Task force’s findings signal renewed fight over charters

Task force’s findings signal renewed fight over charters

(Calif.) A one-year moratorium on establishing new charter schools won majority support of a blue ribbon task force on charter reforms, the group announced Sunday.

The panel, convened by Gov. Gavin Newsom and led by state schools chief Tony Thurmond, also backed removing the California State Board of Education as the final court of appeal for charter applicants rejected on the local and county levels.

The 11-member task force, a majority of which represent labor unions and traditional public school entities, has no authority to dictate changes in state law or policy—but the backing of new restrictions on charter growth by the group signals a likelihood that lawmakers will return to battle over the question in the coming weeks.

Myrna Castrejón, president and CEO of the California Charter School Association, which was one of the organizations represented on the task force, said in a statement that the education community remains polarized over the growth of charter schools and that the work of the task force has not ended that debate.

“While we recognize that this marks an important step forward in fulfilling the charge entrusted by Governor Newsom to Superintendent Thurmond, there are elements that are deeply concerning and require more work ahead,” she said.

Earlier this year, the governor requested formation of the task force primarily to look at the fiscal impacts of charter growth on traditional public schools. That call came as a wave of legislation was being introduced targeting charter growth, the application process and management rules.

Although Newsom signed a bill in March that imposed new “good governance” requirements on charters, lawmakers set aside a number of further restrictions late last month in anticipation of the recommendations from the task force.

Now, efforts to revise the state’s charter school laws will no doubt take center stage again, and while the governor is generally not supportive of the charter movement, the question still deeply divides majority Democrats.

That said, there was some consensus reached among the task force members.

The panel voted unanimously in support of extending the time authorizers have to consider a new charter application from 60 to 90 days.

There was also unanimous support for creating a fiscal “soft-landing” for traditional public schools when a student transfers to a charter. As proposed, districts would continue to receive the same attendance-based state allotment for one year. This provision, however, could cost more than $100 million annually.

The panel also agreed without dissent that the staff of the California Department of Education should no long be responsible for overseeing the 39 charter schools authorized by the state board. The task force, however, did not indicate who or what agency should take over those duties.

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