Charter transparency bill now law, does that mean peace?

Charter transparency bill now law, does that mean peace?

(Calif.) Legislation signed Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom may signal peace—or at least a truce—in the long-simmering political hostilities between the education employee unions and the state’s charter school movement.

The bill, SB 126 by state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chico, requires charter schools to meet the same open meetings and public records mandates that virtually all other state and local agencies follow, including public school districts.

Getting agreement on the concept, however, has taken years—maybe ten years, according to some estimates. Although almost all charter school organizations already largely follow the open meeting and public records requirements, an agreement on the formal decree itself proved elusive, and forced each of Newsom’s predecessors going back to Gov. Pete Wilson to shy away from forcing the issue.

But Newsom, stung by sharp elbow politics by charter advocates during the 2018 primary, has no allegiance to that corner of the state’s Democratic Party.

“Taxpayers, parents and ultimately kids deserve to know how schools are using their tax dollars,” Newsom said at the signing ceremony in his capitol office. “This isn’t the end of a conversation but a beginning. Let’s use this momentum to move forward together, constructively and in partnership, to improve education for children across California.”

It is also significant that standing behind the governor as he signed the bill were representatives of the California Charter Schools Association, as well as officials from the major employee unions—the California Teachers Association; the California Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees Union of California.

Myrna Castrejón, president and CEO of the charter association, called SB 126 a fair and balanced approach.

“For nearly a decade, CCSA has worked to secure a balanced and comprehensive resolution to this longstanding debate,” she said. “Governor Newsom’s leadership made all the difference here. We are grateful for Governor Newsom’s guidance and we know that he will continue to bring the same skills and commitment to uniting all stakeholders behind a bold vision that embraces accountability and transparency for all public schools.”

Specifically, SB 126—which was co-sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach—orders that charter schools and charter management organizations follow the state’s major good governance laws: the Ralph M. Brown Act or the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act; the California Public Records Act; Government Code 1090; and the Political Reform Act.

Part of the challenge in past related to provisions in several of the laws—especially the Political Reform Act—that prevents a voting member of a government agency’s oversight board to participate in decisions that might benefit them financially.

The problem with those conflict of interest prohibitions on charter schools would mean that teachers in the school could not also sit as a board member, and the reality is that many charter schools have been founded and led by teachers.

To resolve the issue, SB 126 specifies that charter school employees may serve on the governing board.

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