CHARTER SCHOOL LAW: IS THE TIME RIGHT FOR CHANGE?
For years, public school advocates have raised con-cerns about laws and regulations that have shielded charter school finances and operations from public oversight, allowed enrollment practices that limit eq-uitable access, impeded local school districts authori-ty on matters that greatly impact their schools, and encouraged charter school expansion with few checks. Legislative efforts at reforms have often been countered by very active, well-funded charter school lobbyists and Governor Brown’s reluctance to enact laws that restrict charter schools.
Things may be changing. Both Governor Newson and Superintendent of Public Instruction Thurmond sup-port high-quality charter schools but acknowledge the need for greater accountability, transparency, and consideration of their cost. Governor Newsom has stated publically that the financial impact of a new charter school on the local school district should be taken into account when deciding whether or not that school should open. Superintendent Thurmond has called for a temporary ban on charter schools until the state can determine how these additional schools will be funded.
In February, Governor Newsom signed into law a bill that will require greater transparency in charter school operations. The new law, effective on January 1, requires charter schools to follow the same rules on open meetings, public records, and conflicts of in-terest as school districts. This change was supported by groups on both sides of the charter school debate.
There are additional, far more controversial charter school reform bills currently active in the Legislature. These bills, if passed, could bring significant changes to the way charter schools are authorized and operated in CA.
Active Charter School Legislation in the Senate and Assembly
Just a few days ago a comprehensive and very contro-versial charter school reform bill was passed by theSenate Committee on Education. SB 756 (Durazo) puts a moratorium on the approval of new charter schools until June 30, 2024, unless particular policy changes take place before January 1, 2020. These called-for changes include putting approval of charter schools in the hands of local school districts, allowing school districts to take account of the financial impact of the charter on their district schools, prohibiting ap-proval of schools located outside the boundaries of the authorizing district, and establishing caps on the number of charter schools statewide to preserve the “viability and success” of existing schools.
This bill is co-sponsored by the CA NAACP. You may recall that in 2016 the NAACP called for a national moratorium on charter schools until widespread con-cerns about equity and accountability could be addressed. A major provision of SB 756 is a requirement that the Legislative Analysts’ Office produce a report during the school year 2023-2024 to answer ques-tions related to equity and the impact of charter schools on local school districts. These include ques-tions about demographics of charter schools com-pared to district public schools, charter school clo-sures and their impact on students, the sharing of in-novative practices by charter schools with district schools, and the effect of the moratorium on the neg-ative impact of charter schools on school districts.
The passage of this bill would have a profound effect on the growth and operation of charter schools in CA. Charter school advocates, including the CA Charter School Association, are deeply opposed and are lobbying hard to prevent its passage.
For text and analysis of the bill: leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200SB756
Additionally, there is a package of charter school re-form bills in play in the Assembly. Three of these bills were passed by the Assembly Committee on Educa-tion this month. You will notice that provisions in the bills address several of the policy changes called for in SB 756.
AB 1505 (O’Donnell, Bonta, McCarty, and Smith) changes the process for authorization, appeal, and renewal of charter school petitions. It requires that a charter school operating within a school district be authorized by that school district. If a charter school petition is rejected by the local school district, peti-tioners would no longer have the option of seeking approval from the county board and, if that fails, the state board. In fact, this bill eliminates the authority of the CA State Board of Education to authorize char-ter schools. A county board of education could still authorize a charter school intended to serve students throughout the county. In Marin County we have one such school, Phoenix Academy, which is a high school authorized and managed by the Marin County Office of Education specifically for students with substance abuse problems. For text and analysis of the bill: leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB1505
AB 1506 (McCarty and O’Donnell) puts a cap on the number of charter schools that may be operated lo-cally and statewide. The cap is the number of charter schools authorized and operating on January 1, 2020. A school district, county office of education, or state school board could authorize a new charter school only after a charter school in its jurisdiction is closed. For text and analysis of the bill: leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB1506
AB 1507 (Smith, McCarty, and O’Donnell) eliminates the provision in the Education Code that allows a school district to authorize a charter school located outside the district boundaries. This bill also changes where non-classroom-based charter schools are al-lowed to establish resource centers. Currently, such schools may open resource centers in counties adja-cent to where they are authorized. Under this bill, they may open one resource center within the jurisdiction of the school district where the charter school is physically located and authorized. For text and analysis of the bill: leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB1507