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Charter School Enrollment Continues To Decline

With 82.4% of these publicly funded private schools failing to meet enrollment targets in Los Angeles, is a rash of closures on the horizon?

By Carl J. PetersenPublished 17 days ago 4 min read
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Downtrend by Brad from Noun Project (CC BY 3.0)

Fiscally Independent Charter Schools’ “overall enrollment has been trending downward - since the 2021-2022 school year, enrollment has decreased by approximately 2,500 students.”

– Alberto M. Carvalho

Demographic experts at the LAUSD have known since at least 2003 that the District was facing a decrease in enrollment. That did not stop the School Board from misallocating money on a building boom that added classroom inventory just as these declines started to take effect. It also has not stopped the District’s critics from tying the loss of students to their complaints. For example, former LAUSD candidate Tracey Schroeder ignored the shrinking pool of school-aged children and claimed during the February meeting of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council’s Education Committee that the decline was due to a failure to keep students safe.

Perhaps the most common narrative is that the LAUSD's decline in students represents a victory of charter schools in the effort to eliminate public education. However, a report released this month to the School Board by Superintendent Carvalho again proved this wrong. According to this data, these publicly funded private schools also lost students during the 2023–2024 school year. This is the Los Angeles Charter School Industry's fourth year of decline.

The loss of students was widespread with 96 of the 222 charter schools authorized by the LAUSD having fewer students this year than they did in the 2022-2023 school year. Additionally, the Academy of Media Arts, Apex Academy, and The City Charter schools, all severely under-enrolled during the last school year, shut their doors. Global Education Academy 2 seems to be in danger of the same fate as it lost a third of its students and now has only 49 children in its student body.

More concerning is the apparent lack of preparation for these reductions. While the number of school-age children in Los Angeles has been declining for decades, the Charter School Industry acted as if it was immune. As a result, their collective enrollment was 26,974 fewer students than projected in charter documents, a shortfall that is larger than last year’s. Only 17.6% of the charters met or exceeded their enrollment targets.

This lack of foresight is costing taxpayers as brand-new facilities are built for students that do not exist. For example, the Girls Athletic Leadership School Los Angeles (GALS) purchased property in Van Nuys and built a school out of used shipping containers to house the 330 students specified in its charter application. In reality, the school only enrolls 152 students.

Also in the San Fernando Valley, Granada Hills Charter School built a monstrous new facility on the former campus of Pinecrest to house a student body that they predicted would steadily increase. However, it is currently enrolling 894 fewer students than specified in its charter. Hopefully, this means that it is no longer necessary to illegally force students with Special Education needs into its iGranada program because it does not have enough classrooms.

The KIPP chain of charter schools poured $8.4 million into a project to build a campus for its KIPP Pueblo Unido franchise on land that had previously “been used for approximately 90 years for manufacturing metal” and storing the resulting “hazardous materials”. It canceled its plans when a judge ruled that it had to perform more thorough studies to ensure the site was safe for a school. Now the chain will close the school citing low enrollment; only 290 students are currently enrolled when its charter specified 1,038. KIPP says it hopes to find a buyer for the site where soil samples showed “levels of arsenic…as high as 14.5 milligrams per kilogram” and “is contaminated with toxic gases” which “can cause cancer, cognitive and motor impairments, liver damage, kidney damage, and impair one’s immune system, development, reproductive system, and fertility”.

Another charter chain, Bright Schools, is building a campus in an area already over-saturated with classroom space for a high school that is under-enrolled by 126 students. Its feeder middle school is not only short by 146 students but its population is steadily declining. In the Valley, the same chain is seeking to build a campus for Valor Academy Elementary on a site where neighbors are trying to preserve green space for a museum and neighborhood park. That charter school is 95 students short of its enrollment projections.

The inability to correctly predict enrollment directly affects LAUSD public school students when charter schools take space using PROP-39. During the application process, the charter is supposed to accurately specify how much space they will need and state law sets a fee when it takes too much. Unfortunately, LAUSD’s Charter School Division has failed to ensure that this over-allocation penalty is always paid.

According to the Charter School Division’s last public update on June 30, 2023, 19 currently operating charter schools owe LAUSD students a total of $2,435,980. All but one of these schools are still operating below the enrollment specified in their petitions. As a group, they are only operating at 57.15% of their specified capacity.

The LAUSD has already lost at least $1,272,026 from charter schools that owed an over-allocation fee but closed before it was paid. The District has a fiduciary duty to collect from the remaining 19 schools before they meet the same fate.

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Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for public education, particularly for students with special education needs, who serves as the Education Chair for the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him “a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles.” For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.

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About the Creator

Carl J. Petersen

Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with SpEd needs and public education. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Opinions are his own.

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