hese forms simply helps my school maintain their facilities for the coming year. It's a fun game schools get to play each year."
- Jirusha Lopez, CWC Principal
Under the current interpretation of PROP-39, charter schools are allowed to demand space from public schools to implement their programs. The amount of space that these publicly-funded private schools receive is based on what is supposed to be a good faith estimate of the number of students the charter school anticipates enrolling in its program. This estimate is supposed to be backed up with a list of students who show "meaningful interest" in attending the charter school.
Even after receiving millions of dollars in grants from the Walton Family Foundation, the Citizens of the World (COW) nationwide chain of charter schools continuously demands space from underfunded public schools. In order to comply with these demands, the host schools have been forced to give up space formerly used for parent centers, computer labs, and special education services. These co-location arrangements have been "marked by arguments and acrimony" and have included actual "scuffles between parents" and "physical, conflict".
Contributing to this ill-will is the fact that COW consistently takes more space than it needs. While claiming that its "schools are in strong demand" and that they have "more interest than space", each of their three Los Angeles campuses had fewer students than they projected in at least one of the past four years. The LAUSD has tried to recoup their loss by billing the charter $1,052,428.70 for over-allocated space, but as of November 4, 2020, COW has only paid $96,691.58.
While Lopez seems to think that the collection of these signatures is a "fun game schools get to play each year", it is actually part of a legal process. By submitting names of students who never expressed any interest in attending the school, COW committed fraud against the students of the LAUSD. The district needs to take this action seriously and hold the charter chain responsible, to whatever the greatest extent possible might be. Additionally, all data provided by COW to the LAUSD needs to be audited by the Inspector General to ensure that there are not any other cases of inaccurate information being submitted.
There is also a cost to students throughout the district. The LAUSD spent up to $527,900 renovating the space at Shirley Elementary for COW. According to reports, the charter chain requested enough space for 269 students at this new location in the Valley. It is said that a fraction of these students actually enrolled. Classrooms formerly used by Shirley to provide vital services will now be either empty or underused. The funding used for the renovation could have been used elsewhere for a greater impact on our children's education.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.