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The Los Angeles Charter School Wars Are Headed To Court. Here’s What’s At Stake

The California Charter Schools Association filed suit against LAUSD over controversial, new rules barring charters from public school buildings.

Zoyla Cruz, a parent of two children at Gabriella Charter School, center, and California Charter Schools Association President and CEO Myrna Castrejón, at left, join parents, educators and supporters for a rally outside of Los Angeles Unified School District Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, September 19, 2023. (Christina House/Getty Images)

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The California Charter Schools Association last month filed a lawsuit against LA Unified over its controversial new policy barring charters from using classrooms in certain district school buildings.

It’s unclear if the CCSA will prevail in court, but the suit is already making an impact on the nation’s second-largest district.

LAUSD’s new colocation rules were approved by the district’s school board in February. The CCSA’s suit seeks to prevent the district from enforcing the new policy.

The suit alleges the new rules violate a 2000 state law compelling LAUSD and other California school districts to provide charter schools with classroom space that is “reasonably equivalent” to classrooms used by traditional public schools.

The new policy prevents charter schools from colocating with low-performing schools, community schools that provide social services, and schools in the district’s Black Student Achievement Plan. It also prevents charter schools from being sited in places where they could siphon students away from district-run schools. 

The restrictions would prevent charters from being sited at roughly 350 of about 770 public school buildings in the district, according to the CCSA.

Under the new regulation, impacted charter schools will still be offered space to operate in other LAUSD district buildings. But charter school operators and their advocates say the restrictions will prevent them from serving communities that need them most.

Representatives for LAUSD declined to comment on the litigation. In presenting the policy to the district’s school board in January, LAUSD superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he believes the new regulation is legal.

Attorneys for CCSA and LAUSD will meet with a judge on July 12 to determine whether the case is ready for trial and to set a trial date.

Here’s what’s to know about the looming legal fight:

1. CCSA has a track record of legal victories, but a win in this case is no sure thing.

The CCSA has sued various California districts numerous times over the years, and has managed victories in the courtroom, including a 2015 win against LAUSD that forced the district to change how it was allocating space to charters. But David Bloomfield, an education law professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said the suit faces a legal challenge in part because the impact of the policy is still unclear.

“The court may say, well, let's just see how this plays out,” said Bloomfield.

2. Even without a legal victory for CCSA, LAUSD’s regulation still may be modified or even abandoned

Carvalho created the district’s new colocation policy only after LAUSD school board members last year issued a resolution calling for the restrictions. But though he favors district-run magnet programs as a tool for reform, Carvalho is not a vocal opponent of charters. At the presentation of the new rules to the board, he said they might have to be changed. 

The regulations also passed the LAUSD board by a slim majority. Board elections in the fall could bring a pro-charter majority back in control, setting the stage for a resolution calling on Carvalho to alter or revoke the regulation.

3. The colocation policy may already be having a chilling effect on LA’s once-booming charter school sector

Los Angeles Unified has more charter schools than any other district in the nation. But today it faces some serious headwinds. The district overall is shrinking, and LA’s charter sector is dealing with a hostile school board, falling charter enrollment and the resumption later this year of charter renewals, after they were suspended during the coronavirus pandemic. Charter operators said the new colocation rules have already affected school staff morale and, in some cases, worsened their relationships with traditional public schools.

4. The impact of the regulation could vary, depending on how it is enforced

Officially, the new regulation will affect where schools can operate starting in the 2025-26 school year, but board members have instructed LAUSD’s charter school office to take “the spirit” of the regulation into consideration in colocation decisions made this year.

There are currently 50 charters co-located in 52 LAUSD school campuses, with 21 charter schools located in buildings that fall into the categories identified by LAUSD as no-charter zones. CCSA officials said it’s not yet clear if the policy is already being enforced.

The new regulations provide an exemption for charter colocations, but only if there are no changes to those charter programs. Depending on how this point is enforced, more or fewer schools could be impacted, charter operators and the CCSA officials said.

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