The Charter School Policy Task Force Report was just released. 

The Task Force was charged with making recommendations to reform the state’s 1992 charter law. A large proportion of the 11 members of the Task Force (either 6 or 7) were connected to the charter industry, including two members who work directly for the California Charter School Association, the industry’s lobbying group.

Two issues were paramount:

Recognizing that the lack of funding in general for public schools in California is exacerbated by the competition for resources between traditional public schools and charter schools, Governor Gavin Newsom in early 2019 appointed the CTF and asked SSPI Tony Thurmond to convene the group to analyze two matters:

(1) the fiscal impact that charter schools have on traditional public schools;

and (2) inconsistencies in how charter schools are authorized throughout the state.

Some recommendations were unanimously approved.

Some were approved by a majority.

Some were defeated.

Please read the 10-page report carefully. Let me know what you think.

These are the recommendations that impress me because they would allow districts to have a greater say over whether charters open in their district; they would eliminate the State Board of Education from the charter authorization process; they would prevent small districts from authorizing charters in distant urban districts, for the sake of making money; they would permit consideration of fiscal impact on existing schools before granting a new charter; and they establish a one-year moratorium on new cyber charters.

E) Enact a one-year moratorium on the establishment of new virtual charter schools

• Supported by the majority

There has been growing concern that virtual charter schools are operated without appropriate academic rigor and oversight, providing a sub-par education for their students (for example, see California Virtual Academy – Bureau of State Audits review1). The temporary one-year freeze on new virtual charter schools will give advocates time to study issues related to the establishment of virtual charter schools, such as their operational practices and performance, and to make further recommendations to ensure students are receiving appropriate full-time instruction, supervised by a certified teacher. Virtual charter schools with a history of providing a demonstrated benefit to students will have the ability to continue to operate during the one-year moratorium.

F) Remove the California State Board of Education from hearing appeals of charter petition denials.

• Supported by the majority

The SBE is an authorizer for applicants whose charter petition was denied by a district or county board of education. Some CTF members expressed growing concern that applicants whose charter petitions were denied by a district and/or County Board of Education appeal to the SBE to grant their charter, thus giving a charter school three chances to be approved. Some believe that for local control and accountability to be preserved, charter schools should only be authorized locally. In addition, authorization at the state level is problematic due to geographic limitations. Almost 65% of the current SBE authorized charter schools are located in Los Angeles or San Diego, which makes it difficult for the Sacramento-based staff to provide the appropriate level of oversight at the local level. As CDE is staff to SBE, the oversight responsibilities fall to CDE; there are currently three staff at the state level to serve the 39 SBE authorized charter schools.

G) Limit the authorization of new charter schools to local districts with an appeals process that takes place at the County Board of Education only when there was an error by the district governing board.

Supported by the majority

Current law allows for any County Board of Education, or the State Board of Education to
authorize charter petitions when a school district governing board has denied their approval. By only allowing school districts and limited appeals to the county offices to authorize, this proposal allows the local community to make a determination on whether the charter school meets the needs of their students. Applicants would be allowed limited appeals of the local district’s denial to the County Board of Education.

H) Prohibit districts from authorizing charter schools located outside district boundaries

. • Supported by the majority

Current law allows a charter school to open one site outside of the authorizing district only if the charter school has attempted to locate within the authorizer’s boundaries, but an appropriate site was unavailable or the location is temporarily needed during a construction or expansion. A 2017 state audit report found that in fiscal year 2016-2017, 165 charter schools used these exceptions to operate at least 495 locations outside of their authorizers’ boundaries2. Further, many of these charter schools had not provided evidence of the need to locate outside of the authorizing district. Prohibiting districts from authorizing charter schools located outside of district boundaries would allow for greater local control and oversight of charter schools. In addition, such a prohibition would limit the potential for the detrimental practice of using oversight fees as a revenue stream, while incurring only limited expenses associated with authorizing the charter school.3

I) Allow authorizers to consider fiscal impact as part of the authorization process

. • Supported by the majority

Presentations from Oakland Unified School Districts, Los Angeles Unified School Districts, and San Diego Unified School District to the CTF demonstrated significant fiscal impact to school districts due to the cost of charter schools located within district boundaries. In addition to the oft- cited loss of ADA funding, other costs may include, but are not limited to: inability to reduce expenses proportionally without direct harm to student programs and services (utilities, staff, daily maintenance, etc.); obligations to keep schools open and facilities available; increased liability and litigation; disproportionality of special education costs; competition for state, local, and other funds; thorough oversight; and marketing in a newly competitive environment. Allowing authorizers to consider fiscal impacts of a charter petition enables them to evaluate the impact on the entirety of their local educational system. As such, the majority of the CTF recommended that authorizers should be allowed to take fiscal impact into consideration when deciding whether to authorize a new charter school.

J) Establish clear guidelines for use by authorizers and by charter applicants for new charter petitions.

• Supported by the majority

Current law requires charter petitions to include a description of 16 elements. Beyond these elements, there are no standards that provide guidance on the level of detail an applicant should include. As such, applicants submit charter petitions of varying quality; some contain little description of the elements while others contain extensive detail. Clear guidelines, such as rubrics or handbooks, for applicants to follow would standardize the quality of new charter schools.