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State lawmakers call for deeper regulation of charter schools

Craig Clough | March 26, 2015



Assembly Member Roger Hernandez

Assembly Member Roger Hernandez

Four Democratic California lawmakers joined forces yesterday to promote new bills aimed at creating more stringent regulation of the state’s charter schools.

If passed, the package of bills would bring big changes to the charter schools, including a requirement that they be run as non-profits, that charters be considered government entities and that all of their workers be public employees. One of them would also make it easier for charter school teachers to unionize.

The bills are all backed by the California Federation of Teachers, the California Labor Federation and the California Teachers Association (CTA). Leaders of the unions joined state lawmakers in a press conference to build support for passage.

The two Senate and two House are all meant to increase the accountability and transparency of the charter system, the CTA said in a press release. There are more than 1,100 charter schools in the state, most of them run independently of their school districts. The independents receive public funds but operate differently than traditional public school. Overall, only an estimated 15 percent  of state charter school workers are unionized.

The California Charter Schools Association said the bills are unnecessary.

“All students should have the opportunity to attend a quality public school, and all schools, whether they are charter or traditional schools, should be held to the same high standards. Student success should not depend on what their zip code happens to be,” said CTA President Dean E. Vogel in a statement. “There is a role for charter schools in California’s education system, and that role should be performed to the same high standards of integrity, transparency and openness required of traditional public schools.”

California’s charter system has grown from 100 schools first authorized in 1992 to the number today, which represents the most in any state. “The law has not kept up with the rapid growth,” CTA’s release said.

“It is critical for California’s children, that all public schools are held to the highest educational standards so they can succeed academically,” said Senator Tony Mendoza, who introduced SB329, which makes changes to accounting laws regarding charters. He said his bill would “strengthen accountability and transparency for the state’s charter schools. Unfortunately, the law has not kept pace with the growth of charter schools. We need to ensure that all charter schools are operated with the best interests of the children they serve, he said.”

SB322, introduced by Senator Mark Leno, looks to align rules governing charter student suspension, expulsions, admissions and departures by putting them on par with traditional school districts, and seeks to address the frequent accusation that charters screen students during admission to admit only students with high test scores.

AB 709, which was introduced by Assembly Member Mike Gipson, would explicitly make charter schools subject to the Brown Act unless the school is operated by an entity governed by the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. The Brown Act calls for all meetings of local legislative bodies be open to the public and for their agendas and meeting materials to be publicly posted in advance, among other requirements aimed at complete openness to the public.

AB 787, introduced by Assembly Member Roger Hernández, would require that all charter be run as non-profits. Hernandez said it would also establish charter schools as governmental entities and their employees as public employees, giving them an increased ability to unionize. (The current bill does not include all of the language regarding government entities, but amendments to it will soon do so, a spokesperson for Hernandez said.)

“The Education Employment Relations Act is crucial to the State of California because it provides a uniform basis for recognizing the right of public school employees to seek representation of their own choice,” Hernández said in a statement. “Whether employees are at a traditional school or charter school, in a physical classroom or online classroom, I am committed to their access to equal employment rights.”

In a statement posted on its website, the charters association said the the bills were unnecessary, and in some cases, redundant. It asserted that charter schools are already required by law to have open enrollment policies and have public transparency requirements regarding meetings, suspensions and expulsions. It also said only 10 charter schools are currently run as for profit and that the CCSA supports charter employees’ right to unionize.

CCSA “supports charter schools operating in a publicly transparent manner and ensuring equal access to all students,” the statement said. “CCSA also supports the right of teachers to be represented by a union. However, we believe current laws address these concerns and these proposals are unnecessary. They would impose unreasonable and excessive new requirements on charter schools that are not in line with the intent of the California Charter Schools Act of 1992 to provide autonomous, accountable and independent public schools.”

 

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