Sacramento reaches agreement in battle over charter schools


California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a deal between charter school interests and teachers unions Wednesday expected to address one of several bills by legislators that propose sweeping revisions to the system of alternative public school sites.

Advocates on the side of traditional public schools have said the deal adds “clarity and specificity” to the Charter School Act of 1992 — the piece of legislation that officially kicked off publicly funded, independently run schools in California — while statewide charter school advocates have said the deal secured “protections for charter school students and schools.”

However, the leader of the Santa Clarita Valley’s largest charter school site said the deal left her feeling “dismayed.”

Wednesday’s deal, according to state officials, revolved around Assembly Bill 1505, which would have expanded the powers of locally elected school boards to have near autonomy when deciding on whether a charter school could be started within the public school district’s boundaries.

While the California Teachers Association said the bill would fix “flawed decades-old laws,” the California Charter Schools Association said the bill, in its original form, included “devastating consequences for the state’s most vulnerable students” and “would have ripped away access to quality public schools in neighborhoods most in need.”

After months of deliberation over AB 1505, as well as a series of other bills introduced this year that would have effects similar to the magnitude of AB 1505 on the California educational landscape — dubbed “Series 1500” — Newsom’s office announced a deal had been struck in Sacramento in a statement released on his website.

Both the CTA and CCSA released statements once the news broke, with the CTA maintaining its “fierce advocacy” for AB 1505, and the CCSA saying they had moved into a “neutral position” with respect to the bill.

AB 1505, if passed, now allows for districts to reject a charter school if the programs offered by the new school would not be different than programs already included; create a two-year moratorium on online charter schools; have stricter credentialing processes for teachers; remove the State Board of Education from the charter school appeal process should a petition be denied; and if the district is in fiscal distress that in and of itself is an allowable reason to deny charters, according Marc Winger, who hasn’t seen the exact language of the deal but is a former NSD superintendent who has been involved in advocacy for charter-school reform on behalf of traditional school sites.

Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, author of AB 1507, and also a co-author on AB 1505, said she applauded Newsom for adding “clarity for everyone involved.”

“I think the process is much clearer now in terms of what the expectations are for how charters have to go about getting approved, what their plan looks like to serve all the students in a community, the outcome expectations that are being funded by public dollars,” said Smith. “The movement continued to grow, and we had outgrown that original charter school act.”

While statewide charter school-advocacy groups have stepped away from the fight, taking a neutral position on AB 1505, Amber Raskin, founder and director of SCVi charter school, expressed frustration with Newsom’s deal.

“In an era where we all want more for our kids, this deal seems to give less,” said Raskin. “It’s a sad day when options are further limited for those families that need them the most.”

The purpose of the Charter School Act, according to Raskin, was to provide the very same flexibility for families in choosing their child’s education that Series 1500 targets.

“I have not seen the details, and hope the final wording will be in the best interest of the students, flexibility and a focus on what really matters: educational options for families across California,” Raskin said.

Smith said AB 1507, which closes the loophole that allows a school district to approve a charter school site outside of its boundaries, is still in the Appropriations Committee. That bill’s fate is also expected to be decided in the next week, according to Smith.

AB 967, another one of Smith’s bills, could also potentially leave the Senate Appropriations Committee soon. The bill would increase the oversight local school boards or county have over a charter school’s Local Control Accountability Plan, the formula that determines funding for public school sites.

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