Broad Foundation Backs $490 Million Charter School Expansion Plan

Critics of the Los Angeles Unified School District have outlined a $490 million initiative backed by in part by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation to enroll half the city's public school students in charter schools by 2023, the Los Angeles Times reports.

According to a 44-page memorandum obtained by the Times, the Great Public Schools Now Initiative aims to create two hundred and sixty high-quality charter schools, generate a hundred and thirty thousand charter seats, and increase charter schools' share of LAUSD students to 50 percent by 2023. To that end, the memo outlines a campaign to build new school facilities, increase the supply of effective teachers and school leaders, and boost popular and political support for "the transformation of K-12 education." LAUSD's charter school program, which accounts for about 16 percent of total public school enrollment, already is the largest in the country.

Dated June 2015, the memo notes that the Broad Foundation, which has invested $144 million in charter schools in Los Angeles and elsewhere, "has already made a substantial commitment to the Great Public Schools Now effort, and the Walton Family Foundation has committed to making Los Angeles a 'target city'" for its philanthropic efforts. Charter school leaders told the Times that the W.M. Keck Foundation also is involved, while other foundations and individuals listed in the memo as potential partners to be tapped for funding include the Arnold, Gates, and Hewlett foundations; Bloomberg Philanthropies; POM Wonderful and FIJI Water brand owners Stewart and Lynda Resnick; Conrad N. Hilton Foundation board member William B. Hilton, Jr.; and former financier Michael Milken.

When the Times reported on discussions among the Broad Foundation and charter school leaders about an expansion plan in August, the foundation said the effort was in an early, exploratory phase and declined to provide details. While the specifics remain unclear, the plan already is meeting resistance from the school district and L.A. Unified employee unions.

"While I continue to support and be proud of the successful charter schools we have in Los Angeles, this plan is not one for transforming our public schools, but an outline for a hostile takeover," said school board president Steve Zimmer.

"As families demand high-quality public school options — and more students want to attend public charter schools," said a Broad Foundation spokesperson, "we want to support them in meeting that demand. Our only interest is in supporting the growth of high-quality public schools."