Charters vs. CTA heads for Capitol showdown

Charters vs. CTA heads for Capitol showdown

(Calif.) The growing struggle between charter schools and opponents within the traditional system will spill into legislative chambers this week as lawmakers consider three bills that would put new regulations on charters and their operators.

Chief among the proposals is legislation that would allow school districts to deny authorization of a charter school based only on the potential financial impact the new entity would have on the district.

Another would subject charters to the state’s open meetings and public records mandates and the third would impose new requirements on charters.

The bills, which are each expected to be heard this week by legislative policy committees, come forward as the political tension escalate between the California Teachers Association and the California Charter Schools Association.

Last week, the charter association issued a stringing rebuke of the proposals and today, the CTA will hold a news conference at the Capitol arguing the case for adoption.

Charter officials called the slate a distraction from other more pressing business this session—particularly SB 808 by Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, which would give districts far more power to curb charter growth.

“The implications of the bill aren’t just on the future growth of high performing charter schools, but on the existence of current charters,” Carlos Marquez, senior vice president for the California Charter Schools Association, said in an interview. “This is intended to be a distraction from the affirmative legislation that we’re running, which would increase access to high performing charter school seats.”

Mike Myslinski, spokesman for CTA, said the bills are critical to eliminating “waste, fraud and secrecy.”

“SB 808 simply requires that charter schools must be approved by the school board of the school district in which they are based,” he said in an e-mail to Cabinet Report. “Local control is undermined when county offices of education and the State Board of Education overrule local school boards that have denied a charter after careful, local review. The local school board is most qualified to make decisions regarding local education programs and needs within its jurisdiction.”

U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is a staunch supporter of school choice, and has argued against regulations that limit charter school expansion in her home state of Michigan while helping to fund campaigns of many pro-school choice politicians at the state and national level. And during his presidential campaign, Donald Trump emphasized school choice in his education platform.

And while California Gov. Jerry Brown has on multiple occasions denounced policies and priorities coming from the Trump administration, Brown has historically been a champion of charter schools, and even helped found two while mayor of Oakland.

Despite ongoing criticism with how some charters perform or handle public funds, charters in California have seen significant growth in the past decade. The number of students enrolled between 2006 and 2016 expanded from 200,000 to more than 550,000, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Perhaps because of Trump’s election and the elevation of DeVos as education secretary, the rivalry between the CTA and charter supports appears to have been reignited after a lengthy period of relative calm.

The political arm of CCSA raised close to $5 million earlier this year to aggressively back sympathetic candidates in a number of elections. They also put up radio ads directly attacking CTA as a defender of failed education policies.

Currently, county boards of education can authorize a charter school that operates at one or more sites within the geographic boundaries of the county, and the State Board of Education can approve or deny petition to establish a charter school that operates multiple sites throughout the state.

SB 808 would repeal those provisions, and instead only allow the school district the boundaries within which the charter school would be located to approve or deny a petition effective beginning January 1, 2018.

The bill–sponsored by CTA–would also repeal current provisions that allow a charter school denied by the governing board of a school district to submit the petition to the county board of education, which may then grant or deny the petition. Instead, a decision could only be appealed under SB 808 if a charter operator alleges that the governing board of the school district committed a procedural violation in reviewing the petition.

The charter schools association is sponsoring a bill authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, which would create a seven-year pilot program to establish, monitor and assess charter schools authorized directly by a county board of education, with a goal of determining bets practices for authorization and oversight of charters. The State Board of Education would be tasked with evaluating the program year-to-year.

Also at issue is AB 1478 by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles. His bill would require charters to comply with both the Brown Act that regulates open meetings and the California Public Records Act.

And AB 1360 by Assemblyman rob Bonta, D-Alameda, would impose new requirements on charter admission policies as well as new regulation over student suspension and expulsion procedures.