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Parents decry crackdown on LA charters
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dozens of parents with children in charter schools on Tuesday protested a proposal before the Los Angeles Unified School Board to declare a moratorium on new charter schools and tighten oversight of existing ones.

While dozens of parents filled the board room, about 50 others chanted "my child, my choice" and waved placards on the sidewalk outside the meeting.

Under board member Steve Zimmer's proposal, the district would form an independent charter oversight commission to step up monitoring of the district's roughly 200 charters that enroll 110,000 students. It would also put a hold on new charter applications until new policies are hammered out.

Parents and charter advocates said the plan would limit their choices of where to send their children to school.

"This resolution is a step backward," said Corri Ravare, executive director of Families That Can, a charter school parent group. "We just want the best options in our community."

Funding an oversight commission would take away money from classrooms, she added.

Latino community activist Raul Claros said charters were a needed option in gang-plagued areas where traditional schools are not safe. "Some of us choose alternative schools for safety," he said.

Los Angeles Unified, the nation's second largest school system, hosts the highest number of charters in the country. Charters are public schools that are independently operated, although with loose oversight by the local district.

Board members have shown increasing exasperation in recent months with requests by charters to use more classroom space on district campuses, refusal by charters to submit student data, and their low enrollment of students with more severe disabilities.

Over the past year, the district has started more aggressively taking action against charters, closing several for financial irregularities, a cheating scandal and lackluster performance.

The school board is scheduled to discuss Zimmer's proposal at a meeting later this month, but member Marguerite LaMotte said the plan is not intended to eliminate charters.

"My understanding is that this is about basic standards of assessment," she said. "Choice will still be there."

Zimmer said that with the district's charter enrollment the equivalent of California's fourth-largest school system, it is time to examine how charters are complying with state laws and district policies.

"There are very basic regulatory questions here," said Zimmer. "Do we play on the same basic playing field or is it radically deregulated? It warrants a second look."

Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association, said a moratorium would violate the state Charter Schools Act and noted that 10,000 students are on charter waiting lists in Los Angeles Unified.

"It is blatantly illegal," Wallace said.

A previous attempt in Los Angeles Unified to declare a charter moratorium in 2006 failed, as did a statewide Assembly bill last year.