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Los Angeles Charter Schools – Application Season in Full Swing

Map of charter schools in mid-Los Angeles.

[Note:  This is the latest installment in a multi-part, occasional series about school options in mid-town Los Angeles.]

The current era of school choice has exponentially increased the kinds and numbers of schools – even public schools – available to Los Angeles families.  But for many parents, it has also exponentially increased the confusion about what the different kinds of schools are, how to approach them, and how to apply.  In previous stories, the Buzz has looked at Magnet Schools and Magnet School Applications. Today we break down charter schools.

What is a Charter School?

Very basically, charter schools are tuition-free public schools, funded with public money, but which operate with some greater degree of independence than other Los Angeles Unified School District public schools.  There are currently 274 charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, with more opening every year.

The term “charter school” comes from the document – called a “charter” — that forms the basis of every charter school and which is, according to the National Charter School Research Center:

“…essentially a contract entered into between the school and its authorizing agency. In addition to allowing the school to open, the charter allows the school with significant operational autonomy to pursue specific educational objectives. The autonomy granted under the charter agreement allows the school considerable decision-making authority over key matters of curriculum, personnel, and budget.”

In addition, charter schools are subject to periodic reviews and renewals of their charter documents, and the degree to which they’ve performed the specific provisions or up to the standards promised in their charter.  Failure to achieve those promises or targets can lead to revocation of a school’s charter, or refusal by the governing agency to renew the charter.

Types of Charter Schools in Los Angeles

The degree of charter schools’ freedom from District programs and decision-making depends on the type of charter school.  In Los Angeles, there are two main types of charter schools – “affiliated” charters, which have closer ties to the Los Angeles Unified School District…and “independent” charters, which are most often started by parent groups or by non-profit entities whose business it is to run charter school programs (e.g. Green Dot, etc.)

The benefit of affiliated charters, like Open Magnet Charter and Community Magnet Charter, is that – as hybrids of LAUSD charter and magnet schools, they have more district-provided services like bus transportation, and permanent housing in district buildings, which independent charters do not.

The benefit of independent charters is that, although they’re still held to California state Common Core standards, they are free to create programs dedicated to specific educational philosophies (e.g. Waldorf or Constructivist-style instruction), programs (e.g. International Baccalaureate) or curricula (e.g. dual language immersion) that aren’t found in other public neighborhood or magnet schools.

The Down Side of Freedom

Charter schools’ relative freedom in curriculum and program design does come with a very literal price tag. Charter schools receive only about 70% of the public funding that standard public schools receive, so even though they’re technically tuition-free, fundraising – and frequent fundraising events – are a large part of the culture at many (if not most) charter schools.

There is also usually no school-provided transportation at charter schools, so if you choose a charter outside your neighborhood, you will be responsible for getting your child to and from school every day, with no help from the school or district.

Also, because charter schools are generally newer than neighborhood or magnet schools, they’re often inventing themselves as they go, which can come with growing pains in the form of ongoing internal debates over philosophy, staffing, leadership, policies, politics, curriculum and many other minutiae of daily school operations.

Locations of Charter Schools

While neighborhood schools and magnets are most often permanently housed at actual LAUSD campuses, from which they never move, charter schools can be located at several different kinds of facilities…and sometimes move around for a while, from year to year, before settling into a long-term or permanent home.

A ballot initiative known as Prop. 39, passed in the year 2000, guaranteed charter schools the right to be housed in school district facilities…which often means they share campus space with other kinds of schools.  Many charters – especially newer schools with small initial enrollments – choose Prop. 39 co-locations.  But Prop. 39 co-location agreements require annual renewal through the school district…and both annual and often daily negotiations between the co-located schools regarding the use of specific rooms and facilities.

Other charters, which have either outgrown or don’t want to deal with co-location arrangements, choose locations in other kinds of buildings, which may need expensive upgrades and/or remodeling (funded by the school and its parents) to be converted to school use.

And some charter schools, usually those that are well established after many years in operation, choose to build or purchase their own buildings, also at their own cost, and with all the fundraising that entails.

Finally, the specific location of individual charter schools can change from year to year, as they grow and larger enrollments require ever larger spaces.  Individual charter schools may have several – or all – of the kinds of homes listed above, over the life of the school. (And that can mean that a school that was convenient to you this year may wind up moving and becoming not so convenient next year.)

Charter School Applications

Most important to parents at this time of year are the unique application procedures for charters.

Admissions to charter schools are handled through lotteries…and – unlike magnet schools, which are handled through a single district application with just one deadline common to every school in the district – every charter school has its own unique lottery schedule and application process.  So you need to visit the website, and perhaps call or visit the campus, of any charter school you may be interested in, to find out how to apply for the school’s lottery, and when the application deadline is.

Most local charters have spring lotteries, however, so this is a good time of year to be investigating charter schools.  To find out more about each individual school, its application process and/or tours for prospective parents, visit the school website or call the school.

Also, it’s worth noting that unlike magnet schools, where you may only apply to three schools per year, you may apply to as many charters as you like…and they do not affect your other charter, magnet or neighborhood school applications.

Further, because people tend to apply to more than one school, and also more than one type of school (magnet, charter, neighborhood, etc.), there tends to be a lot of shuffling after lottery acceptance notices go out.  Which means a great many students are admitted long after the lottery date…and waiting lists continue to be actively whittled down, with new students admitted almost every day, through the first week or two of the next school year.  So don’t be intimidated if you’ve missed a lottery deadline (many schools continue to accept applications for a waiting list), or if you are placed on a waiting list after the initial lottery drawing.

Here are some of the more popular charter schools in our area (with a few a bit further afield), along with their application/lottery deadlines.

Affiliated Charters

Community Magnet Charter
Grades: K-5
Program or Philosophy: “Emphasizes the study of humanities and the social sciences through a multicultural perspective.”
Lottery application deadline: apply through LAUSD eChoices magnet system, November 2015

Open Magnet Charter
Grades: K-5
Program or philosophy: Constructivist
Lottery application deadline: apply through LAUSD eChoices magnet system, November 2015

Independent Charters

Citizens of the World Charter Schools
Grades: K-6
Program or philosophy: Constructivist
Lottery application deadline:  February 22, 2016 (Mar Vista campus), February 24 (Hollywood campus), March 1 (Silverlake campus)

City High School
Grades: 9-10
Program or philosophy: “Through individual attention in a supportive and dynamic environment, students become creative and critical thinkers who ask questions, debate and express ideas fearlessly and respectfully. With a focus on civic responsibility, public speaking, and the written word, our students are prepared for a lifetime of meaningful work and ongoing service to causes greater than themselves.”
Lottery application deadline:  March 7, 2016

City Language Immersion Charter (CLIC)
Grades: TK-5
Program or philosophy: Spanish/English dual language immersion
Lottery application deadline:  March 1, 2016

The City School
Grades: 6-8
Program or philosophy: “Through individual attention in a supportive and dynamic environment, students become creative and critical thinkers who ask questions, debate and express ideas fearlessly and respectfully. With a focus on civic responsibility, communication, and problem-solving, our students are prepared for a lifetime of critical thinking, meaningful work, and ongoing service to causes greater than themselves.”
Lottery application deadline: March 10, 2016

Goethe International Charter
Grades: TK-5
Program or philosophy: German/English Dual Language Immersion and International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program
Lottery application deadline: March 25, 2016

Larchmont Charter Schools 
Grades: K-12
Program or philosophy: “an experience-centered, inquiry-based learning environment”
Lottery application deadline: February 17, 2016

Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts
Grades: K-5
Program or Philosophy: Constructivist/Project-Based/Arts-Integrated
Lottery application deadline: February 24, 2016

New Los Angeles Charter Elementary School
Grades: TK-1
Program or philosophy: Project Based Learning, Inquiry Based Teaching and Cooperative Learning
Lottery application deadline: March 18, 2016

New Los Angeles Charter Middle School
Grades: 6-8
Program or philosophy: Project-Based Learning, Cooperative Learning, Literature Circles/Book Clubs, Inquiry-Based Teaching, and Reciprocal Teaching, with a strong focus on community engagement and social justice themes
Lottery application deadline: March 4, 2016

New West Charter School
Grades: 6-12
Program or philosophy: “An academically rigorous, highly individualized education for 21st Century students.”
Lottery application deadline: February 19, 2016

Ocean Charter
Grades: K-8
Program or philosophy: Waldorf
Lottery application deadline: January 29, 2016 (but post-lottery applications still being accepted)

WISH (Westside Innovative School House) Charter
Grades: TK-6 (7th & 8th coming soon)
Program or philosophy: Constructivist
Lottery application deadline: March 9, 2016


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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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