Against the backdrop of rallies, protests and press conferences, three bills that would impose significant restrictions on charter schools in California took a small step forward when they were approved by the Assembly Education Committee in the state Capitol:
- Assembly Bill 1505 would remove the ability of the State Board of Education to approve a charter application after it had been denied by a local school district or a county office of education.
- AB 1505 would also allow districts to consider the possible negative financial impact of a charter school on a district when deciding whether to grant a charter.
- Assembly Bill 1506 would place a cap on charter schools in the state at the number in operation on Jan. 1, 2020.
- Assembly Bill 1507 would prohibit charter schools from opening additional schools outside the district where they received their original charter.
The bills, which would make significant changes to California’s charter school bill — adopted in 1992 and revised several years later — were approved after five hours of debate and public testimony. Advocates on both sides of the issues held events in Sacramento yesterday and packed the hearing room where the bills were discussed. Leading charter school advocates fear that, if passed, these bills would could halt charter school growth in the state, or even threaten the existence of the entire sector.
The Education Committee includes several lawmakers who have worked in schools or with children and youth programs. They clearly believe that reform of California’s charter school sector, which serves over 600,000 children in over 1,300 schools, is necessary. The committee chairman is Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, a former high school teacher. Others on the committee include Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, who worked with early childhood and youth programs before he was elected to the Assembly.
The bills must still navigate a legislative maze before they are approved. Both chambers must still consider them and Gov. Gavin Newsom would have to sign them if and when they reach his desk. He has so far given no indication on where he stands on the restrictions the bills call for.
A few weeks ago he signed a bill requiring greater transparency in charter school operations, a bill that the California Teachers Association and other organizations that have pressed for more accountability in charter school operations had sought. But Newsom expressed strong support for charter schools. “I’ve long supported high-quality nonprofit charters,” he said. “I’ve been an advocate, not just a supporter.”
At the same time, he acknowledged some of the issues raised by charter schools that the bills approved yesterday are intended to address. “I’m very aware of the stress, particularly as demonstratively exampled in Los Angeles and Oakland, that issues related to charters, pensions are having at this moment in our education system,” Newsom said. “I think we have an obligation to get under the hood and see what we can collaboratively do to address those issues.”
Newsom then asked State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to convene a task force to make recommendations on some of the same issues the bills voted on yesterday are intended to address. The 11-person task force is operating on a parallel track while the bills move forward in the Legislature. The task force, which is shooting to issue its recommendations by July 1, is meeting today in Sacramento for the fifth time. However, its meetings are not open to the public.