Poverty has increased in LAUSD post-covid. And in two board districts the late Eli Broad’s plan to transfer half of LAUSD into “charter school seats” is nearly fulfilled.

Demographics about the 2018-19 LAUSD school year immediately prior to the Covid-19 pandemic were published in June 2019 here. Following are comparable charts, graphs and statistics for 2020-21, the LAUSD school year following the covid closure of March 13, 2020.

The original text, charts, graphs, figures and statistics may provide useful context, so side-by-side comparison with the 2019 article is likely necessary for a better narrative flow.

Alternative Schools Of Choice have supplanted regular elementary, middle and high schools

During the two years preceding the pandemic, the number of intermediate and high schools each dropped by 8% (n=12 and 13) overall (table 1). For high schools the loss was evenly distributed among magnet and non-magnet, and more magnet-heavy for middle schools. District high schools dropped 15% (n=14). There were ten net new charters, mostly elementary.


Table 1:  Distribution of schools by “Choice” status, and whether charter or magnet school, in LAUSD and Los Angeles County, 2020-21.

The notable change is that LAUSD opened twice the “Alternative Schools of Choice”, mostly magnet schools, as well as six additional magnet schools classified among regular elementary schools. As “Schools of Choice” with additional federal funding, magnet schools originated as integration tools with a strong curricular focus. Magnets have been heralded as a stop-gap to halt the flow of students from district public schools to privatized charter schools.

Whether superficial rebranding, substantive alternative or bookkeeping restructure, overall numbers might not necessarily reflect meaningful shifting of school-“type”; statistics do not show whether these serve essentially similar communities.

Most of the increase in charter schools (CS) comes at the county level where elementary CS more than doubled (table 2). Nearly 30% of the schools in LAUSD’s footprint are charter schools (306/1054). The County has authorized an additional 30% more schools (36 up from 26) in just two years.


Table 2:  Distribution of charter and district school authorizers locally and through the state, 2020-21.

The incentive of school’s academic or management oversight is belied when a superseding authority is mandated to issue a charter denied at the subordinate level. The nested oversight of local -> County -> State provides a regulatory workaround for confidence lost.

And “charter market share” gained has not even been calculated here (table 4 below) from among these work-around authorizers. Strictly the “pure” calculation from within-LAUSD alone has been used in reckoning progress on the Broad plan of charter transformation (figure 2 below).

Geographic distribution

While the LAUSD has been politically redistricted in 2021 (figure 1), these data are categorized according to the old district map, with its severe SE-NE gerrymandering. That gerrymander remains, with connecting landbridge simply flipped westward to incorporate, and divide, Asian communities.

Figure 1:  2021 Redistricting of LAUSD’s political boundaries. The previous decade’s political gerrymandering of its eastern section remains, dividing Asian communities and parsing the Latino. The northeast Valley is artificially conjoined with its urban westside, south of the Santa Monica mountains wilderness area. This new redistricting is presented for political context; all data here are analyzed according to the previous decade’s political boundaries which were in effect at the time of these counts.

The geographic concentration of charter schools among board districts is not appreciably changed by the influx of County-authorized charters (table 3); the distribution is largely unchanged. The Hispanic, unincorporated sections of LAUSD’s eastward footprint (LAUSD2) retain approximately twice the total number of charter schools as the district with the least number of these (LAUSD7). Though the County-authorized schools are largely absent from the two most wealthy districts, LAUSD3/4.


Table 3:  Distribution of charters and district schools within board districts by fiscal affiliation, whether fiscally dependent on their chartering district (“affiliated”) or independent of it. By school site count (as opposed to enrollment).

It is in those wealthier districts that almost all affiliated charter enrollment is contained (see figures 6 and 8 below). Their “charter share”, is increasing in LAUSD4. So even while the proportion of school sites in LAUSD2 that are chartered is half again more than in wealthy LAUSD3/4 (22% v. 15%/14%), the average proportion of students in LAUSD3 and LAUSD4 (excluding County/State) who are enrolled in charter schools is almost 47% of the regular K12 total population (67238/143029) (table 4).


Table 4:  Distribution of charters and district schools within board districts by fiscal affiliation, whether fiscally dependent on their chartering district (“Affiliated”) or independent of it. By school enrollment (as opposed to number of schools).

That is without a lot of fanfare, the late Eli Broad’s $480m plan to “enroll half of LAUSD’s students in charter schools” has progressed apace. Across all board districts, there are currently 27.5% (155351/565073), or 2/3 again as many LAUSD students enrolled in 2020-21 charter schools as the “16%” reported by the Times in 2015. (Note that Broad’s secret 2015 memo calculated this figure as 25% not 16%, see figure 2).


Figure 2:  Annotated re-creation of chart and graph from the 2015 Broad-funded Great Public Schools Now Initiative to achieve 50% “market share” of charter school “seats” by the year 2023.

Variation of reports and statistics

Note well how these numbers can be scrutinized from various – and different – angles, resulting quite legitimately (and confusingly) in statistics of different shades. For example, the California Department of Education (from which authority all numbers presented here are extracted) reports enrollment differently in an ethnicity database than in a database of “Free and Reduced Price Meal” (FRPM) counts. And these numbers are reported variously too. Both my demographic studies focus on “K-12” students (grade), even while analysis from, say, a fiscal standpoint might better concern “5-17 years old” (age) since this is the age range that conforms with federal reimbursements. Refocusing count from K-12 (grade) to 5-17 yo (age) will affect various statistics, eg FRPM eligibility (see from table 6 below onward). The cohort characterized by age is poorer than that characterized by grade, affecting school’s Title 1 (poverty) status (figure 8).

Likewise counting charters or associated enrollment within LAUSD’s footprint as opposed to those authorized directly by LAUSD will affect percentages, etc. Counting is tricky, and it matters. For this reason general trend is at least as illuminating as specific statistics.

Ethnic distribution

The overall relative distribution of ethnicities remains similar pre- and post-covid. Hispanics remain predominant though African Americans and White students are fewer; students of “other” ethnicity, particularly those identified as from two or more races, are proportionately greater (figures 3 and 8).


Figure 3:  There is great variation in ethnic distribution across board districts and between ethnicities.

Ethnic distribution of district and independent charters remains far more alike than that of affiliated charter’s. Two or more races are more widely reported than in 2018-19 (table 5), enough so to effect ethnic distributions, though it is possible the change is an artifact of data collection.


Table 5:  Ethnic distribution across board districts broken down by school types.

Overall numbers and ethnic distribution across school districts vary as much as previously (figure 4), with African American attendance predominant in LAUSD1/7 and White attendance in LAUSD3/4. The proportion of Hispanics is up in all board districts.


Figure 4:  Relative ethnic distribution between board districts in actual numbers.

Enrollment across school-types

Overall enrollment has dropped on average 9% across all districts over the five years between SY 2016-17 to 2020-21 (figure 5). Enrollment drop has been smallest in the wealthiest board districts LAUSD3/4.


Figure 5:  Change in actual enrollment numbers across five years; three increments each separated by one year, 2016-2021.

Charters have steadily comprised a greater percentage of the district’s “seats”, with independent charters slightly displacing affiliated charters in LAUSD3, and the proportion of affiliated charters growing in LAUSD4/6 (figure 6).


Figure 6: Change in proportion of enrollment by school type across five years; three increments each separated by one year, 2016-2021.

Measuring poverty

One surrogate measure of poverty is the percentage of children eligible for Free and Reduced Price Meals (FRPM). The range of the percentages of these schools speaks to the diversity within each board district (table 6, figure 7). Across all board districts the FRPM percentage is higher, for both average and minimum: the percentage of children qualifying for FRPM (ie, poverty) has increased throughout the district during the pandemic.


Table 6:  Percent of school population (K-12) that qualifies for Free and Reduced Price Meals (FRPM), averaged across schools within school types among districts. Averages, as well as minima and maxima, are increased across the district compared with 2018-19.

The distribution of schools’ FRPM percentage by quintiles shows more schools have a higher concentration of higher poverty than before the pandemic (figure 7). This is depicted by the “bunching” of mass upward. The range of FRPM is broad everywhere but a far higher concentration of relatively wealthier schools is localized in LAUSD3/4; their boxes are lower and more spread apart even while the range may be comparably broad.


Figure 7:  Distribution of school’s quintile range by FRPM across districts. Average is marked by “X”, depicting the relative wealth of LAUSD3/4. The range of FRPM is broad elsewhere but a far higher concentration of relatively wealthier schools is localized in LAUSD3/4. The weight of the distribution has shifted upward across the district, signifying higher concentration of more poor schools.

Characterizing school-types

Overall, there is very little demographic similarity between fiscally dependent charter schools and district schools (table 8). They have less than half the percentage FRPM-eligible students on average (figure 8); this disparity has lessened slightly with the pandemic. African American and Hispanic students are half the rate and falling in district and independent charters, Asians are 3x and Whites 6x, as numerous. However district schools are very demographically similar to fiscally independent charter schools (note carefully though, that other important demographic distinguishers like English-learner and special ed status are not considered here).


Table 8:  District and charter school type differ by student FRPM eligibility and ethnicity. District and fiscally independent charters are far more alike than fiscally dependent charters are to either.

A visual analysis of this variation (figure 8) shows the stark dissimilarity of ethnic and economic indicators between school types.


Figure 8:  Ethnic variation by school type. Average school FRPM percentage is overlain for each school type.

Broken out by grades served (table 9), the distinction between district and independent charters, compared with fiscally affiliated charters, is far less dramatic in high schools.


Table 9:  Comparative demographics among school types differs according to grades served.

Relatively wealthier high school students are not as disproportionately attracted to affiliated charters as among younger students. This trend was lessened somewhat post-covid as the pandemic increase in average FRPM is greater among district schools than affiliated charters.


Figure 9:  School types differ dramatically by ethnicity and also eligibility for Free and Reduced Price Meals. The overall difference is slightly emphasized post-covid. And the specific difference is hugely reduced between high schools, the school types serving the oldest grades.

The pandemic has imposed enormous and disproportionate strain on students and families. The loss of enrollment is well-remarked; its manifestation on other demographics less-so. But of greatest concern is the net result of a good crisis on long-arrayed reform stratagems like charter schools and other tools of privatization. Education must remain available as the means to navigate democracy with equal opportunity free of the inequity that befalls disaster capitalism.

The inexorable transformation of district schools into privatized palimpsests of public Education must not be permitted to endure.