Credit: Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

State law already requires that a charter school admit any student who applies. In his May budget revision, Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing to tighten the language banning discrimination in charter school enrollment, particularly to protect students with disabilities and students with poor grades who want to attend charter schools.

“The Administration is committed to a system where traditional and charter schools work together to serve the best interests of all students in a community,” reads Newsom’s budget summary, adding the law change would “level the playing field for both traditional and charter schools.”

A charter school advocate argues, however, his proposal would do the opposite by imposing new restrictions on charter schools’ enrollment policies that would not apply to magnet schools in traditional districts that concentrate on specific areas, like science and math or performing arts. Many of those impose “selective (sometimes elite), complex and burdensome admissions requirements” that charter schools would not be allowed to adopt, said Eric Premack, executive director and founder of the Sacramento-based Charter Schools Development Center, which advises founders of charter schools. “It would be very interesting to see how districts would respond if the governor had proposed to subject districts to the same restrictions.”

In return for receiving public funding, charter schools must have open admissions and hold a lottery when there are more applicants than spaces. School districts have complained that some of the state’s 1,300-plus charter schools have discouraged families with academically struggling students and special education students with high-cost needs from signing up. Others counsel students who are struggling academically to leave school mid-year to boost schoolwide test scores, districts say.

Charter school operators dispute that the practice is prevalent — Premack calls it “an oft-discredited yarn.” Statewide, about 10 percent of charter school students have disabilities, compared with 11 percent in traditional schools, a difference that has narrowed, although districts tend to have a disproportionate share of the disabled children who are the most costly to educate.

Charges that charter schools deliberately select top student applicants have been largely anecdotal, which is why Newsom is proposing a uniform complaint policy that allows parents to file a grievance if they believe they were discriminated against. He also wants to explore using state Smarter Balanced testing and other data to identify enrollment disparities “that may warrant inquiry and intervention,” his budget stated.

Three years ago, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the public interest law firm Public Advocates released a report that found that about a fifth of charter schools had admissions policies that improperly excluded students based on grades, pre-enrollment interviews, a parental participation requirement, or that required citizenship documentation and a minimum level of English language proficiency. The report was based on a review of charter schools’ websites and most charter schools responded by removing pages they said were outdated and didn’t reflect their current policies.

Newsom’s proposed statute would specify that charter schools cannot request or require parents to submit student records before enrolling. And it would require that charter schools post parental rights on their websites and make parents aware of them during enrollment and when students are expelled or leave during the year.

In its report, “Uncharted Waters,” released last month, the California School Boards Association urged the state to establish open and non-discriminatory enrollment, suspension and expulsion processes and policies for charter schools. Carlos Machado, the association’s legislative advocate, said this week that districts have struggled to ensure that students who have disabilities or struggle academically have access to charter schools; the proposed regulations would give school boards the “tools” they need to monitor for violations.

Following up on the Public Advocates report, the Legislature in 2017 passed a bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, that clarified that charter schools can encourage but can’t require parents to volunteer or donate. It also restricted charter schools’ ability to set admissions requirements, such as minimum grades, teacher recommendations or auditions, which are common for district magnet schools’ specialty programs (see Sacramento City Unified’s criteria, as an example). Admissions preferences would have to be approved by a charter school’s authorizer, which is the local district, county office of education, or State Board of Education.

The proposed statute implies there should be no allowances “for any reason” that might discourage any pupil from enrolling in a charter school.

Angelica Jongco, deputy managing attorney for Public Advocates, agreed there should be no exceptions to the statute. Prerequisites for admission, she said, “risk excluding or deterring underserved students,” she said.

In January, Newsom persuaded the Legislature to expedite the passage of transparency requirements for charter schools, without going through public hearings, to mandate they follow the state’s open meetings, public records and conflict-of-interest laws. By proposing the latest statutes as language in a budget “trailer bill” accompanying the actual budget, Newsom would again bypass the standard legislative process. A charter school task force, which Newsom asked State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to oversee, is not expected to make recommendations for changes in the charter law until June.

Premack criticized Newsom’s use of the budget to enact charter school policy.

“Are these simple and cut-and-dried issues? Certainly not. Is slipping them into a trailer bill without discussion a good way to deal with them? Certainly not,” he said.

The California Charter Schools Association, which represents most of the state’s charter schools, has not commented on the specifics of Newsom’s proposal. In a statement last week on his education budget, it said, “We applaud Governor Newsom’s commitment to increasing funding for special education, and we share his vision in ensuring that all of California’s kids – especially our most vulnerable students – have access to public schools that meet their individual needs.”

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  1. dana 3 months ago3 months ago

    I was recently notified in a voicemail left by the Charter School office manager that "we wont be able to enroll your son in our District....I ran this by our special ed director and she said that we just aren’t capable of handling the types of services he needs in his IEP." I never submitted his IEP in the enrollment documents, nor was I asked to, but I did mark the boxes … Read More

    I was recently notified in a voicemail left by the Charter School office manager that “we wont be able to enroll your son in our District….I ran this by our special ed director and she said that we just aren’t capable of handling the types of services he needs in his IEP.” I never submitted his IEP in the enrollment documents, nor was I asked to, but I did mark the boxes that asked if he had an IEP, speech and language services, etc.
    Mind you this was for Kindergarten enrollment. On their own, they accessed school records, reviewed his IEP and admitted they are denying him based on his disability. Obviously, the front office manager did not realize how illegal that was and reiterated back exactly what she was told by the Special Ed Director. Crazy, Disgusting, Disappointed.

  2. Manuel 4 months ago4 months ago

    To the best of my knowledge, all magnet schools exist as part of the remedies imposed by the courts to address segregation. Doesn’t Mr. Premack know that admittance procedures for magnets are legal since they are, by definition, court-approved?

    Replies

    • Eric Premack 4 months ago4 months ago

      While it's true that some magnet schools had been started as part of efforts to desegregate schools starting in the late '70s, some court-ordered, others not, it's probably safe to say that the overwhelming majority of California's magnet programs are unrelated to desegregation efforts and are instead intended to offer more choices to parents/students and to compete with charters (which I think is great). The Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, has started … Read More

      While it’s true that some magnet schools had been started as part of efforts to desegregate schools starting in the late ’70s, some court-ordered, others not, it’s probably safe to say that the overwhelming majority of California’s magnet programs are unrelated to desegregation efforts and are instead intended to offer more choices to parents/students and to compete with charters (which I think is great). The Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, has started over 120 new magnet programs in the past several years. Many of the district’s magnets have very rigorous admissions requirements (e.g., score in the 85th percentile or higher on standardized tests). Last I checked, only six California school districts operated under court-ordered desegregation programs and many more operate magnet and other schools of choice that implement selective admissions criteria.

      If the goal, as the Governor states, is to “level the playing field” between district-operated and charter schools, then shouldn’t the state prohibit such requirements in all public schools? If not, perhaps it’s time to have a thorough and honest discussion of how both charter and non-charter public schools may implement admissions practices that are at once fair and equitable yet also allow for meaningful choices to meet students’ needs.

      • Rick Pratt 4 months ago4 months ago

        Charter schools were originally established to allow teachers and parents (not CMOs, which were never even envisioned) to develop new and create ways to organize and deliver classroom instruction. In doing so, the Legislature made a deliberate choice to not allow charter schools to become elite alternatives outside of traditional school districts. This is why charter schools are prohibited from having admissions criteria based on academic ability, athletic prowess, etc. Otherwise, charters would be empowered … Read More

        Charter schools were originally established to allow teachers and parents (not CMOs, which were never even envisioned) to develop new and create ways to organize and deliver classroom instruction. In doing so, the Legislature made a deliberate choice to not allow charter schools to become elite alternatives outside of traditional school districts. This is why charter schools are prohibited from having admissions criteria based on academic ability, athletic prowess, etc. Otherwise, charters would be empowered to not only accept the students they want, but also to reject the ones they don’t want. This would result in a brain drain from traditional schools and would not create the “even playing field” you say you desire.

        By contrast, when a district establishes a magnet school, it is not competing against itself. It is expanding opportunities for its own students. Besides, a charter school can be like a magnet school in that it offers a specialized curriculum such as STEM or performing arts. Charter schools like to argue that they do as well as or better than traditional schools with the same mix of students. It seems odd, therefore, to complain that they are not allowed to cherry pick.

  3. Rick Pratt 4 months ago4 months ago

    Charter schools are prohibited by law from using academic ability as a criterion for admission (though some have found a way around this prohibition). But the law does not prohibit a charter school from expelling or otherwise pushing out a low performing student. Evidence that this happens is more than anecdotal. My blog at www.5ivepoints.net includes a post on "survivorship bias," and documents that charter schools that boast of high graduation rates also … Read More

    Charter schools are prohibited by law from using academic ability as a criterion for admission (though some have found a way around this prohibition). But the law does not prohibit a charter school from expelling or otherwise pushing out a low performing student.
    Evidence that this happens is more than anecdotal. My blog at http://www.5ivepoints.net includes a post on “survivorship bias,” and documents that charter schools that boast of high graduation rates also experience a very high attrition rate between 9th and 12th grades. Only the better students (i.e., the “survivors” in grade 12) are included in the calculation of their graduation rates. The Governor’s proposal is a good step toward exposing and stopping this practice.