Gov. Newsom, legislative leaders agree on certification for all charter school teachers

September 4, 2019

Music teacher Javier Cabanillas teaches fourth-graders at the Achieve Academy charter school in Oakland how to play ukulele.

As a result of an agreement reached last week between Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders, California charter school teachers will have to get the same background checks and the same credentials, certificates or permits as teachers in regular public schools.

The agreement, which addresses a major point of contention in the push to reform California’s nearly three decades-old charter school law, would eliminate at least one of the many disparities in how charter schools and regular public schools operate, with ramifications for the over 600,000 students attending charter schools in California. These students comprise just over 10 percent of California’s public school enrollment of 6.2 million students.

But if Assembly Bill 1505 is approved by the full Legislature, the changes will happen in phases. By July 1, 2020, all teachers in charter schools, whether credentialed or not, would have to obtain a “Certificate of Clearance” from the state before they would be allowed to teach.

Currently, all California public school teachers, whether in charter schools or regular public schools, are required to undergo a background check. But only those with a teaching credential or permit issued by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing have to get a formal “Certificate of Clearance” from the state. The certificate ensures they have been fingerprinted, given federal background checks and added to a statewide database

Matters are complicated by the fact that, under current law, in charter schools only teachers of core subjects, such as math, English or science, are required to have a credential or permit issued by the state. Those teaching “non-core” subjects like music, art and dance are not. 

The agreement seeks to eliminate these disparities. After July 1, 2020 all newly hired teachers in charter schools would need a credential, whether they are teaching core or non-core classes. All current charter school teachers who do not have a credential would have five years — until July 1, 2025 — to get one. 

The bill, which was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Friday, will be voted on by the full Senate before Sept. 13, the deadline for legislative action before it goes to Gov. Newsom for his signature or veto. 

“This is good policy,” said Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee and author of the bill on Tuesday. “This is good for kids. Every student should have the advantage of having a credentialed teacher in their classroom.”

The goal of the bill was achieving parity between charter schools and other public schools, O’Donnell said. “Separate is not equal,” he said. “We can’t have two systems that operate under two sets of rules.”

O’Donnell, a former middle and high school teacher, said teachers need to be trained to deliver content to students in a manner they understand. “You can’t go in there green,” he said. “They will eat you alive.”

The agreement on credentialing was only part of a package of reforms that were hammered out in discussions with various factions.

In a statement, the California Charter Schools Association pointed to the agreement on a “five-year transition for existing non-core charter school teachers to secure certification” as one of the reasons that it would no longer oppose AB 1505, but instead would remain neutral on the bill. 

“Far too many of our most vulnerable students have been underserved by our current public school system, which is exactly why we’ve engaged in thoughtful conversations and shown a willingness to compromise on this important legislation,” said Myrna Castrejón, the organization’s executive director

Currently, 1,118 California charter school teachers do not have any type of teaching credential or permit, including Certificate of Clearance, according to the California Department of Education. These teachers were identified through the state education data system CALPADs, which includes information about teachers who have never applied for a credential, permit or a certificate of clearance. 

Non-credentialed charter school teachers may well have gotten background checks through their charter schools, as required by law. But there is no way for the state to know if they did, because they didn’t get a formal “Certificate of Clearance,” which is issued when teachers initially apply for a credential or special permit or certificate to teach.

A small number of teachers, generally credentialed teachers from other states who apply for a California teaching credential, are not issued a Certificate of Clearance. The teachers go through the same background checks and are added to the statewide database, but the clearance becomes part of their credential instead of a separate certificate.

When a report of an arrest or conviction is reported to the credentialing commission by the California Department of Justice, FBI or any court or police department, it is stored in the publicly searchable database.

The bill leaves open the possibility of reforming what credentials teachers of non-core classes will need, recognizing that a music or dance teacher, for example, may need some training, but not the same kind of training as a teacher of a core academic subject. 

To that end, the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week calls for the Commission on Teacher Credentialing to study whether existing teaching permits and certificates reflect the experience needed to teach non-core courses in all public schools, including charter schools, and to report back to the Legislature by 2022. 

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