Los Angeles, Oakland Underfunding Charter Schools

Los Angeles, Oakland Underfunding Charter Schools

Students from View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter High School play a game of rugby on the parking lot field on campus in Los Angeles, Calif., on Sept. 11, 2015. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

John Seiler

John Seiler


Updated: 8/27/2023

For more than 30 years, charter schools have been a revolutionary innovation to advance student achievement, especially for poor and minority children. Although Minnesota was the first state to advance charters, California was right behind, and now enjoys more than 1,300 charters, serving 11.7 percent of the state’s students, according to the California Department of Education.
Charters are public schools allowed to operate largely outside the state’s labyrinthine Education Code, the 2023 Edition of which runs to 2,000 pages and costs $325 on
But a new study found the state is slighting charters on funding, specifically in the giant Los Angeles Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District. The data are for the 2019–20 school year. The study is by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas. It looked at 18 cities, including Los Angeles and Oakland, and found:
“Despite the overall effectiveness of charter schools, our past research has demonstrated that charters tend to receive significantly less funding per pupil than TPS [traditional public schools] do, especially in urban areas. This gap has been relatively stable over time in terms of percent (although it has grown in constant dollars as TPS funding increases overall), most recently at 33 percent in 2017–18 on average in 18 major U.S. cities.”
The study graded “school funding equity” districts on an A–F scale, just like in school. It’s interesting they’re using the “equity” word, which usually means the government manipulating outcomes in a socialist direction. In this case, it means the degree to which charter schools—and their commonly minority students—have been slighted on funding. The scale:
  • A = Up to 5 percent funding gap
  • B = Up to 10 percent funding gap
  • C = Up to 15 percent funding gap
  • D = Up to 20 percent funding gap
  • F = More than 20 percent funding gap
The only A grade is for Houston, with a 3.3 percent advantage for charters.
B grades went to Memphis (6.5 percent gap), Denver (7 percent gap), and Boston (9.7 percent gap).
Eight districts garnered F grades, including Los Angeles with a 26.6 percent gap and Oakland at a 33.7 percent gap. At least they weren’t Atlanta’s equity gap of 52.7 percent, or Indianapolis’s 42.5 percent.
In dollar terms, LAUSD traditional schools were given $19,630 per pupil on average, compared to $14,405 for charters—a $5,225 gap.
For OUSD, it was $21,062 vs. $13,959, a $7,103 gap.
The study noted the disparity is actually larger than the raw numbers, because charters in these cities are “serving more students in poverty than TPS in these cities do. In these cities, funding disparities would likely be even wider if we held student need constant.”

Local Control Funding Formula

The study looked at California’s Local Control Funding Formula reform from 2013–14, which was intended to spend more money in needy schools. It found, “While the LCFF did shrink the charter school funding gap somewhat from its high of 40 percent, a flaw in the formula caps a key funding stream for charters but not for TPS, resulting in the 26 percent charter school funding disparity we see for Los Angeles in 2019–20. ... More states school and localities should seek full and lasting funding equity for all public school students, regardless of public school sector.”
See the following graph in the improvement of the charter funding gap.
(Screenshot via University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform)

(Screenshot via University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform)

Elections Have Consequences

The study doesn’t note it, but the improvement after 2017 was due to the election of a pro-charter LAUSD school board. However, last November the United Teachers of Los Angeles union got revenge and regained control of a majority on the board. Reported LAist after the election: “No clear champion for charter schools emerged in either of LAUSD’s 2022 races; none of the candidates said they felt charters should be allowed to grow.
“But one candidate stood out from the pack for her opposition to charters: [Rocio] Rivas.
“Rivas said she would make closing charter schools that aren’t meeting their academic, financial, or enrollment goals part of her strategy to combat enrollment decline on LAUSD-run campuses. She also promised to make full use of the district’s powers under Assembly Bill 1505, a new state law that could block charters’ expansion in certain neighborhoods.”
Jacobin magazine is a heavily socialist website; it’s named after the Jacobins who were the murderous leaders of the 1789 French Revolution, a precursor to the communist revolution in Russia in 1917, in which Lenin and the other mass-murderers studied the French example of mass murder with the guillotine and concluded the Jacobins hadn’t killed enough “counterrevolutionaries.” The Maoist revolutionaries in China in 1949 also modeled themselves on the Jacobins.
The magazine wrote before the election, “In LA’s School Board Race, It’s Rocío Rivas Versus Privatizers.” Which is not true, because charters are public schools, as noted above, not private schools. The article reported, “Rivas is also endorsed by the national organization of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and supports the DSA-LA’s Green New Deal for Public Schools campaign to win climate-resilient and carbon-free campuses.”

Rivas in Her Own Words

It’s worth quoting Ms. Rivas from the article. She said: “When the charter schools come in, they know the district is very bureaucratic. So the charter schools promise to break from that bureaucracy and bring innovation. Privatizers co-opt the language of social justice and claim these reforms are going to address everyone’s needs. But they’re not there to address the needs of students and communities.”
Actually, parents love these schools! I’ve visited many of them, including those serving black kids in South L.A. and Latino kids in a couple of schools. And what’s wrong with reducing the bureaucracy?
“When you start to individualize and bring competition into education, you really begin to pull people apart.” Are people pulled apart by competition between public and private universities? No.
“And then the social contract that public education is supposed to uphold is gone. Charters and vouchers encourage parents to siphon funds away from the district, and the students who are left are the most marginalized, the ones who are the poorest.”
But the “district” is the same one—in this case, the LAUSD. And it’s really the “most marginalized ... the poorest” who benefit the greatest from charters. Part of the reason is the powerful unions, such as UTLA, refuse to give higher pay for the best teachers to teach the poorest kids. That means, with seniority, the best teachers get to teach in high-performing schools, while the newest and worst teachers are sent to the poorest schools.

Conclusion: Union Power Preventing Reforms

The Arkansas study and Ms. Rivas’s election demonstrate how the real problem in California is the continued, strangulating power of teachers’ unions. What’s needed is an Arizona-style universal school voucher law. Every student is given a “voucher” to be used at a public, charter, or private school.
We can choose nowadays from dozens of companies making automobiles of all types. Why don’t parents have the same choice for something far more precious, the education of their children?
John Seiler

John Seiler


John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at and his email is

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