Charter reform gets complicated

Charter reform gets complicated

(Calif.) Attention in Sacramento on charter school reforms has shifted from a slate of aggressive legislative proposals to the work of a task force convened by the state superintendent expected to deliver recommendations by the end of the month.

Two key bills that would limit the number of new charters statewide have been sidelined after Democrats in both houses split on the question.

A third bill, which would revise the oversight of charter approvals won passage out of the Assembly, but only after the author conceded to a rewrite pending the release of the task force’s report.

“This is a serious conversation that should be happening among a lot of people—not just one or two organizations that have decided they want to do something about charter schools,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego at a hearing late last month.

“I think this is premature, I think that the issues are much more complex and we are not prepared to make these kinds of decisions,” she said.

The task force, which Gov. Gavin Newsom asked in February to be organized, has a fairly broad mission to “closely examine the impact of charter school growth on district budgets.

The membership of the panel is also diverse and includes representatives of the California Teachers Association and the California Charter Schools Association, as well as administrators of both charters and traditional public schools.

The long-simmering political struggle over charter school growth in California is one of the few issues that has vexed majority Democrats almost from the inception of the movement in 1992. The politics of charter schools played prominent roles in the last three elections of the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction as well as in the gubernatorial primary election in 2018 between Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Charter supporters have lost in each of those showdowns and for the first time in many years face a governor and a superintendent—Tony Thurmond—who are not supporters.

Indeed, one of the first bills Newsom signed since taking office was a measure requiring charter schools to meet the state’s existing “good governance” laws related to public meetings and financial disclosures.

No doubt charter advocates have been watching developments in Sacramento with some caution—especially after the introduction of several bills aimed at restricting the growth of charter schools.

But last week’s deadline for legislation to move out of the house of origin showed that majority Democrats remain divided over charter issues.

AB 1506 by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, which would have placed a cap on the number of charter schools in California, wasn’t taken up before Friday’s deadline. A similar bill, SB 756 by state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles—which would have prohibited new charters until 2022, also failed to move forward.

The third bill, AB 1505 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, remains alive but it’s far from certain what it might look like later this summer.

Currently, the bill would change the rules for approving new charters as well as the appeals process when one is denied. In addition to Weber, a number of other Democrats in the Assembly said they were torn over the proposal.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, D-San Diego, noted that she began her political career as a labor organizer, but today she also has kids in charter schools. She urged that the bill be passed but only so that it could later serve as a vehicle to incorporate what she hopes will be good recommendations from the task force.

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