Inglewood takes a hardline on charter school growth

Inglewood Unified has a record of being tough on charter schools.

The school district has not granted access to any new charters in nearly four years. Grace Hopper STEM Academy was the last charter school approved by the district in 2013.

At the time, newly appointed State Trustee, Don Brann, gave Grace Hopper the district’s seal of approval. Under state takeover, Inglewood’s school board played an advisory role in Brann’s decision. As State Trustee, he ran a one-man board and held full authority to decide the fate of the city’s schools

Since Grace Hopper’s approval, the district’s leadership has changed. Don Brann would eventually resign in September 2015 and pass the torch of leadership to Vincent Matthews. But during his tenure, Brann saw the gradual replacement of the school board in April 2015 when rookie members, Margaret Richards-Bowers,  Melody Ngaue-Tuuholoaki,  Margaret Evans, and D’Artagnan Scorza won the city’s 2015 elections. In 2017, Dionne Faulk joined the board’s ranks replacing Bowers. The two election cycles marked an almost total replacement of board members since the Grace Hopper era. The board’s one veteran member, who joined during the same period as Brann, is Carliss Richardson McGhee

The current school board brings a new vigorous style of leadership to the district and a firmer stance on charter schools. Its members are more protective of its student base, more meticulous in their scrutiny of charter petitions and more keenly aware of the consequences of allowing charter upstarts to operate within the district’s boundaries.

After Grace Hopper, nine new charter schools have applied to open schools in Inglewood. None of those petitions found favor with the school board.

Polaris Charter Academy, a grade 6-12 school slated to open in the 2018-2019 school year, faced the latest brunt of the district’s rejection during this month’s board meeting.

Despite the stated flaws that it found in Polaris’ petition, Inglewood Unified has a bigger reason for blocking Polaris, and really, all charter school growth within its boundaries.

The survival of its district schools depends, in part, on its ability to stem the tide of new charter competitors that arrive on its shores and erode away its student base.

Since the state takeover, the district’s student enrollment has been in steady decline. It has lost an average of 600 students each year, costing the district about $5 million in lost revenue annually.

Worse yet, its enrollment losses have outpaced the local average.  Eight percent of students left Inglewood district schools in the 2016-17 school year as compared to two percent in neighboring LA Unified and one percent in L.A county.

Inglewood’s nine independent charters play some role in its predicament

In contrast to traditional public schools, charter schools have made strong gains in enrollment for almost each year after the state takeover.

Inglewood charters now educate a larger share of the district’s student population than is normal for other districts in the county.

This year, 1 in 3 students who were enrolled in Inglewood Unified attended a charter school. This ratio is noticeably higher than the county average of 1 in 7 students and slightly higher than LA Unified’s ratio of 1 in 4.

Source: Data Quest

The data suggests that Inglewood is losing ground to its charter schools in terms of enrollment.

Restricting charter school growth will not single-handedly reverse the district’s exodus of students. The new State Administrator, Thelma Melendez, who was appointed this month, school board members, and school personnel have a long road ahead before they can convince more parents to make Inglewood Unified their first choice.

The district’s resistance to charter schools will continue to force future petitioners to bypass the district if denied and appeal for authorization with the county or state.

Appeals do not always work in the petitioner's favor, but the gamble may pay off for some charter hopefuls. That was certainly true for Green Dot Public Schools, which will open the doors to Inglewood’s newest charter school, Animo City of Champions, this August. Green Dot successfully appealed to the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) in January 2017 after being denied by Inglewood Unified in December 2016.

Next month, Polaris Charter Academy will follow Green Dot’s lead by appealing to LACOE to overturn Inglewood Unified’s refusal of its recent petition.