The Governor’s Charter School Policy Task Force unanimously recommended Friday that charter schools retain the right to appeal denials of their schools to both the county and the state – a strong rebuke to state Assembly members who pushed through a contentious anti-charter bill last month that could lead to the shutdown of every public charter school in the state.
“I’m very pleased that the task force was able to reach unanimous agreement on the preservation of charter school appeal rights as they exist in current law, which includes preservation of the state board of education as the appellate body of last resort,” said Margaret Fortune, Fortune School President and CEO and California Charter Schools Association Board Chair, who sat on the task force. “The state plays a critical role in preserving the fundamental protection of our due process rights, helping to ensure our families have access to high-quality schools that they deserve.”
Assembly Bill 1505 barely squeaked through in May, drawing widespread protests from parents who don’t trust politicized school boards to fairly decide the fate of their schools without any check, especially given that school districts often view charter schools as competition for student attendance dollars. Charter schools are public schools that are managed by nonprofit organizations and overseen by district, county or state authorizers. They have more freedom over curriculum, hiring and budgets in exchange for academic accountability.
Assembly leaders only managed to secure the votes to pass AB 1505 after arm-twisting several lawmakers who had initially abstained from the vote. In the process, the bill’s author promised to amend it to preserve a fair appeals process for charter schools. The bill is expected to move through Senate committees this month. The Assembly debate and vote wrangling, however, was so rancorous that two subsequent bills that would have placed caps and moratoriums on new charter schools died in the state Assembly and Senate without even coming up for a vote.
The governor’s task force also declined on Friday to unanimously support a moratorium on new charter schools or to give school boards the authority to deny them because they fear enrollment loss to charters will mean less funding. Those proposals were part of a package of radical anti-charter bills pushed by the California Teachers Association in the wake of teacher strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland earlier this year.
Instead, the task force, chaired by CTA-backed State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, unanimously recommended several more moderate changes to charter school policy, while retaining student academic achievement as the primary concern. Those recommendations included giving school boards more discretion to consider the level of charter school “saturation,” as well as academic need when considering new petitions. “Saturation” was not defined.
The task force also recommended taking action to mitigate the financial impact on school districts when students transfer to charter schools. Districts should be given a one-year reprieve from any loss of attendance dollars when a students moves to a charter, which is what currently happens when students leave for other reasons, such as moving to other school districts or private schools. The cost of this policy to the state was estimated to be $96 million a year.
Additionally, the task force recommended that the California Department of Education should no longer be responsible for oversight of charter schools authorized by the State Board of Education. Only 39 such schools exist in the state, seven in Los Angeles, including New West Charter, a 2019 California Distinguished School, but also one school run by scandal-plagued network Celerity. The task force did not specify who should oversee these schools instead of the CDE.
Other unanimous recommendations included:
· Extending the timeline for approving or denying new charter schools by an additional 30 days beyond the current 60
· Creating a statewide entity to develop standards and provide training for charter authorizers
The majority of the task force was made up of labor leaders and representatives for school districts – both of whom view charters as a financial threat to their own interests. A minority of committee members were charter school leaders. So the consensus items reflect a middle-ground compromise that state lawmakers could potentially pass without much resistance if they decide to amend the current set of anti-charter bills.
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