Sweeping reforms affect charter school authorization and renewal processes
California has the highest number of charter schools in the nation, with more than 1,300 charters serving 10 percent of the state’s students. The dramatic growth in charter schools has affected school districts and county offices of education and the students they serve, presenting a challenge for governing boards to meet oversight responsibilities for the charter schools they authorize and to address the fiscal impact that the charters have on the entire school community.
Teaching in a classroom aerial view

Effective July 1, 2020, Assembly Bill 1505 will bring the most extensive changes to the Charter Schools Act since it was enacted in 1992, including significant revisions to the processes, timelines and criteria for authorizing and renewing charters. Many of these amendments address concerns that were raised by CSBA’s Charter School Task Force in its 2018 report, Uncharted Waters: Recommendations for Prioritizing Student Achievement and Effective Governance in California’s Charter Schools.

Timelines for public hearings for charter authorization and renewal have been extended. Within 60 days of the date that the petitioner submits the charter school petition to the district or COE office, a public hearing must be held to determine the level of support for the petition by teachers, other employees and parents/guardians. The board’s final decision to grant or deny the petition must be made at a public hearing within 90 days of the receipt of the petition.

While it may be possible to hold one public hearing for both purposes, that hearing would need to meet the 60-day timeline, while also meeting new requirements to publish staff recommendations 15 days in advance of the hearing and to provide equal time and opportunity for the petitioner to present testimony. “A better practice would be to conduct two separate public hearings, allowing sufficient time to consider the petition,” said CSBA General Counsel Kathryn Meola. “The establishment of a charter school is an important decision that demands ample opportunity for a variety of viewpoints to be heard, adequate time for the board to thoughtfully consider the petition and transparency in the board’s decision-making process.”

In deciding whether to grant or deny the charter, boards are guided by criteria specified in law. Under AB 1505, boards have two new justifications for denying an initial charter or a charter renewal that proposes to expand sites or grade levels:

  1. Whether the charter school is demonstrably unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community in which the school is proposing to locate, based on a written factual finding regarding the extent to which the school would substantially undermine existing services, academic offerings or programs or would duplicate an existing program within reasonable proximity to where the charter school intends to locate.
  2. Whether the district or COE is unable to absorb the fiscal impact of the proposed charter school, based on whether the district or COE has, or would have, a negative interim certification.

Districts and county offices should be aware that they will bear the burden of proof in determining whether either of these criteria for denial is met. Under the new law, petitioners retain the right to appeal a charter denial to the county board of education or the State Board of Education.

In case the board’s decision is appealed, the district or COE should maintain an accurate and complete documentary record, including an audio or video recording of the public hearing at which the board makes its final decision. If the matter is appealed to the State Board of Education, the county board may be required to prepare the documentary record, including a transcript of the public hearing(s), upon request by the petitioner.

CSBA has updated its sample district board policies and administrative regulations pertaining to charter school authorization, oversight, renewal and revocation. In January, CSBA issued new county board policies on each of these topics and a new policy on the county board’s responsibility to hear the appeal of district decisions regarding charter schools.