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Legislation would ratchet down on charter schools

A vintage blackboard in a charter school. (Photo: Greg and Jan Ritchie, via Shutterstock)

California’s charter schools could face tighter restrictions if a pair of bills making their way through the Legislature is approved.

Assembly Bill 1505 would give school districts the right to deny charter schools if they believe they would negatively impact neighborhood schools’ finances, academics or facilities. It would also effectively eliminate the appeal process, allowing charter schools to appeal a denial only if there was a procedural violation. Assembly Bill 1507 would prohibit school districts from approving a charter school outside their boundaries.

“These bills as they stand will absolutely rip opportunities and public school options from students.” — Brittany Parmley

The bills are necessary because charter school growth is out of control, said Julian Vasquez Heiling, chairman of the California National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Education and a professor at Sacramento State University.

There are now more than 1,300 charter schools in the state, enrolling about 630,000 students or about 10 percent of California’s public school student population.

“Just in the last decade, the number of charter schools has increased dramatically,” Heiling said. “It’s not a small boutique thing anymore. Charter schools are threatening district finances.”

But the California Charter Schools Association says the bills will ultimately hurt students.

“These bills as they stand will absolutely rip opportunities and public school options from students,” said Brittany Parmley, a spokesperson for the association. “At the end of the day, charter schools are serving California’s most vulnerable students. We cannot take quality school options away from these students.”

A majority of the task force recommended that the state Board of Education be removed from the appeal process

Currently, school districts are required to approve charter school applications unless the school doesn’t adequately address the required elements.

In a report released earlier this month, the Governor’s Charter School Policy Task Force unanimously recommended that school districts should also be able to consider saturation (the number of schools and enrollment in the schools), academic outcomes and offerings and a statement of need (based on academic outcomes and offerings).

However, the task force also unanimously agreed that because the districts will be getting broader discretion, their power should be balanced with appeal rights. “Therefore, no changes were recommended to the appeal process,” the task force report said.

Nonetheless, a majority of the task force recommended that the state Board of Education be removed from the appeal process and that county appeals only be allowed if there was an error by the district governing board.

In 2016-17, 165 charter schools operated 495 locations outside their authorizing district’s boundaries.

“By only allowing school districts and limited appeals to the county offices to authorize, this proposal allows the local community to make a determination on whether the charter school meets the needs of their students,” the report said.

A majority of the task force also agreed that those who authorize charter schools should consider fiscal impact to the district. The task force heard presentations from Oakland, L.A. and San Diego school districts showing that charter schools cause loss of average daily attendance funding and create costs for special education and marketing to compete for students, among other expenses.

Finally, a majority of the task force agreed that districts should not be allowed to authorize charter schools outside their boundaries.

In 2016-17, 165 charter schools operated 495 locations outside their authorizing district’s boundaries. This would allow greater local control and oversight of charter schools and would stop districts from using oversight fees as a revenue stream, the task force report said.

“Is there a need for charter school perform?” Probably. Is it through these particular bills? I don’t think so” — Tecoy Porter

Carlos Marquez, senior vice president of government affairs for the California Charter School Association, said charter schools need to have their due process rights preserved in the approval process. He also said there is no evidence that charter schools are the most significant factor in school district financial insolvency.

The Rev. Tecoy Porter Sr., president of the Sacramento chapter of the National Action Network, opposes AB 1505 and AB 1507 because he believes they are overreach.

“Is there a need for charter school perform?” he said. “Probably. Is it through these particular bills? I don’t think so. You’re throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

He believes charter schools are unfairly becoming the scapegoat for California’s financial troubles. He points out that traditional schools also lose students to other factors including demographic change, people moving and home schools.

Porter said charter schools are a great option for parents.

“Parents want to get the best education for their children to give them a way out – charter schools could be that way,” he said.


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