One of the nation’s largest and most troubled school districts finally got desperate enough to try something new to rescue its schools: private-sector competition.  The Los Angeles Unified School District approved a plan to turn 250 of its schools to the private sector for management as charter schools, after winning a battle with the teachers union.  Union officials threatened to take the school district to court, while Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa practically dared them to try:

In a startling acknowledgment that the Los Angeles school system cannot improve enough schools on its own, the city Board of Education approved a plan Tuesday that could turn over 250 campuses — including 50 new multimillion-dollar facilities — to charter groups and other outside operators.

The plan, approved on a 6-1 vote, gives Supt. Ramon C. Cortines the power to recommend the best option to run some of the worst-performing schools in the city as well as the newest campuses. Board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte dissented. …

The action signals a historic turning point for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has struggled for decades to boost student achievement. District officials and others have said their ability to achieve more than incremental progress is hindered by the powerful teachers union, whose contract makes it nearly impossible to fire ineffective tenured teachers. Union leaders blame a district bureaucracy that they say fails to include teachers in “top-down reforms.”

“The premise of the resolution is first and foremost to create choice and competition,” said board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, who brought the resolution, “and to really force and pressure the district to put forth a better educational plan.”

As a former Angeleno, I can say that this is both long overdue and absolutely stunning.  Los Angeles has been in control of liberal doctrinaires for decades, at the school district, city, and county levels.  Having the LAUSD adopt a platform of privatization and choice would be akin to California electing a Club for Growth conservative to statewide office.  If it wasn’t impossible, it certainly seemed like it.

However, everyone knows that this is a move borne of desperation.  The liberal-doctrinaire policies in LAUSD have long failed the students within the system, and the district has tried just about everything else within those paradigms.  The only option they rejected was the union’s proposal to turn control completely over to them, which got almost no support from a board clearly seeing the union as part of the problem, if not the biggest part of it.

The union says they’ll take LAUSD to court to block the plan.  Villaraigosa, no conservative stalwart, responded:

Shortly after the vote, Villaraigosa savored a political and policy victory at district headquarters in downtown L.A.

“We’re not going to be held hostage by a small group of people,” Villaraigosa said, referring to the teachers union and other opponents. “I’ll let you infer who I’m talking about.”

Villaraigosa wants to run for higher office, probably governor, at some point in time.  He can build some credibility as a moderate by taking on the teachers union at LAUSD, but the unions will not forget it when it comes to Democratic primaries.  He assumed considerable political risk in backing privatization, but saw it as the right thing to do.

Now we will see how choice and privatization works on a wide scale in one of the most underperforming districts in America.  The union wants to prevent it at all costs, because they know it succeeds everywhere it’s tried.

Tags: California