Smith’s charter schools bill narrowly passes Senate Education Committee

Sierra Vista Junior high School Principal Carolyn Hoffman, right, discusses the features of one of 21 new classrooms made for steel shipping containers with Assemblywoman Christy Smith, left, and State Senator Scott Wilk at Sierra Vista Junior High School in Canyon Country on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith’s bill looking to prevent school districts from authorizing charter schools outside of their jurisdictional boundaries narrowly passed the Senate Education Committee this week, with Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, casting one of the dissenting votes.

On Wednesday, Assembly Bill 1507 passed the Senate Education Committee with a 4-3 vote. The bill will next be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

As a former Newhall School District trustee and the principal author of AB 1507, Smith, D-Santa Clarita, says she knows how important the legislation is to the districts of the Santa Clarita Valley. She previously said the bill was crafted to prevent situations similar to the Albert Einstein Academy of Letters, Arts and Sciences, or AEALAS, from occurring again in another district.

Einstein Academy closed abruptly after the William S. Hart Union High School District refused to renew the school’s charter due to concerns over financial mismanagement. AEALAS previously operated a high school location under that charter, as well as a K-8 facility that operated across the street from the Newhall School District’s office. Einstein was chartered by the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District. 

Smith also hoped by working with local school boards, charter operators, education stakeholders and the California Charter Schools Association, that she’d be able to craft a bill that allows existing charters to have a clear path forward in continuing their operations.

This had the assemblywoman hopeful the bill would gain enough support to pass, and so far, she’s been correct as the legislation has worked its way through the Assembly and into the Senate.

Along with senators Ling Ling Chang, R-Diamond Bar, and Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, Wilk voted no on the bill.

Wilk declined to comment on his reasoning behind the nay vote in the committee, but one local school district leader took a few minutes of a Castaic Union School District board meeting Thursday to share his thoughts.

“A couple of weeks ago, Vicki Engbrecht, superintendent of Hart (District), Colleen Hawkins, superintendent at Saugus (District), former superintendents of the Newhall School District Marc Winger, Paul Cordeiro and I met with Scott Wilk,” CUSD Superintendent Steve Doyle said. “Our intent was to share that all the districts in his area here in Santa Clarita would like him to vote yes on (the charter-related) bills — especially in light of what happened to Newhall with the Einstein charter in his territory — and ironically, he voted no on both of them.”

Despite the close vote, Smith thanked committee members for their collaboration Thursday and said, “I’m excited to see my Assembly Bill 1507 move through the California State Senate, clearing another hurdle this week with its passage from the Senate Education Committee.”

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