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Chief of state Charter Schools Assn. to leave

After five years bolstering the group, Caprice Young joins a private education firm.

August 21, 2008|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

Caprice Young, who developed the state's charter schools association into a powerful advocacy and support group, is leaving for an education-related firm. Under the five-year stewardship of Young, urban charters serving low-income and minority students exploded in number.

This fall, about 150 charters will operate in the Los Angeles Unified School District -- more than in any school system in the nation.

Charters are independently operated public schools that are free from some regulations governing traditional schools.

As president, Young leveraged the California Charter Schools Assn. into "a major player in state education policy" and also "a forceful voice for quality, not just in California but around the country," said Nelson Smith, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "She redefined what these organizations are about."

In fact, the size of the California association’s budget and staff dwarfs that of Smith's national alliance.

Young altered the focus of what had been a libertarian-leaning, suburban-oriented and loosely coordinated group of education entrepreneurs. She pushed to start charters in neighborhoods where schools had been low-achieving for generations.

"This is a huge loss for charter schools," said former Mayor Richard Riordan, who once employed Young as an assistant deputy mayor and later helped fund her election to one term on the L.A. Unified Board of Education. "Charter schools give children of poverty in the inner city a chance to succeed in life and go on to college.

"Caprice made people aware of how well charter schools are doing, and she opened up the door for all schools to challenge and help each other."

Some academics and union leaders say charters frequently attract more motivated students, which, they say, explains why some post better results than traditional schools. That contention has been difficult to prove or disprove.

Young's charter innovations included beginning a quality certification program and setting up more than $40 million in revolving loan funds to help start-ups and pay for facilities. Her association also organized management training and trimmed schools' insurance costs by pooling resources and organizing training sessions.

"The new charters are starting with much more momentum and higher quality than many used to have at the beginning," said Young, 42.

Young accepted the charter job after a union-backed effort defeated her school board reelection bid in 2003. With the association, the strategically combative Young brokered favorable terms in the state budget and filed lawsuits against school systems that didn't provide classrooms for charters. On Wednesday, she reiterated her vow to oppose L.A. Unified's November school bond election unless district leaders cut charters a better deal.

About half of Young's $12-million budget comes from private philanthropy; the rest is from dues and fees for services.

One donor has been the Milken Family Foundation. Michael Milken owns Knowledge Universe, where Young will become a vice president. Her role in the Santa Monica offices of the international firm will include developing primary and secondary schools here and abroad. The firm operates early childhood centers, provides online learning to schools and teacher training, among other ventures.

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howard.blume@latimes.com

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