on charter schools in LAUSD.”

Caputo-Pearl said the reason for the cap was to allow for the time to create more regulation of charters on a number of issues he and other critics have long said are needed.

“Enough is enough. Civic leaders must enact a cap on charter schools in L.A. for the health of the civic institution of public education, and to create the time and space to investigate and root out issues of private gain, conflict of interest, lack of financial transparency, equity in service to students, civil rights and more.”

Although Caputo-Pearl has long called charters “unregulated,” supporters of the schools point out that they must be authorized every five years by a local district, county or the state, and that their records and practices are thoroughly vetted throughout that process.

Whether there is political support in the state for a cap remains unclear. Caputo-Pearl acknowledged the district lacks the power to create such a cap, and that the legal authority would likely need to come from state leaders.

Charter schools are publicly financed but independently operated schools that have been one of the top sources of conflict between UTLA and the district for years, primarily because the majority of the schools are non- union, and because when a student leaves a traditional public school for a charter school, state funding goes with them. The loss of enrollment takes large chunks out of the district's budget each year.

Charters have grown exponentially at LAUSD, from 10 in the 2000-01 school year to 277 this year, with the district now the largest charter school authorizer in the nation serving over 154,000 students out of its total enrollment of just over 694,000.

The California Charter Schools Association did not respond to a request to comment, and LAUSD Chief Communications Officer Shannon Haber said the district had no comment.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been a supported of charter schools and vetoed a number of bills that would bring stricter regulation of them. However, with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom set to be sworn in as governor next year, the vetoes could end, as Newsom has said in the past that he could support a pause on charter school growth.

District officials previously said the union's contract proposal would increase the district's $500 million deficit during the current school year by another $813 million.

In response, the union has criticized the district and Superintendent Austin Beutner, saying LAUSD has a “record breaking” reserve fund of about $1.8 billion that should be tapped to make improvements in school staffing. If the union does walk out, it will be the first LAUSD teachers strike since 1989.

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