School & District Management

As LAUSD Chief Calls for District-Charter Collaboration, Here Are 3 Examples

By Arianna Prothero — March 04, 2016 4 min read
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The Los Angeles Unified School District’s new superintendent pledged to collaborate more with charter schools during a town hall event earlier this week, according to the Los Angeles Times.

LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King told an audience of around 700 parents from both district and charter schools that she plans to hold a conference for the two sectors to share ideas, a proposal that resonated with several of the parents there.

Los Angeles Unified officials signed onto a collaboration compact with charter leaders in 2010 as part of an initiative sponsored by the Gates Foundation. The Center on Reinventing Public Education, which the Gates Foundation funds to study the compacts, reports that progress on that front has been halting. (disclosure: The Gates Foundation helps support Education Week‘s coverage of college and career-ready standards)

And a plan by the Broad Foundation to massively expand the presence of charters has further stoked mistrust among district leadership and its supporters.

In many ways, L.A. echoes nationwide tensions between the two sectors. But even though district and charter schools are often cast as foes, there are pockets of collaboration across the country.

I’ve reported on some cities experimenting with district-charter collaborations and what they look like. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and these particular partnerships haven’t been without their bumps or critics, but I think they’re worth taking a second to highlight.


In Denver, district and local charter schools have been working together to tackle one of the most persistent issues for the charter sector: special education.

Serving students with special needs has been an ongoing challenge for the charter sector as charter schools continue to lag behind their district school counterparts nationally in the number of special education students served.

Over the last five years, Denver district officials have been opening special centers for students with significant disabilities inside high-performing charters across the city, as I explain in this story from November.

The district pays for everything from staff to administration to transportation, with the help of fees collected from both charter and regular schools across the district. The district is involved in the rev-up and rollout of the center programs, but then takes a back seat.

Denver Public Schools’ goal was three-fold: to make sure students with disabilities had equal access to high-quality charters, to place center programs in areas where there was a need for a specific type of center, and to develop new ways to serve special education students.

The district and charter schools have also come together to create a single application and enrollment system for all the city’s public schools.


Under a new law, Indianapolis Public Schools can either contract with an outside operator, including a charter-management organization, to take over the operations of a failing school, or let a charter school operate out of an empty or under-used district school building.

Although the so-called “innovation-network schools” get charter-like autonomy—principals control matters such as the curriculum, and they’re free from union contracts—they still fall under the district’s umbrella. The schools are accountable to the Indianapolis school board, which can shut them down if they’re not meeting the terms of their contracts.

The district also provides crucial services that charters often struggle with, such as free transportation, finding and managing facilities, and providing special education. In exchange, the district counts enrollment numbers and student-test scores from the innovation-network schools as part of its overall data picture. I detail the initiative in a profile of IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee who is being recognized as a 2016 Education Week Leader to Learn From.

In addition, a former teacher and school board member is working on plans to create a single application and enrollment system for charter and district schools in the city.

St. Louis

Here, the city school district entered into a partnership with KIPP, the largest charter school network in the country. The district provides KIPP with rent-free access to its unused buildings, while KIPP opens up its well-regarded leadership-development program to the district’s administrators.

Also part of the agreement in St. Louis: KIPP’s state test scores will be counted toward the district’s overall achievement, as I wrote about in this story from 2014.

But the path to sharing anything from ideas to buildings between the two sectors often isn’t easy. For example, charter leaders and district officials in Boston have been working together, along with the city’s Catholic schools, on various initiatives since 2011, but a recent effort to create a common-enrollment system has faced pushback from parents. A similar drive in Oakland, Calif. has also met opposition.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.