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There was widespread agreement at a legislative hearing Wednesday on a lack of clarity and consistency in how the state’s charter schools are approved and overseen.

But school and county district officials and charter school leaders characterized the problems very differently and disagreed over how to fix them.

Charter schools, which receive public funding and are managed, with few exceptions, by nonprofit boards of directors, are free from a number of regulations governing the state’s school districts. There are more than 1,200 charters in California – double the number a decade ago – and this fall they will educate an estimated one of 10 public school students.

Testifying before the Senate Education Committee, district leaders argued that the vagueness of the state’s charter school law and regulations fostered inequalities and a lack of accountability. They complained that charter schools aren’t required to publish financial reports and contact information for board members, many of whom live distant from the school they serve. They said that charter schools can suspend and expel students without an appeals process required of district schools, and many enroll fewer proportions of English learners and disabled students, who are more expensive to educate.

Silke Bradford, director of charter oversight for Oakland Unified, right, and Dina Wilson, director of the Charter School Office for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, called for more reporting requirements for charter schools during the Senate hearing.

Source: California Channel webcast.

Silke Bradford, director of charter oversight for Oakland Unified, right, and Dina Wilson, director of the Charter School Office for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, called for more reporting requirements for charter schools during the Senate hearing.

While district schools must provide school lunches to students, charters are exempt from the federal government’s school lunch requirement, and 18 percent of the state’s charters don’t offer meals. That’s a disincentive for low-income students to enroll, said Silke Bradford, who directs charter oversight for the 37 charters that operate in the Oakland Unified School District.

And unlike school districts, the state’s charter schools don’t have their annual LCAP, a comprehensive budget and planning document, reviewed by county offices of education to ensure compliance with the state’s new funding law.

“Clearer standards for accountability are needed,” said Dina Wilson, director of the Charter School Office of the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

But Nicole Assisi, chief executive officer of the San Diego charter school network, Thrive Public Schools, cited “the need for accountability for both sides” and for “consequences” for districts whose school boards reject charter schools out of hand. In the case of her charter school, the staff of San Diego Unified recommended approval, she testified, but school board members “unfairly and illegally denied” the charter. That started a time-consuming and expensive appeals process, first to the county office of education, and then to the State Board of Education, which unanimously approved it, she said.

There is “an inherent conflict of interest” in having school boards, which consider charters competitors for money and students, as the first-line and primary authorizers, Assisi said.

Assisi said she “felt outnumbered” as the only charter operator among nine panelists. But other charter school leaders relayed similar experiences of delays and antagonism during public comments.

Nicole Assisi, chief executive officer of Thrive Public Schools in San Diego, testifies Wednesday before the Senate Education Committee hearing on charter school oversight.

Source: California Channel webcast.

Nicole Assisi, chief executive officer of Thrive Public Schools in San Diego, testifies Wednesday before the Senate Education Committee hearing on charter school oversight.

Andrew Crowe, chancellor of the Oxford Prep Academy in Chino, blamed “local politics” for the vote of the Chino Valley Unified school board to deny a renewal of its charter, due to expire next year. The K-8 charter has 900 students on a wait list, he said.

Illegal admissions criteria, lax oversight

Two days before the hearing, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the public interest law firm Public Advocates released a report that said 253 charter schools – more than one in five in the state – have restrictive admissions requirements or exclusionary practices that violate the charter law’s requirement to “admit all pupils who wish to attend” charters except for space limitations. An Internet search of charters’ admissions requirements – which the state and district authorizers easily could have done – found academic and grade prerequisites, English language proficiency criteria, parent volunteering requirements, and applications requiring essays and immigration documentation that overtly exclude or indirectly discourage low-income students and English learners from enrolling, the report said.

Richard Urias, the director of Charter School Support and Oversight for the Ventura County Office of Education, said that his county office monitors charter expulsions and suspensions and efforts to recruit a diverse student body. It requires that charter high schools undergo regional accreditation, though that is not required under state law.

To fix the system, district officials suggested that clearer state guidance and standards and changes in the charter law are necessary, particularly to clarify charters’ latitude to modify their charters on appeal. That would especially help small districts or those with few charter schools, they said. They also complained that the 1 percent fees on a charter’s revenue aren’t enough to cover adequate oversight.

But charter operators recommended an expansion of authorizers beyond local districts, particularly for charters in small districts without the monitoring capacity or expertise. “It’s a big mistake in putting all authorizing work on districts without staff to do it,” said Eric Premack, director of the Sacramento-based Charter Schools Development Center.

As an alternative, Greg Geeting, vice president of the Sacramento County Board of Education, suggested creating a statewide clearing house that would review all charter applications and hold initial hearings. That would provide consistency, avoid duplication and reduce the need for appeals, he said.

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  1. Jim Mordecai 2 years ago2 years ago

    There are two functions that need to be separated and that is approval of charters and oversight of charters. It is unfunded mandate for schools districts having to process charter applications. That function should be paid for by the state which isn't now. Oversight really shouldn't be a function of the individual school districts. Primary mission of public school districts should be to educate the students attending. Carrying out a … Read More

    There are two functions that need to be separated and that is approval of charters and oversight of charters. It is unfunded mandate for schools districts having to process charter applications. That function should be paid for by the state which isn’t now.

    Oversight really shouldn’t be a function of the individual school districts. Primary mission of public school districts should be to educate the students attending. Carrying out a secondary mission of providing oversight of charter schools clearly creates a natural conflict of interest as charter schools are in competition for student enrollment.

    And oversight of charters is not properly funded. Between Oakland School District and Alameda County over $100,000 was spent to first identify that American Indian Model Charter Schools’ operator had diverted funding to private businesses owned by the operator and his wife (FCMAT Report $30,000 to County), second to take action to revoke the charter, and third to defend revocation in court. And, in the end the court rejected the revocation because the school had high test scores and state law was passed that test scores must be the primary consideration in a revocation.

    Now it turns out from the ACLU report that the AIM charters are on the list of schools with exclusionary admission policies, thus tainting high test scores reliability.

    Charter school law is a mess because it was built on an assumption that parent choice and creating competition between privately managed and publicly managed schools would improve the delivery of education in the California education system. Years of the charter school experiment has proven that assumption incorrect and the need for greater oversight of charter schools and changes in the law to provide greater oversight.

    The state has the responsibility for education. If it wants to maintain charter schools as a parent option, it has to address the problem of how to provide greater oversight. In other words it has to spend money on state agents to inspect charters and pay the bill when the state is taken to court.

  2. CarolineSF 2 years ago2 years ago

    It's obvious that charters harm the other schools in a district (and thus the children in those schools) -- it's simply common sense, because they undeniably drain resources away from existing schools. It's also obvious that it's crazy not to give school boards power over whether a charter school winds up in their district. The only reason those things (the harm inflicted by charter schools on other schools in their districts and the … Read More

    It’s obvious that charters harm the other schools in a district (and thus the children in those schools) — it’s simply common sense, because they undeniably drain resources away from existing schools. It’s also obvious that it’s crazy not to give school boards power over whether a charter school winds up in their district. The only reason those things (the harm inflicted by charter schools on other schools in their districts and the irrationality of not allowing school boards to determine what charters wind up in their districts) aren’t universally recognized is the massive, billionaire-funded PR push behind charters for the past 20 years or so. That leads opinion leaders, commentators and policymakers to willingly take the easy route, fall in line with the appealing PR pitches, and write off dissenters as self-interested, paranoid, extremist, “teachers union lackeys,” “defenders of the failed status quo” and so on.

    Still, it’s hardly a surprise that charter operators would get pushback from communities when they try to force their schools in, given the harm that they do to other schools and the children in those schools. Because of the aforementioned massive PR push on their behalf, we don’t have to feel THAT sorry for them, though.

    John, direct question: In the past, the California Department of Education provided a grant of ~$450,000 to pretty much anyone who wanted to try to get a charter school approved, just for the proposal preparation and approval process. Does that program still exist? What happened to it if not? What’s the total amount that was paid out in those funds for whatever period the program DID exist, or how much has been paid out if it still exists? How much was/has been paid out to the would-be operators of charter schools that were never launched? Thanks for checking your sources for this information.

    Replies

    • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

      I don’t find it obvious that charters drain away resources and to start with the assumption that it is obvious is just an excuse not to have to make a case for contention.

      • CarolineSF 2 years ago2 years ago

        I'll try to explain. The state provides funding per student. If a charter opens and a percentage of students leave a public school for the charter, the per-student funding leaves the public school, but the expenses of running the public school are not reduced. In addition, many charters (I would say most or all, but studies say *many*, so that's what we'll go with) use various methods to sort for more motivated, compliant students from … Read More

        I’ll try to explain. The state provides funding per student. If a charter opens and a percentage of students leave a public school for the charter, the per-student funding leaves the public school, but the expenses of running the public school are not reduced. In addition, many charters (I would say most or all, but studies say *many*, so that’s what we’ll go with) use various methods to sort for more motivated, compliant students from more motivated, compliant, supportive families.

        (Gateway in San Francisco is one flamboyant example — it has designed its admissions processes over the years to ensure that only highly motivated students make it through the process.)

        Thus, the charter not only drains the funding from the public school; it’s also likely (and designed specifically) to siphon off the more motivated, compliant students, and the ones with more motivated, compliant, supportive families. All those factors mean charter schools do harm to public schools and the students in them.