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California lawmakers agree to place new limits on charter schools

Agreed-to bill would give school districts more authority to reject applications for new charter campuses.

Legislators in California have reached an agreement that would place new restrictions on charter schools.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the deal will give public school districts more authority to reject petitions for new charter campuses. It also will phase in stricter credentialing requirements for charter school teachers and places a two-year moratorium on new virtual charter schools.

Aides to Gov. Gavin Newsom have acted as an intermediary in intense negotiations over Assembly Bill 1505.

"This agreement focuses on the needs of our students," Newsom said in a statement. "It increases accountability for all charter schools, allows high-quality charter schools to thrive, and ensures that the fiscal and community impacts of charter schools on school districts are carefully considered. We are grateful that leaders on both sides of this conversation worked hard to reach this agreement, as it is foundational to continuing to work in the interests of all California students.”

Newsom’s office says the bill, the biggest revision of state charter school law in more than 25 years, settles critical points of contention between charters and traditional public schools and lays a foundation for the groups to work together on efforts that are in the best interest of children. Some education advocates are hopeful that charter backers and teachers unions will team up on 2020 ballot measures to increase school funding, instead of fighting over reform.

Charter schools in California are publicly funded and independently operated. Originally authorized in 1992 legislation to promote educational innovation, charter schools now have more than 600,000 students across the state. California ties education funding to enrollment, and charters often have been pitted against traditional neighborhood schools in a competition for students.

Teachers unions and reform advocates have accused charter schools of draining the financial resources of local districts that might already be strapped and have argued that the state gives districts little say when it comes to approving new schools. Critics have also called for more accountability for charter operations and performance.

State law currently requires a school district to approve any new charters that meet basic requirements. Charter school proponents can appeal denials to a county board of education and then the State Board of Education.

Under the new legislation, local school boards would have the authority to reject new charter petitions based on the school’s potential fiscal effects on the district and whether the charter seeks to offer programs that the district already provides, according to the governor’s office.

The deal would require all new charter school teachers to hold the same credentials as traditional public schools next year and phase in requirements for existing teachers over five years.

The proposal also would eliminate the state board’s role as a chartering authority, allowing it only to weigh appeals to determine whether a school district abused its discretion in denying the petition. County boards of education would retain their role in reviewing appeals for denied charter petitions. 

Additional provisions of the agreement would require charter schools to meet the same performance standards as traditional public schools, the governor’s office said.

The California Charter Schools Association said in a statement that it "has moved to a neutral position" on Assembly Bill 1505 after "securing important protections for existing high-quality charter public schools."

The California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, California School Employees Association and the California Labor Federation issued a joint statement about the charter school legislation.

“As educators, classified personnel and partners who work daily with students in California’s neighborhood public schools, we see and experience the challenges they face every day. They are the 6.1 million reasons why we’ve been fiercely advocating for AB 1505," the statement said. "After months of honest and difficult conversations, we have made significant progress on behalf of our students.

"We believe the measure California lawmakers will vote on will lead to a more equitable learning environment for students in California’s neighborhood public schools."

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