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Out of Control Policy Blog

Charter schools versus Los Angeles Unified: School Building Costs Edition

Lisa Snell
August 24, 2010, 12:18pm

If you thought the $578 million for one high school in Los Angeles was obscene, wait until you here how much it cost to build several charter schools in the same geographic region with the same real estate and material costs and restraints. As the California Charter School Association President Jed Wallace writes in today's Los Angeles Times:

The Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools cluster, scheduled to open this fall on the site of the former Ambassador Hotel, was built at a cost of $578 million, or nearly $140,000 per student seat. It is without question the most expensive public school ever built in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and quite possibly the most expensive public school in the country.

The project's astronomical cost raises a question about whether the school district is using resources efficiently. . . .

When charter schools manage to get funding to build their own schools independent of the district, they do so for far less money than the LAUSD does. Recently, the Alliance for College Ready-Public Schools broke ground on a facility within sight of the Watts Towers that will serve 550 students and will cost $8.8 million. That is $16,000 per student seat, or one-ninth the cost of the Ambassador site project.

And the Alliance site is no exception. Over the past several years, Green Dot built seven charter schools in the vicinity of the RFK Community School, and it spent less than $85 million for all of them. Those schools currently serve about 4,300 students, which means they were built for under $20,000 per student seat.

If the district had given the $578 million it spent on one school to charter schools, we would have created many more seats for students, and the seats would have been in schools that are providing great results for kids and their families.

To summarize we are talking $140,000 a student versus less than $20,000 per student to build school buildings in Los Angeles. Charter schools in Los Angeles prove the district has wasted millions on school buildings rather than focusing on student achievement. If the district had given some of this money to charters they would have cheaper buildings and higher-performing students.


Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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