Amended Bill Could Lead to Closure of All Charter Schools with Waitlists

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Hundreds of parents and students spoke out at the State Capitol in Sacramento Wednesday against contentious bills that would give school districts the right to shut down successful charter schools and prevent new schools from opening.

Assembly Bill 1505 and AB 1507 both passed the Senate Education Committee Wednesday on a 4-3 vote and will now head to the Appropriations Committee before facing a vote on the full Senate floor, likely in late August.

The more sweeping of the two bills, AB 1505, which was amended last Friday, “would establish arbitrary, undefined, and even impossible to meet standards for consideration of petitions for and renewal of charter schools,” said Bill Lucia, President of EdVoice, a statewide education reform group.

In fact, the most recent draft of the bill would allow districts to shut down their most successful charter schools with waiting lists merely because they have more applicants than seats available and therefore do not serve “all pupils who wish to attend.”

That’s not a standard that’s ever been applied to successful district magnet schools, which also have waiting lists, some of which require evidence of giftedness. Nor are popular district neighborhood schools required to serve all students. Families must be able to afford homes within certain geographic boundaries in order to attend, unless there’s space available for others.

Charter schools give all students, regardless of zip code, an equal chance at admission by lottery.

“The latest amendments don’t fix this divisive bill,” said Speak UP parent Roxann Nazario. “Parents really want to see this bill go away. It takes away good school choices for our kids.”

The speakers that lined up for and against the bill reflected the interests at stake. Supporting the bill were employees at non-charter schools concerned mainly about adult interests, while parents and students opposed the bill, saying it harms the interests of kids.

Governor Gavin Newsom is attempting to broker a compromise to avoid a repeat of the nasty floor fight the bill faced in the assembly. Lawmakers Wednesday acknowledged the bill’s language is still a work in progress, indicating intense behind-the-scenes negotiations over additional amendments.

Assembly leaders in May had to call the vote multiple times and promise changes in order to get enough votes for it to pass. Dozens of Speak UP parents then flooded lawmakers’ offices in protest, saying the elimination of charter school appeal rights could lead to the slow death of every high-performing charter school in the state.

The amended version heard Wednesday restores the right to appeal to the county, but parents and education reform groups still blasted the bill as poorly written and harmful to kids. The new version of the bill allows districts to deny charters for vague and undefined reasons such as community and fiscal impact and still eviscerates the state appeals process.

Lucia from EdVoice said the amendments created “circuitous legal gymnastics” that ultimately give school districts the right to impose a de facto moratorium on new charters, “depending on political winds.”

The bill hurts low-income kids of color more than anyone else.

“AB 1505 does not serve the best interest of students trapped in zip codes with failing traditional schools that purport to have ‘programs’ to teach reading and math to all students enrolled but fail to do so,” Lucia said.

The bill allows districts to deny schools that offer programs available elsewhere in the district, regardless of their success. The bill creates different tracks to renew schools for different lengths of time, depending on state Dashboard data.

Lucia criticized the bill because it:

·   “Limits the evidence of academic achievement to statewide tests in grades and subjects that may not be offered by the charter school, establishing a charade that academic achievement would carry the greatest weight in making a decision on renewal.”

·   “Does not improve traditional public schools and astoundingly establishes a convoluted system to allow failing charter public schools to be renewed.”

·   “Establishes an explicit moratorium on any new charter school of any type, for two years, except certain distance learning schools” [likely because of an error in drafting the bill.]

Closing “bad charter schools” and fixing failing district schools “should be a top priority,” Lucia said. “AB 1505 does neither.”

AB 1507 prevents a charter school from being located in a nearby district, even temporarily, when no classroom space can be found within the authorizing district.

It also prevents online independent study charter schools from offering resource centers for students outside of their authorizing district, and it limits schools to only one resource center within the district. This would specifically limit services such as school counselors and computer labs and would lead to the closure of most online independent study charter schools.

“Resource centers allow students to obtain personalized attention to address special English language development needs and access supports and accommodations to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and provide the instruction and materials to equitably access the full A-G curriculum by providing opportunities to have science laboratory work and meet entry requirements for the University of California and California State University,” Lucia said. “AB 1507 does nothing to advance the interests of these students, particularly English learners and disadvantaged students, who benefit from extra tutoring and after school help.”

— This story was updated after Wednesday’s hearing and committee vote. Please join Speak UP to increase the power of parents. It’s free to become a member at www.speakupparents.org/join