New Article: Palace Revolt in Los Angeles



By 04/01/2010

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An article by Bruce Fuller that was just published on the Ed Next website (and will appear in the Summer 2010 issue of the magazine) looks at the ups and downs of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles.

In the article, “Palace Revolt in Los Angeles?” Fuller recounts how Villaraigosa has united working-class Latino parents, civil rights leaders, and big-money Democrats to challenge union leaders.

Last fall, the L.A. school board passed a radical reform plan that Villaraigosa helped to craft. Over the next few years, the district intends to hand off one-third of its 800-plus campuses to managers of charter schools, other nonprofits, and inventive district educators.  When the board passed the plan, one observer predicted that L.A. would host the most important charter-school reform market in the country.

However, writes Fuller,

It didn’t turn out quite that way. For the school year beginning in the fall of 2010, 36 schools on 30 campuses were eligible for takeover… When the takeover plans were tallied in January, far more had arrived from local district managers and teachers than from charter operators.

Few predicted that renegade teachers and grassroots activists would out-bid the established charter firms. The L.A. school board’s decision to hand off potentially hun­dreds of schools had been powered largely by charter school advocates who had won over Flores and Villaraigosa. But now upstart teachers had joined in common cause with neighborhood activists, arguing that even popular charter firms were “outsiders.”

[Schools chief Ray] Cortines formed an independent panel to review the bids. By February, Villaraigosa’s majority on the school board began to unravel. The neutral panel recommended a bal­anced mix of charter firms, nonprofits, and district educa­tors to take over the 36 schools. But after joining forces with charter comrades to pass the public school choice legislation, neighborhood activists and teachers now split off to fight the charter awards, alleging that charter firms were too imperial and noting fresh statistics that special education students were underrepresented in the charter sector. Over the mayor’s and Flores’s vocal objections, the board awarded just four schools to charter organizations.

“The lesson for Villaraigosa and fellow mayors,” writes Fuller, “is to remain steadily engaged and forceful politically. WhenVillaraigosa lost focus, then assumed his board majority would hold tight, reputable charter organizations lost out.”

The drama will continue next year when the school board considers another round of takeover bids.




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