August 2023 ACCS - Item 1 Public Comment 2Public Comment 2 received for Agenda Item 1 of the August 8, 2023, Advisory Commission on Charter Schools meeting.
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August 4, 2023
RE: Advisory Commission on Charter Schools (ACCS), June 2023, Agenda Item 01
Dear Chair Walsh and ACCS Commissioners,
On behalf of the California Charter Schools Association (“CCSA”) and the 1300 charter schools we serve, we are writing to support the charter school petition of Vista Legacy Global Academy (“Vista Legacy”). We strongly agree with the assessment and recommendation from the California Department of Education (“CDE”) that Vista Legacy has submitted sufficient evidence to establish a basis for the California State Board of Education (“SBE”) to hear the appeal of the denial of the charter petition by the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education (“LAUSD”) and the Los Angeles County Board of Education (“LACBOE”).
Vista Legacy seeks to provide Downtown Los Angeles, MacArthur Park, and surrounding areas a high-quality, college preparatory high school option. Vista Legacy’s unique model seeks to allow students to have power in developing their identity within personal, interpersonal and educational realms as they pursue a pathway of study in Health Science, Business, or Climate Change. A priority for Vista Legacy is to close the achievement gap for the target student population, historically underrepresented students. The population of Vista schools is currently more than 95% socio-economically disadvantaged, with 49.25% English Learners. Vista’s mission is to serve this group and provide them with an excellent education, preparing them for college and career opportunities. As the operator of Vista Charter Middle School successfully operating within LAUSD, Vista’s leadership has heard from families in that community that are eager to have the opportunity to continue through high school benefitting from the “Vista way.” These families have wanted a high school option near the middle school for more than a decade.
Vista Legacy’s written submission to the CDE detailing the abuses of discretion by LAUSD and LACBOE during the above referenced petition consideration is comprehensive and compelling. Vista has documented multiple abuses of discretion that occurred during the petition process which merit reversal by the SBE.
The abuses of discretion by the LAUSD Board include the following:
1. The LAUSD Board did not provide a fair and impartial process to Vista Legacy, and ignored the successful track record of the petitioner at operating five other schools, including a charter middle school in LAUSD that very recently received high ratings from the district, to conclude that the petitioners were demonstrably unlikely to succeed. Vista provided LAUSD with specific responses to the issues raised by LAUSD during the review process, but those responses were disregarded by LAUSD. LAUSD did not adopt factual findings that were supported by substantial evidence in light of this record.
2. The LAUSD Board further abused its discretion by requiring overly burdensome “community impact” information reporting and documentation from Vista Legacy, even though no such requirements are mandated by statute. The district then wrongly concluded that Vista Legacy would substantially undermine existing schools and duplicate a program currently offered.
Education Code Section 47605(c)(7) permits denial of a charter if the “charter school is demonstrably unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community in which the school is proposing to locate.” To deny under this standard, a district board must make “a written factual finding…detail[ing] specific facts and circumstances that analyze and consider” whether the charter school would undermine existing educational offerings or whether the charter school would duplicate a program currently offered within the school district.
Vista Legacy will not substantially undermine existing schools within the community. The majority of Vista Legacy’s projected enrollment will come from Vista Charter Middle School students and not from students leaving District schools. LAUSD serves more than 430,000 students in district schools, and yet speculated that one school, serving a maximum of 500 students, will “substantially undermine” LAUSD’s existing offerings without any evidence to support this faulty conclusion. No school in the community has the combination of programs that will be provided by Vista Legacy—which include a partnership with the International Study Schools Network (“ISSN”) and its Climate Change Pathway which is unique in California.
Abuses of discretion by the LACBOE include the following:
1. The LACBOE erroneously concluded, without credible evidence, that Vista was unlikely to successfully implement the proposed program. The evidence that the County Board appears to have relied upon was not accurate, and/or not contained in or supported by the record, including incorrect conclusions about the structure of the board of directors for Vista, the financial viability of the school, and the proposed curriculum. Moreover, LACBOE ignored steps that had been taken by Vista to ensure technical compliance with the California School Dashboard local indicators in advance of the consideration of the petition. The County Board’s findings were arbitrary and capricious.
2. The LACBOE acted in an arbitrary manner without evidentiary support when it found that the petition did not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of required elements. The petition contains almost 140 pages of descriptions for these elements, which more than meets legal requirements. Moreover, Vista responded to both district and county proposed findings. The law provides a petitioner the right to respond to proposed findings and AB1505 specifically requires authorizers to provide these findings fifteen days prior to Board action. This requirement was implemented to allow deliberation and consideration of a petitioner’s citations to facts and evidence, yet there is no evidence in the record that demonstrates that LACBOE engaged in this required deliberation or consideration.
3. The LACBOE acted unlawfully in a procedurally unfair manner when it failed to provide a de novo review and relied on undue deference to LAUSD with regard to the purported community impact. As discussed above, the LAUSD analysis of a charter school’s community impact is not supported by law and the LACBOE should not have blindly accepted it. Further, the County Board acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner by finding without evidence that LAUSD may be forced to close or consolidate some of its high schools and reduce staffing. There was no evidence put forward by LAUSD or LACBOE to support the speculation that one new charter high school that would mostly enroll students that had previously attended a charter middle school would somehow force consolidation or staffing reductions at LAUSD schools.
4. The LACBOE failed to proceed in a manner required by law when it did not allow board members to vote on a motion that would have approved the Vista Legacy charter petition with technical amendments. More than one county board member voiced support for such a motion during the meeting, but a vote was not allowed.
The LACBOE also did not discuss Vista’s substantive response to the proposed findings at the March 14, 2023 meeting and did not resolve any key disputes between County staff’s assessment of the Vista Legacy charter and the petitioner’s thorough response. This lack of consideration denies Vista its access to the process as required by law and is an abuse of discretion because it is unlawful and procedurally unfair.
Given the multiple abuses of discretion summarized above and documented conclusively in Vista Legacy’s written submission, CDE staff is correct in recommending ACCS approve the referral of this appeal to the SBE. AB 1505 ensured a fair and impartial review of charter petitions by assigning specific roles to both the ACCS and the SBE. The ACCS is charged solely with holding a public hearing to review the appeal and the documentary record and make one of two decisions:
- Determine if there is sufficient evidence that an abuse of discretion occurred and therefore recommend the SBE hear the appeal, or
- Determine there is not sufficient evidence that an abuse of discretion occurred and therefore recommend that the SBE summarily deny review of the appeal
Given these well documented abuses of discretion, CDE staff is correct in recommending State Board of Education review of this matter. We thank you for your careful consideration of this item and urge you to vote in support of the CDE recommendation.
If you have any questions regarding our position on this matter or would like to discuss further, please feel free to contact me at (email@example.com).