Courts to decide charter school furnishing question

In another sign of tension between the State Board of Education and the people who run school districts statewide, the California School Boards Association want the courts to decide a key question in the ongoing dispute over new provisions of Proposition 39 a 2000 measure that requires charter schools receive the same facility upgrades as other schools.

What exactly is furnished and equipped?

In a July 24 petition for writ of mandate filed in California State Superior Court, the California School Boards Association claims that in 2006, the state board, along with State Superintendent Jack OConnell, drafted changes to Proposition 39 that were much more favorable to charter schools. The association seeks to clarify the legal authority of the state board.

Proposition 39, adopted by California voters in 2000, says that districts must provide charter school facilities with revenues that are reasonably equivalent to their traditional counterparts. Under the measure, all buildings, classrooms, or facilities of charter schools must be furnished and equipped by the proximate district. The contention between the school board association and the state lies in that specific phrasing whether furnished and equipped includes furniture, vehicles, machinery, and other educational devices.

School officials said that Proposition 39 was a very carefully crafted compromise between charter school advocates including many in the business community and public school representatives which also included the California Teachers Association. Public school officials complain that the new regulations go too far and create an imbalance between the two sides, driven by supporters of charter schools on the State Board of Education.

Under these regulations, the definition of furnished and equipped is going far beyond what we think is necessary for student services that are needed, said Richard Hamilton, director of CSBAs Education Legal Alliance. Were trying to get the State Board of Education to abide by the requirements of Prop 39, to drop these regulations and come up with ones that comply.

Gary Larson is a spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association. Theres no evidence whatsoever that charter schools are close to having reasonably equivalent facilities, he said. Prop 39 has been protested in courts five times now, and local school boards are still having challenges with compliance. CSBA sees charter schools as competition, and theyve been reluctant to pony up equitable resources.

Legal representatives for the board declined to comment for this story.

The regulations took effect March 29, and will begin to impact districts this fall when facility requests by districts for the 2009-10 school year would begin. The court hearing is set for October 3.

CSBA, its Education Legal Alliance, and the Association of California School Administrators also sent a letter last week threatening legal action against the state board over alleging public process violations in its controversial vote last month to require all 8th grade students to be tested in Algebra 1 starting in three years.

Allen Young is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.