NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Mayor Seeks L.A. School Reforms

April 28, 1999

The Los Angeles Unified School District is in deep trouble, say analysts. However, taking its cue from the successful overthrow of Sacramento's moribund board two years ago, the Coalition for Kids raised $2 million to back a slate of four reform candidates (including one incumbent) in the district's recent school board election.

The coalition is backed by L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan. Over the years, the former venture capitalist has donated $25 million for such school projects as computer labs and model after-school programs. But $25 million is a drop in the bucket for the nation's second-largest public school system.

The litany of problems, say observers, includes:

  • Two-thirds of L.A. third-graders can't read at grade level; they drop out at a rate that is more than twice the state average; and their SAT scores are nearly 13 percent below the state average.
  • School libraries have five books per pupil, versus a national average of 20, and one in four teachers lacks proper credentials.
  • The school district spends nine percent more per pupil than the rest of California, but just 60 cents of every dollar reaches the classroom.

Furthermore, although the district had planned to end the practice of "social promotion" next fall, it has scaled back the plan since up to 60 percent of affected kids are in danger of flunking.

In the April 13 elections, the reform candidates did well: two easy victories, a close win and a runoff. Analysts say reformers may have a working majority on the seven member school board.

Source: Matthew Miller, "Board Game," New Republic, April 26-May 3, 1999.


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