Tom Ultican, retired teacher of advanced math and physics in San Diego, is a dogged investigator. In this post, he traces the ongoing efforts to reform the weak charter law in California.

California has more charter schools than any other state, with more than 1,300. The original law capped the number at 100. Since then, the money of the California Charter Schools Association has blown away the cap as well as all previous efforts to regulate charters. Billionaire Reed Hastings served as chair of the state board and demolished the meager limits that existed.

In this huge state, the law allows a district to authorize a charter in another district hundredsof miles away and collect a commission for every student who enrolls. It allows charter applicants to appeal all the way to the state board and ignore the needs and wishes of the local district. The law assures that charter schools will have little or no oversight, since the state education department does not have the staff to oversee them.

The current law is an invitation to fraud, embezzlement, and corruption. This is not to say that all charters are run by corrupt individuals, but the constant revelation of financial scandals in the charter industry demonstrates the need for revision of the law to protect the public interest. Only a few weeks ago, eleven people in the charter industry were indicted for stealing more than $50 million.

Yet, as Ultican shows, the road to charter reform has been rocky. Governor Jerry Brown, whose leadership was admirable in many other ways, adamantly refused to rein in the charter industry. Governor Newsom is indebted to powerful families in the charter industry, and his chief of staff is a charterista.

Yet Ultican holds out hope that some actual reform might yet survive. Anything, he says, is better than the complete deregulation that has currently allows unscrupulous grifters to feast on the money intended to pay for education.