Smith’s bill part of package for charter schools

Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, speaks to the crowd after being sworn in at Oak Hills Elementary School in Valencia. Signal file photo Dan Watson/The Signal

One of the first bills introduced by Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, is part of an issue she’s been working on for at least a half-dozen years: transparency for charter schools.

While praising the model the William S. Hart Union High School District has, which includes charter schools such as SCVi, Smith introduced Assembly Bill 1507 to make sure “that we really have a good concept of how taxpayer resources are being used in that space, and that parents can weigh in,” she said Monday.

“Overall, the package of bills is aimed at providing more transparency and accountability for every school that is a public school, and that includes charters,” said Smith, a former board member of the Newhall School District.

Smith was picking up the legislative torch, so to speak, from former state Sen. Fran Pavley, who initially authored Senate Bill 1263 while she was representing a portion of the SCV, in 2014.

Smith’s AB 1507 would — just as SB 1263 sought to do — close what the measure’s proponents consider as a “loophole” in state law that allows school districts to charter a school outside of a district’s governing boundary.

Essentially, current law allows a school district to charter a school outside of its jurisdiction if it can prove there isn’t currently a suitable home for the organization within the district’s boundaries. (The Albert Einstein Academy for the Letters, Arts and Science was able to open a charter school in the Newhall School District’s boundaries through the use of this provision. The AEA program was recently shut down due to concerns over its financial model and sustainability.)

Smith said that ability violates the “jurisdictional sovereignty” of school boards, who are the officials elected to make such calls within a district’s boundaries. The legislative package announced Monday also included: AB 1505, authored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, which looks to ensure “all matters related to charter schools’ authorization, renewal and other key decisions be made by the local governing board”; AB 1506, introduced by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, which establishes a cap on growth of charter schools; and AB 1508, introduced by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, which allows a school district to consider a school’s finances when considering a charter school petition.

Amber Raskin, co-founder of iLEAD Schools — a charter organization whose founding campus is SCVi in Castaic — said she’s been involved in advocacy on behalf of charter schools, but has not yet had a chance to review the legislation announced Monday. However, she supported transparency and accountability for all of iLEAD’s campuses.

“We absolutely believe in and support transparency,” Raskin said, “and we have always voluntarily followed the Brown Act in all of our schools.”

The Brown Act is California’s open-meeting law governing public agencies.

The California Teachers Association and several other unions expressed support for the bill in a statement issued shortly after Smith’s announcement Monday.

“We have charter schools in our community that are authorized by (the Hart District), and they do a great job of oversight,” Smith said, “and that’s what we’re trying to duplicate statewide.”

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