School Choice? District Restricts Students' Ability to Choose

Jenny Erikson

jenny erikson
Jenny Erikson
Photo by Kristen Bons
In December 2008, Ramon C. Cortines was hired as the Los Angeles Unified School District's Superintendent. He replaced the previous tenant of that position, David Brewster, after Mr. Brewster requested to be bought out of his contract after serving half of his four-year term. The school board was happy to comply as Mr. Brewster, a black man, was hinting around that racism was making it difficult for him to do his job.

When Mr. Cortines was appointed to superintendent, he had this to say (emphasis mine):

"We will not do things the same way ... [The district will find] new ways of providing services to parents and working with teachers and working with administrators and working with community. We are the urban sprawl, but it is time that we lock arms on behalf of our children. We must put the students first -- not special interests. And so there will be change and change will be good for all of us."

Students first. Isn't that what we all want? Children are our future, and should have the best opportunities to excel and succeed. They should have the best education possible.

Let's take a look at how Superintendent Cortines has worked to fulfill his pledge to "put the students first."

Mr. Cortines has cut school days; The Los Angeles school week has been shortened by five days, to the delight of L.A. schoolchildren. However, this makes it more difficult for teachers, who now must fit their lesson plans into fewer days, and on working parents, who must come up with alternate forms of childcare.

But cutting those five days wasn't enough to make up the budget shortfalls. I suppose they could have cut back on those extra two non-student teacher-training days, but why require teachers to keep up with current curriculum on their own time?

So what's the answer? Well, obviously it's to "reclaim" the money lost with each student that has received a transfer to a school outside of the LAUSD. When a student gets a transfer to a school in another district, the allocated money for that student goes with him or her.

Currently, there are over 12,000 students with those permits. Children whose parents only want the best for them, and have done the leg work to ensure that their kids get to go to the best school for them, even if it happens to be outside of the district they are zoned for.

Facing a $640 million budget shortfall, Superintendent Cortines has decided to transfer those children back to the LAUSD, along with the $51 million that comes with them. He used the argument that L.A. Unified has been lax with the permits in the past.

How are the parents of those transferred students taking the news? According to the L.A. Times:

"Many parents contend that schools in their Los Angeles neighborhoods are inferior and complain that the announcement from L.A. Unified came too late for them to apply to magnet and charter schools.

"Laurie Lathem, a Los Angeles resident whose son Luca, 7, is enrolled at Edison Language Academy, a Spanish-English immersion program in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, said some low-income families seeking better schools may be disproportionately affected by the permit revision." 

I wonder how Superintendant Cortines will handle these distraught parents and students whose lives will be completely disrupted with his No More Transfers to Better Schools Edict? In the same L.A. Times article:

"Cortines dismissed arguments that permits should be granted just because parents don't like neighborhood schools. I 'find it offensive when people think it's their entitlement,' he said."

Let me get this straight -- Cortines doesn't like it when parents feel like they are entitled to make the best choice for the education of their children? Especially those underprivileged families who will not have the opportunity nor the resources to work the system to their advantage?

Sounds like it's all about dollars first, not children first.

Read More