On Friday, June 7, an order was issued by the Superior Court of California, San Diego County to close Learn4Life learning centers located within Grossmont Union High School District which include El Cajon, Lemon Grove and Lakeside; and likely three more in San Diego and Linda Vista. These schools operate in full compliance with the law and these three centers serve 985 students, including 676 minority, 182 special education and 61 homeless students.
Here’s a breakdown of the students who will be hurt by this decision:
• 608 students who are ineligible for enrollment in traditional school because they are 17 ½ or older, and nearly 60 of these students are 25 or fewer credits from graduation. Learn4Life’s personalized, flexible model and exclusive WIOA partnerships allowed them to serve adult students, and now they have nowhere to turn to finish high school.
• Many are teen parents who are unable to attend a school that doesn’t offer flexible scheduling.
• Nearly 100 Chaldean refugees who faced religious persecution and fled to El Cajon for a better life. Learn4Life employs teachers who speak their language and understand what they have been through.
• 676 minority students. Learn4Life has always embraced students of all backgrounds. This ruling disproportionately impacts students of color.
• 182 students receiving special education services who have excelled in Learn4Life’s personalized education model.
• 61 homeless students that Grossmont Union HSD can’t or won’t serve. Learn4Life’s model which incorporates trauma-informed practices is especially beneficial to students living with extreme hardship.
• Every student completes a 10-week professional skills course and a majority are enrolled in a CTE Pathway, getting specialized job training so they can enter the workforce with a high-paying career immediately after graduating.
“I came to the United States at age 19 from Iraq so I can’t go to the district school. The only school that can help me is Diego Valley East,” said Dina Kami, Age 21, Diego Valley East Student. “This news has made me extremely sad. I work full-time to support my family, so I do not have any school options that work for me.”
Why is this happening?
Two years ago, the Anderson USD vs. Shasta ruling prohibited charters in California from operating outside the geographic boundaries of the authorizing school district but within the same county. All schools in the Learn4Life network legally complied with the judgement.
Grossmont Union HSD can’t, won’t, or doesn’t want to provide services to the students that Learn4Life serves, but they continued to fight against school choice. Recently, they filed another action seeking to close Learn4Life facilities within their boundaries and rob underserved students of their only educational option, even though the facilities in question are all operating completely within the law.
The court sided with Grossmont Union HSD, ordering three learning centers in El Cajon, Lakeside and Lemon Grove to close. The court’s misguided ruling ignored the fact that the centers in question are operating legally and fully complying with the conditions set forth in Anderson USD v. Shasta. Effectively, the court and Grossmont Union HSD are putting nearly 1,000 minority, disadvantaged and at-risk students on the street with nowhere to turn.
How are we held accountable?
As charter schools, the Diego Valley East and San Diego Workforce Innovation High School resource centers are held accountable by multiple processes and mandates, including Local Control Accountability Plan, Local Control Funding Formula and the Western Association of Schools Colleges (WASC) 5-year accreditation cycles. Both charter schools are WASC accredited.
Unlike traditional schools, charter schools must apply for renewal every five years after a vigorous review by authorizing boards.
Learn4Life schools are measured by the California Department of Education’s (CDE) Dashboard Alternative School Status (DASS) which more accurately evaluates alternative schools that serve high-risk students.
The dashboard reviews a one-year graduation cohort of students versus the traditional four-year cohort graduation rate, which measures how many students graduate in four years with their class.
This is a critical difference. The students who are served by Diego Valley East and San Diego Workforce Innovation High School have, on average, been out of school for 6-8 months, are 1.5 years behind in their completed credits, and enroll with a 5th-6th grade reading level. It is not possible for these students to graduate with their four-year cohorts. Remarkably, a majority of Learn4Life students graduate with their one-year cohort.
Opponents of charter schools argue that charters directly compete with public schools while depleting already stretched public budgets, but the schools in the Learn4Life network are doing just the opposite.
Learn4Life serves students who have washed out of public schools and helps them get a diploma, job training and life skills – all for free. Most students are minorities, socio-economically disadvantaged and many have aged out of high school (Learn4Life can serve students up to age 24 in its WIOA locations). Many are teen parents or have adult responsibilities, such as working or taking care of family members.
Instead of creating a lifelong drain on public resources, the hundreds of thousands of dropouts we save go on to become productive, contributing members of society. These graduates are on track to breaking the generational chain of poverty, many as the first in their families to graduate with a high school diploma.
Every dropout who earns their diploma is:
• 6X more likely to vote
• 67% less likely to be unemployed
• 8X less likely to be incarcerated
Our impact on the California economy since 2001 is:
• $1.7 billion saved in social services such as law enforcement and other social impacts
• $3.6 billion created in tax revenue from higher earning grads
• 89% successful (they stick with their education by either continuing with Learn4Life, graduating or continuing with another school or technical/professional training)
• 46% go on to post-secondary education
San Diego (and California) needs charters like Learn4Life.
Ann Abajian, Learn4Life