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The Politics of Retribution: Charters Spend Millions Avoiding Accountability

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"A plan for ensuring best and fair practices for charter operators, including results that indicate positive impacts on the achievement gap, inclusion of all students, fair labor practices, and parent engagement practices. "

-Steve Zimmer, 11/13/12

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Betsy Devos,
Eli Broad, and Michael Bloomberghave spent millions of dollars pushing to privatize our public schools with disastrous effectsfor school districts like the LAUSD. Much of this spending is not used to benefit students in any way, but to influence elections. This spending has swelled to the point where once again Los Angeles has broken the record for "the priciest school-board race in U.S. history."

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Fueling much of this spending is a desire to eliminate the threat of any board member who dares to seek accountability for these privately run institutions. Two years ago the target was Bennett Kayser, who had a reputation for being a tough critic of the charters. In a campaign that included unproven allegations of racismand mocked his diagnosis with Parkinson's, they unseated the only LAUSD board member who was a guaranteed vote against unregulated charter expansion.

Steve Zimmerhas taken a more balanced approach towards the charter industry, but that has not stopped him from being attacked. While he admits to voting for more charter approvals than almost any other school board member in the county, he also attempted to make sure that charters are accountable to both the students and the taxpayer. This includes Zimmer's drawing attention to the fact that Granada Hills Charter High School is not serving a proportional number of students with special needs during their renewal hearing. In 2012, he introduced a resolution simply asking "charter operators to voluntarily delay requesting action on new charter applications until the Board has heard the Superintendent's recommendations and is able to set a timetable for the implementation of changes to better serve all children and families." After hearing speakers that included representatives from the California Charter School Association (CCSA) and Magnolia Science Academy 3, the board rejected this proposal. Kayser was the only other "yes" vote.

Instead of taking even minimal steps toward accountability, the CCSA and their allies have spent millions trying to replace Zimmer with Nick Melvoin. Ignoring the problems of charters cherry-picking their students, disrupting district schools, and using public funds for their own personal gain,Melvoin worships at Betsy DeVos' altar of imagined school-choice, even if it results in a system of separate and unequal education. In Melvoin's vision of education, even the most basic attempts at accountability are seen as an impediment to "market share" and are fought at all costs.

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Any airline passenger can testify how well deregulation works for the consumer as companies rake in massive profits at the expense of comfort. The consumers in our education system are our students and they stand to lose more than legroom. Parents who send their children to charters deserve to know that the promises made about academic superiority are nothing more than marketing gimmicks. Students in public schools deserve to have a school board that represents their interests. None of this is possible if privatizers like Melvoin are allowed to take control of the LAUSD.


Carl Petersen is a parent and special-education advocate and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 school board race. He was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." His past blogs can be found at


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As a father of five, I have personally seen what happens when the LAUSD's massive bureaucracy stands in the way of our students. In my case, the district made me fight for the services that my daughters' teachers agreed they required. I knew (more...)

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