Credit: Office of Patrick O'Donell (2018)
Patrick O'Donnell speaks before the Assembly in August 2018.

The chairman of the Assembly Education Committee and several Democratic colleagues introduced a package of bills Monday that would impose severe restrictions on the growth of charter schools.

Three of the bills would eliminate the ability of charter schools to appeal rejected applications to the county and state, cap the number of charter schools at those currently operating and enable school districts to consider the financial impact of charter schools when deciding whether to approve them. A fourth bill would abolish the right of a charter school that can’t find a facility in its authorizing district to locate a school in an adjoining district.

Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, who chairs the Education Committee, said the bills collectively would enable school districts “to make responsible and informed decisions” that are “critical for student success and taxpayer accountability.” Eric Premack, a veteran charter school adviser and advocate, called the legislation a “full-frontal” assault and “scorched earth” approach to charter schools.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that have greater flexibility in hiring, curriculum and other aspects of their operations. Unlike traditional public schools run by elected school boards, charter schools in California are nonprofit organizations with self-appointed boards.

The California Teachers Association, which put out the press announcement on Monday, other teachers and school employees unions and the California state chapter of the NAACP endorsed the bills. Their release coincides with the continuing teachers strike in Oakland Unified, where teachers are blaming charter school growth for weakening the district’s financial strength and are demanding restrictions on charter school expansion.

Another bill that O’Donnell co-authored with Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, requiring charter schools to comply with the state’s open meeting, public records and conflict of interest laws, passed the Senate last week and, on a fast track, is scheduled to be heard in O’Donnell’s Education Committee on Feb. 26. Many charter schools already adhere to the laws, but Senate Bill 126 would make enforcement universal. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who campaigned for more charter school transparency, has encouraged the bill’s quick passage.

Premack, who runs the nonprofit Charter Schools Development Center in Sacramento, said there have been previous attempts to ban charter locations beyond an authorizing district’s boundaries and to allow districts to reject charter schools based on their negative financial impact. Last year, Senate Bill 1362, by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, died in committee over disagreements about how to gauge a financial effect. What’s new, Premack said, are efforts to put a tight cap on growth and abolish the appeals process.

If the bills are approved as written, the effect could be to bring charter growth to a standstill or, Premack said, lead to approvals only of charter schools dealing with “dropouts and students who are difficult to serve.”

O’Donnell and Assemblyman Kevin McCarty are the primary or co-authors of all four bills. Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland and Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, are primary authors of two of them.

Here is what they would do:

AB 1505, by O’Donnell, would give districts where a charter school would be located the sole authority for approval or denial. The 1992 charter school law gave charter schools the right to appeal a denial to a county board of education. The 1998 amended law clarified the criteria for hearing appeals and created a second layer of appeal, to the State Board of Education.

Charter advocates say appeals are critical because some districts are philosophically and reflexively opposed to charter schools, which they view as unneeded competition. County boards and the state board bring objectivity to charter reviews, they say. But O’Donnell said that limiting reviews to the home district is consistent with the state’s shift to local control, where governing boards best know how to manage their districts.

Data on county appeals is not available. Data from the state board show that since 2011, the board has approved 32 new charter schools on appeal and denied nine. The most — 12 — were approved last year but five of those were in response to a court decision related to non-classroom based independent study charter schools.

The state board has renewed two charters on appeal while denying eight. These numbers don’t include charter schools that withdrew their appeals after state Department of Education staff or a charter committee that advises the state board recommended denials.

AB 1506, by McCarty, would remove the current, liberal allowance for the growth of charter schools. Instead the number of charters now operating, currently 1,323, would become the new cap and new schools would open as other charter schools close, McCarty said in an interview.

“We have so many of these districts on the financial bubble. A lack of resources from the state of California and local tax dollars is a factor. Declining enrollment is a factor and the erosion of population because of charter schools is a factor,” McCarty said. “This would give school districts some breathing room and financial stability.” The bill’s wording is still being drafted.

The original charter law permitted 100 charters. That was increased in 1998 to 250, with 100 new charters permitted annually after that — creating unused capacity for hundreds of charter schools.

AB 1507, by Smith, would rescind an infrequently used exemption that allowed a charter school that couldn’t find a facility in the district that approved it to locate in a building in another district in the same county.

AB 1508, by Bonta, is one paragraph long at this point. It reads, “It is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would permit chartering authorities to consider, in determining whether to approve a new charter school petition, the financial, academic, and facilities impacts the new charter school would have on neighborhood public schools.”

Unlike charter authorization in many states, approval is the default position. Charter petitions must detail 15 elements, including their education program, measures of academic progress and efforts to achieve racial and ethnic balance. A district must grant a charter unless it finds that the petitioners presented an unsound education program or demonstrated they would be unlikely to implement it or failed to comprehensively describe the 15 elements.

Districts aren’t permitted to consider a charter school’s financial impact on the district, although some boards do anyway — one reason there are appeals. Last year, in appearing before the state board’s hearing on a charter school appeal, the East Side Union High School District board openly cited the erosion of student tuition revenue in rejecting a new charter school that board members acknowledged had a sound program.

Bonta’s bill could create a conflict with Proposition 39, which voters passed in 2000. It gives charter schools the right to facilities equivalent to those serving district students. Districts have responded by placing some charter schools in wings of schools or in portables, where the sharing of facilities like fields and auditoriums have created tensions and in some cases eliminated rooms that schools had been using.

With 1,323 charter schools — double the number of a decade ago — California easily has the largest number of charter schools in any state. The 600,000 students who attend them make up 10 percent of California’s students and one-fifth of the nation’s charter school population.

But the departure of Gov. Jerry Brown, who three times vetoed charter transparency bills like SB 126 and for years staunchly protected the state’s charter school law, has created opportunities for the CTA and charter school opponents to impose new restrictions. The CTA has capitalized on the strikes in Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified, two districts with the largest percentages of students in charter schools, to press the case that charter schools are sapping the financial strength of districts. Other analysts point to other factors, including rising pension costs, special education expenses and financial mismanagement — particularly in Oakland’s case — as reasons for uncompetitive pay, a lack of school counselors and nurses, and crowded classrooms.

The CTA has escalated its rhetoric against charter schools over the past year, in campaign ads and its website Kids Not Profits. It continued Monday in the announcement of the bills.

“It is clear that Californians want significant changes in the decades-old laws governing charter schools that have allowed corporate charter schools to divert millions away from our neighborhood public schools, allowed for waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars at the expense of our students,” said California Teachers Association President Eric Heins.

Carlos Marquez, senior vice president of government affairs for the California Charter Schools Association, replied, “CTA’s extreme policy proposals undermine the unified case we must all make to fairly and adequately fund all of California’s public schools. Instead, they’re choosing to pit public school families against one another. California’s charter public schools will remain focused on sponsoring legislation that will support all public schools and our most vulnerable students.”

In introducing the bills now, O’Donnell and the co-authors may be moving ahead of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, whom Newsom has asked to create a panel of experts to look at the financial effect and other impacts of charter schools. Newsom was responding to the Los Angeles Unified school board’s request for a moratorium on new charters in Los Angeles while the state considers changes to the state charter law. The as yet unnamed commission is to recommend its changes by July 1.

Staff writer Diana Lambert contributed to this story.

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  1. Amber 5 months ago5 months ago

    Please do not harm our charter school. My boys struggled in public school due to their individual educational needs. The teachers ignored their needs. My sons needed a school that realized they had advanced educational needs. Their confidence and test scores show what an amazing situation the local charter school can provide. My eldest is only 16 but dual enrolled in high school and collage now. That's what a charter does for you. It teaches … Read More

    Please do not harm our charter school. My boys struggled in public school due to their individual educational needs. The teachers ignored their needs. My sons needed a school that realized they had advanced educational needs. Their confidence and test scores show what an amazing situation the local charter school can provide.

    My eldest is only 16 but dual enrolled in high school and collage now. That’s what a charter does for you. It teaches your child. Not like the public school system that demands everyone move at the same pace, no matter your skill level. Children need to be taught on a more personal level. Please do not harm our students by playing politics with their education. It’s petty and beneath us to do so.

  2. Lauren marston 5 months ago5 months ago

    Unfortunately the real issue is the high cost of district pensions. Charter schools did not cause that issue. Unions are the real issue regarding the financial crisis of districts. There are quite a few districts that have misappropriated funds (millions in Sweetwater Unified) and nothing will happen to them. Where is the oversight of the failing district schools? If a charter school (A3) misappropriates funds, they are denied renewal or shut down immediately, as it … Read More

    Unfortunately the real issue is the high cost of district pensions. Charter schools did not cause that issue. Unions are the real issue regarding the financial crisis of districts. There are quite a few districts that have misappropriated funds (millions in Sweetwater Unified) and nothing will happen to them.
    Where is the oversight of the failing district schools? If a charter school (A3) misappropriates funds, they are denied renewal or shut down immediately, as it should be. Why the double standard?
    Stanford did a study on charter schools and who will be hurt by these Assembly bills – lower income students who do not have a choice as the rich do (private schools). Shouldn’t every parent have a choice in their child’s education not based on income?

  3. Ann 7 months ago7 months ago

    I pray that you will leave California charter schools alone. My 15-year-old daughter is attending a charter school now. She is not only doing extremely well, she is much happier than she has been attending school. She is a special needs student and was not receiving the education she was promised in her IEP. If you take away the charter school she attends, she would not graduate high school or be able to attend … Read More

    I pray that you will leave California charter schools alone. My 15-year-old daughter is attending a charter school now. She is not only doing extremely well, she is much happier than she has been attending school. She is a special needs student and was not receiving the education she was promised in her IEP. If you take away the charter school she attends, she would not graduate high school or be able to attend college. Ypu would literally be denying her a promising future. My daughter has a lot to offer. So I am asking that you leave the charter schools alone. They are not the problem, They are the solution.

  4. Jose 7 months ago7 months ago

    Change what you teach in school and people will not run away from them. Home schooling is best if you worry about the ideas they are feeding our kids. We are the ones who need to teach morals not the schools.

  5. Lincoln 8 months ago8 months ago

    As parents who homeschool our two children, we fully support charter schools. With the help of our charter school, both of our kids are many grade levels above their peers.

  6. Clewis 8 months ago8 months ago

    I'd really like all the Asm members and Senators to understand the type of student that attends a charter. A large portion of the students left public District schools, because they couldn't be accommodated or were asked to leave (yes, that does happen). We have a large Muslim and LGBT population in the ISP charter community, because they want to be safe, at home. We have kids that were bullied, that also want safety. We … Read More

    I’d really like all the Asm members and Senators to understand the type of student that attends a charter. A large portion of the students left public District schools, because they couldn’t be accommodated or were asked to leave (yes, that does happen). We have a large Muslim and LGBT population in the ISP charter community, because they want to be safe, at home. We have kids that were bullied, that also want safety. We have 2E, autistic, and extremely gifted kids that all need the ability to work at their own pace and NOT the CCS pace. We have a large special needs community that may be under-reported, because of the self paced aspect of ISPs charters. It means they don’t necessarily need to be on an IEP. (But, if these kids are forced back in to public school, their parents would drown the District with IEP demands). We have professional athletes and actors that are busy pursuing their dreams and need more flexibility than District schools can provide. We’ve absorbed most of the anti-vaccination community, since their kids are no longer allowed to attend District schools. My son is a nationally ranked athlete. Unlike his peers on the team, he has no homework. So, when he gets home at 8-8:30pm at night, he has time to relax, but his teammates do not. I’ll NEVER send my son back to a District school. We were in Irvine Unified and had 15 incidences in eight weeks – in KINDERGARTEN. That’s when I decided to pull him out of the District school and put him in an ISP Charter School. It isn’t about taking money away from Districts. It’s about doing what’s right for my child, keeping him safe, and giving him the best education we can.

  7. Alvina Arutyunyan 8 months ago8 months ago

    It is unfortunate that CTA and districts are motivated with their political gains and interests instead of benefits for all students. especially for students in most vulnerable communities, students that don't have choices (choosing private schools vs low performing public schools). It is clear that due to funding and major bureaucracy in our public schools, California schools are way behind in the US and in the world when it comes to student's performance. This was … Read More

    It is unfortunate that CTA and districts are motivated with their political gains and interests instead of benefits for all students. especially for students in most vulnerable communities, students that don’t have choices (choosing private schools vs low performing public schools). It is clear that due to funding and major bureaucracy in our public schools, California schools are way behind in the US and in the world when it comes to student’s performance.

    This was the reason why a decade ago the law was approved to create charter schools, that could possibly bring innovation to education, choices to our most vulnerable families, and most importantly change to broken systems. These movements started by teachers; we shouldn’t forget this. This movement started because teachers wanted more autonomy in the schools from districts, more local control. This movement itself is a movement of moving towards local control: control of schools in their communities vs large districts managing communities that they don’t know much about.

  8. Christina 8 months ago8 months ago

    Do not be fooled. This is the government trying to take our rights as parents to decide how to educate our children. Schools have teachers and coaches that molested our children but schools are not closed down. Children can get shot in schools but again we do not shut these schools. Wake up and see what is going on in our education system. It is all about the money and not about the children. … Read More

    Do not be fooled. This is the government trying to take our rights as parents to decide how to educate our children. Schools have teachers and coaches that molested our children but schools are not closed down. Children can get shot in schools but again we do not shut these schools. Wake up and see what is going on in our education system. It is all about the money and not about the children. Charter schools offer an opportunity for parents to educate the children.

  9. Steven Gilliam 8 months ago8 months ago

    I became a teacher because I truly wanted to help young people and not be involved with the political corruption of big businesses. After twelve years I’ve seen the “Wizards behind their curtains.” Aside from the students I have been able to help, I couldn’t have been more wrong about what drive$ education. You can give public schools all the money they could ask for, but when your Magnetic North is the quest … Read More

    I became a teacher because I truly wanted to help young people and not be involved with the political corruption of big businesses. After twelve years I’ve seen the “Wizards behind their curtains.” Aside from the students I have been able to help, I couldn’t have been more wrong about what drive$ education. You can give public schools all the money they could ask for, but when your Magnetic North is the quest for funds and power your Moral Compass is lost and our future suffers for it.

  10. Stephanie 9 months ago9 months ago

    Well, if public schools stopped bullying and had no Common Core crap, then more kids would stay in public schools. Bottom line kids aren’t safe in school. I can see so many Californians moving out of state if these bills pass. Me being one of them.

    Replies

    • Brandi 7 months ago7 months ago

      I agree and we will be leaving the state as well. That will be the last straw with California.

      • R Lopez 7 months ago7 months ago

        We homeschool under a charter; however, I have no problem flying solo, too. And we are hoping to leave in the next two years, after my husband completes his Master’s. Otherwise we’d be looking right now. Anyway, I’ll go underground before I put my kid in a crappy government indoctrination center!

  11. Terry 9 months ago9 months ago

    This isn't really about charter schools. It isn't about students. It isn't about transparency. It isn't about providing the highest quality of education for all students. It isn't about focusing on what is best for students. It isn't about inequities in funding or facilities issues. Pure and simple, it is about the union (CTA) and the desire to control what goes on in all schools in California. A desire … Read More

    This isn’t really about charter schools. It isn’t about students. It isn’t about transparency. It isn’t about providing the highest quality of education for all students. It isn’t about focusing on what is best for students. It isn’t about inequities in funding or facilities issues.
    Pure and simple, it is about the union (CTA) and the desire to control what goes on in all schools in California. A desire to function as a “closed shop,” and a desire to prevent parents from opting out of the “neighborhood school” and enroll their children in a school that focuses on improving achievement. Like everything- there are some amazing non-charter schools and some dismal non-charter schools. There are also some amazing charter schools, and some dismal charter schools. Shame on CTA for pretending this is about “transparency” and “what’s best for students.” If these bills pass, it will be the end of charters in California- which is exactly what CTA wanted from the beginning.

  12. Charlie 9 months ago9 months ago

    Hello. Just a clarifying question about AB1506 here. The summary of the bill calls it "non-substantive" changes to the Charter Schools Act of 1992. And reading the text of the bill, the revisions seem to be exactly that -- very minor changes in wording. I don't see anything about re-imposing a cap or limiting the number of charter schools to the number currently operating. The language about 100 additional charters being authorized each year … Read More

    Hello. Just a clarifying question about AB1506 here. The summary of the bill calls it “non-substantive” changes to the Charter Schools Act of 1992. And reading the text of the bill, the revisions seem to be exactly that — very minor changes in wording.

    I don’t see anything about re-imposing a cap or limiting the number of charter schools to the number currently operating. The language about 100 additional charters being authorized each year after 1999-2000 remains in place.

    “In the 1998–99 school year, the maximum total number of charter schools authorized to operate in this state shall be 250. In the 1999–2000 school year, and in each successive school year thereafter, an additional 100 charter schools are authorized to operate in this state each successive school year.”

    So how would this bill cap charter growth?

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 9 months ago9 months ago

      As written, you are correct, Charlie. The author, Kevin McCarthy from Sacramento, has indicated he will draft a bill calling for a tight cap – basically the current number of charter schools now open. I am assuming there will be amendments by the time it reaches the governor, if it does.

  13. Mirella Rangel 9 months ago9 months ago

    Do you have a translation of this article in Spanish?

  14. Mike M 9 months ago9 months ago

    If the school districts teach their students well and have a higher graduation rate then who would go to charter schools. The school districts have a better facility and more resources than many charter schools. But the problem is the students in some school districts do not perform well and there is no innovation. As a parents, we need to look for another option for our children and we don’t want our kids to stay in … Read More

    If the school districts teach their students well and have a higher graduation rate then who would go to charter schools. The school districts have a better facility and more resources than many charter schools. But the problem is the students in some school districts do not perform well and there is no innovation.

    As a parents, we need to look for another option for our children and we don’t want our kids to stay in a bad school with low performance. A charter school is another option. I don’t want to put my kids in private school and pay thousands a month.

    If the school districts don’t want students to go to the charter school then school districts need to get their act together to make their schools high performance schools and compete with charter schools. Who does not want their kids stay in a good school?

    The moratorium would not do anything good for students. The moratorium just would make the school districts’ bad performance to become worse because they would not have to worry about losing students to charter schools.

    I want my kids to be in a safe school, good school, with higher performance, and I would like the option available.

  15. Wayne Martin 9 months ago9 months ago

    The LAUSD's employment data is available from an organization called: Transparent California.. Using this data, a job title inventory was developed for the LAUSD's employees. Such a analysis shows where a school district is spending its money. The idea is to determine how much is spent on teachers and how much is spent on other staff not directly involved with teaching. It's always eye-opening to look at this data and see how much the LAUSD … Read More

    The LAUSD’s employment data is available from an organization called: Transparent California.. Using this data, a job title inventory was developed for the LAUSD’s employees. Such a analysis shows where a school district is spending its money. The idea is to determine how much is spent on teachers and how much is spent on other staff not directly involved with teaching. It’s always eye-opening to look at this data and see how much the LAUSD is spending on labor:

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=19pa7v9IcHXnDNh-xUcPzw1Z4FAsc8NJ2

  16. Karl 10 months ago10 months ago

    I think it’s helpful to remember that CTA is not “supporting kids” - they are supporting teachers who are in their union. Sometimes the interests of kids and unionized teachers align (like a fair salary for classroom teachers), sometimes they don’t (bigger pensions for teachers no longer teaching at the expense of educational materials). Having worked extensively with both charters and districts, charters put more dollars in the classroom while districts are forced through union … Read More

    I think it’s helpful to remember that CTA is not “supporting kids” – they are supporting teachers who are in their union. Sometimes the interests of kids and unionized teachers align (like a fair salary for classroom teachers), sometimes they don’t (bigger pensions for teachers no longer teaching at the expense of educational materials).

    Having worked extensively with both charters and districts, charters put more dollars in the classroom while districts are forced through union negotiations to put every available dollar towards teachers. If the charter method wasn’t working, parents wouldn’t be choosing to send their kids there.
    I’d welcome a separation of “what’s good for teacher’s union members” from “what’s good for students”. They are not always the same thing and sometimes one is at the expense of the other.

    Replies

    • Deb 9 months ago9 months ago

      Karl, Teachers teach because they care. They don’t make enough money to pay rent or buy a home here yet all school employees show up and teach, care, provide and listen to these children. In many cases, school staff spend more time with children then their parents do. They eat breakfast lunch and sometimes dinner with these children. They buy supplies for the children while mom gets her nails done. Those who can teach – that includes … Read More

      Karl,
      Teachers teach because they care. They don’t make enough money to pay rent or buy a home here yet all school employees show up and teach, care, provide and listen to these children. In many cases, school staff spend more time with children then their parents do.
      They eat breakfast lunch and sometimes dinner with these children. They buy supplies for the children while mom gets her nails done. Those who can teach – that includes food workers, custodians, office staff, maintenance staff, bus drivers, and the list goes on – they don’t turn children away.

      • Your Education 8 months ago8 months ago

        You’re joking, right? Because they care? Teachers teach because they care… not for a paycheck? So it’s like a volunteer position then?

  17. Marc Winger 10 months ago10 months ago

    There are good reasons to reform California’s 25-year-old Charter Schools Act when looking through the lens of local school board jurisdictional sovereignty. Local boards are elected to make decisions and oversee the educational programs within their jurisdictions. To learn more about one community’s experience and the need for reform, follow this link.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 10 months ago10 months ago

      Thanks for the comment, Marc. I recommend that readers follow the link to your full explanation

  18. Janice Oliver 10 months ago10 months ago

    Very well written. Only one thing I saw that was older – legislation already passed to not allow for-profit charter schools. I would love to have seen CTA’s position countered with that when they reference corporate charters. The truth of the matter is that CTA has much more of a corporate mindset than the charter employees I know. We just really want to help families with access to equitable education for all.