While it looked like the push for education reform in Los Angeles was pulling ahead in 2011 — in large part backed, financially, by charter-school groups like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's — it just took a major step backward.

The LAUSD Board of Education voted this week to give educators employed within the district (and protected by some of California's most politically powerful unions) first dibs on plotting and populating new K-12 campuses for the Public School Choice program.

This gives an incredible leg up to old-dog unions…

… who have long been the charter folks' biggest obstacle in trying to turn around the failing LAUSD system.

Essentially, United Teachers Los Angeles will now be able to control who teaches, and administrates, at new campuses throughout L.A.

Charters are devastated: Judy Burton, the president of the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, told the Los Angeles Times: “It's pretty much the death of Public School Choice as a collaboration with outside partners.”

Though she has her own interests on the line, Burton is right — blocking outside input, no matter the interests that drive it, is exactly the opposite of reform. Because now, the only interests on the table will be the teachers unions' — almost wholly to preserve the jobs of its members and maintain the status quo, keeping job expectations low.

This directly contradicts the spirit of the Public School Choice program. Stepping back from the raging war between reformists and traditionalists, the board's unanimous move is a fat lougie in the face of progress.

Reformer Yolie Flores, who departed the board in spring, is watching as her efforts crumble.; Credit: PHOTO BY TED SOQUI

Reformer Yolie Flores, who departed the board in spring, is watching as her efforts crumble.; Credit: PHOTO BY TED SOQUI

Yolie Flores, a vocal and radical reformer formerly on the board, couldn't be in L.A. for the vote — but we're guessing she's in agony right now over the ironic new direction of Public School Choice. It's in its third round now; just last year, preference was largely given to charters.

This year will be a complete flip-flop.

Board member Steve Zimmer justified his proposal by saying it was suspicious that charters were only interested in taking over new schools, instead of coming in and fixing up old ones, as well. He thought this “diverted attention and energy from our schools that needed the most effort and enthusiasm.”

Guess he and the six other “Yes” votes are hoping that by kicking charters out of the more exciting race, they can interest them in the tougher one. On the contrary, we're betting charters may lose interest in L.A. altogether.

Zimmer also cited a recent Los Angeles Times report showing that L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's pet charter campuses are performing worse than their district-run contemporaries.

We agree: Villaraigosa doesn't know the second thing about tough education reform. He's too wrapped up in the politics of it all. Overall, though, the Times' test-score comparisons were rather varied between other charter companies and in-district schools — and compared to the state, L.A.'s scores are still crazy embarrassing, in need of a major shakeup.

No matter the motivation behind this new shut-out, it's a bad day for reform when options are limited, rather than expanded.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]

LA Weekly