Newly signed laws change the landscape of charter school petitions and renewals
Call it the “year of charter school reform” in the California Legislature. There was no denying the omnipresence of discussions on several charter school bills throughout 2019 in the halls of the Capitol. There’s more work to be done, but, for now, there’s plenty to unpack.
Charter school students in the midst of legislative changes
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bills 1505 (O’Donnell, D-Long Beach) and 1507 (Smith, D-Santa Clarita) on Oct. 3, flanking Senate Bill 126 (Leyva & O’Donnell), a charter transparency measure long sought by CSBA that was signed earlier in the year. Taken together, these bills represent arguably the most sweeping amendments to California’s charter school laws since they were enacted more than a quarter century ago.

“We are very appreciative of the work that the author, legislative leadership and stakeholders put into this process throughout the year,” said CSBA Legislative Advocate Carlos Machado. “While some work remains to be done next year, the changes made by AB 1505 will immediately benefit local school districts and the students they serve, in both traditional public and charter schools.”

AB 1505 provides local authorizers — both school districts and county offices of education — the ability to more closely consider what the impact of a charter school on a local community will be and to tailor their decision-making processes regarding petitions and renewals accordingly. Many aspects of the bill directly align with recommendations made in CSBA’s Uncharted Waters report, compiled by the association’s Charter Schools Task Force.

“AB 1505 significantly bolsters local governing authority over charter authorization — in particular, protecting the authority of county boards of education,” Machado said. An early version of the bill would have eliminated the authority of a county board of education to hear appeals of denied petitions or to authorize a new petition, which would have left counties without the ability to consider countywide-benefit charter petitions, or petitions for charters that would serve students the county would otherwise serve. County board authority was a top priority in CSBA’s efforts around the bill and that authority was restored in early amendments made in the spring.

AB 1505 provides local governing boards the authority, in considering a petition, to take into account the interests of the entire community, including assessing the potential fiscal impact on existing programs, services and academic offerings. It also empowers boards to avoid charter school duplication of existing district programs that have capacity to serve new students. On the fiscal side, a “default” denial will also be available for districts in fiscal distress, i.e., those in receivership or those with a negative certification or a qualified certification that would move to negative as a result of approving a new charter.

The bill also imposes a two-year moratorium on petitions for nonclassroom-based charters and requires all charter school teachers to be fully credentialed by 2025. It also requires the collection of statewide data on implementation, authorization and appeals; phases out a charter school’s use of alternative data and replaces it with the state’s accountability system; and eliminates State Board of Education authority to approve statewide charter school petitions. The State Board will now only hear appeals in cases involving abuse of discretion by a local authorizer.

CSBA will seek to clean up provisions in AB 1505 in the Legislature in 2020 to ensure that AB 1505 does not create additional financial burdens for local educational agencies. Applying the standard of “abuse of discretion” to the petition review process will likely increase the amount of work (and resulting costs) associated with the review of a petition and the development of the documentary record that may be needed later in the process. Additionally, the bill requires preparation of a written transcript of the public hearing at which a charter petition was denied, but the transcript must be submitted within 10 days of the meeting — a short turnaround that would result in significant burdens on staff. CSBA is seeking additional flexibility to allow an audio or video recording of the meeting to be used to satisfy this requirement.

AB 1507, a sidekick bill to AB 1505 throughout the year, disallows charter schools (with some specified exemptions) and their resource centers and other satellite locations to locate outside the boundaries of the authorizing school district or county.

AB 967, an additional charter bill by Assemblymember Smith that would have applied current processes governing Local Control and Accountability Plan development to charter schools, was vetoed in October by Gov. Newsom. The Governor said in his veto message that charter school reforms made in the 2019–20 state budget (which include public hearing and meeting provisions, and requirements to post LCAPs online), should be “given a chance to work before these additional requirements should be considered.”

CSBA will release additional guidance on the changes made by Assembly Bill 1505 and other laws. Additional information about these and other bills is available at www.csba.org/legislativenews or blog.csba.org. Visit www.csba.org/whatsnewfor2020 for a complete list of all newly signed laws affecting K-12 education.