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San Diego district looks to change criteria for creating charter schools

Nov. 16, 2020
New law in California gives districts more leeway in denying charter school applications.

Reacting to a new state law that gives public school systems more leeway with regard to charter schools, the San Diego Unified District is proposing to add dozens of standards for new and expanding charters.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that under the proposed criteria, the district would consider the potential financial and enrollment effect of a new or expanding charter on the district. Before the law change, the district could not consider those factors.

“It’s been frustrating as a school board member for 12 years to have charter petitions come before us and not be able to ask that basic question: How will this school impact neighboring schools and our district as a whole?” says Board Vice President Richard Barrera.

For example, San Diego Unified could consider how many district and charter schools already serve students where a charter school hopes to open and how many students a charter school is projected to take away from other schools.

In order to create a new charter school, charter leaders have to get approval from their local school district board. Charters also have to receive renewals from the school board every five years.

If their local district denies them, they can appeal to the county school board, then the state school board.

The new state law expands the criteria districts can consider when approving or denying charter schools.

Before the change, the main criteria school districts could consider were whether a charter school presented an “unsound educational program” or showed it was unlikely to successfully carry out its educational program.

The law now allows districts to consider the community impact and fiscal impact of a new or expanding charter school. Districts can deny a charter school if it decides the charter would “substantially undermine existing services” provided by other schools or if it would copy a program already offered in the district that has enough room to serve students.

San Diego Unified Board members discussed the draft of the charter school policy at a Nov. 3 board meeting but did not approve it.

San Diego Unified’s enrollment has been declining recently by about 1,000 to 2,000 students a year. Enrollment took a deeper hit this year because of Covid-19 — the district has about 98,000 students, compared with 102,000 last year.

Meanwhile, San Diego charter school enrollment has fluctuated around 21,000 students in recent years. The district authorizes 43 charter schools.

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