California Politics

Charter Schools Background & Glossary

Charter School Background

According to the California Department of Education (CDE),
in the 2018-19 academic year there were 1,317 charter schools in California, with an enrollment of over 630,000 students. Some charter schools are new, while others are conversions from existing public schools. Charter schools are part of the state’s public education system and are funded by public dollars. A charter school is usually created or organized by a group of teachers, parents, community leaders, a community-based organization, or an education management organization. Charter schools are authorized by school district boards, county boards of education or the SBE. A charter school is generally exempt from most laws governing school districts, except where specifically noted in the law. Specific goals and operating procedures for the charter school are detailed in an agreement (or “charter”) between the sponsoring board and charter organizers.

LAUSD district receives a little more than $8,800 per year in state funding for the average student. When the student enrolls in a charter school, the charter school receives that funding instead of the district.  The District claims that some costs are “fixed”: the school can’t cut the salary of a principal; the costs of heating or lighting the building won’t decrease. UTLA claims that 56 percent of the district’s costs are fixed.

  • Charter schools: Tuition-free, publicly funded schools that are run not by school districts, but instead by non-profit organizations; each charter school operator has its own unelected board.
  • Authorizers: The government entity charged with overseeing a charter school’s academic and financial performance. Every charter school first needs the permission of an authorizer in order to open its doors, and must renew that operating authority every few years. In most cases, the authorizer is the elected board of the school district in which the charter school is located. But in some cases, the authorizer is the county’s Office of Education or the State Board of Education.
  • Petition: An application to open a new charter school. If the authorizer approves the petition, the founders often get permission to operate the charter school for five years. If an authorizer rejects the prospective founders’ petition, the applicant can appeal to a higher level — first to the county’s Office of Education, then to the State Board of Education.
  • Renewal: After a charter school has been open, the school’s leaders must file for permission to remain open — a “renewal” of their charter. Renewals are often granted for terms of between three and five years. As with petitions, charter applicants can appeal any rejections to the county or state level. If they don’t secure a renewal, the school can’t continue to receive public money.

Legally, when reviewing petitions for new charters, authorizers are only allowed to consider whether the school’s academic, financial and governance plans are sound.

When considering renewal applications for existing schools, authorizers can only consider the charter school’s academic and financial track record.

AB 1505, 1506 and 1507 and Senate Bill 756, put forth as a charter regulation package, have pitted teachers unions and supporters of traditional public schools against advocates of charter schools, which are public but mostly non-union. The two education interests are among Sacramento’s most powerful.

If passed, the package of proposals would make the most significant changes in a generation to the state’s 27-year-old charter school laws. They would give local school boards more power over authorizations, enact a statewide cap on charters, prohibit districts from authorizing charters outside their geographic boundaries—and impose a two-year moratorium if the Legislature doesn’t make specific reforms by the end of this two-year session.

Overhauling Charter Law
AUTHOR: Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach

WHAT IT WOULD DO: Assembly Bill 1505 would do away with state and county appeals for denied charter applications and give local school districts the sole power to authorize charters in California. The bill would also give school districts more autonomy over approving or denying a charter, including allowing them to consider a charter’s financial impact on their budgets.

STATUS April 24, 2019: Passed the Assembly May 22 on a 44-19-17 vote.

Cap on Charter Schools
AUTHOR: Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento

WHAT IT WOULD DO: Assembly Bill 1506 would create state and local caps on the number of charter schools. The caps for districts and the statewide total would be determined by the number of charters operating by the end of 2019.

STATUS: Passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee May 16 on a 11-2-5 vote.

Curtailing far-flung charters
AUTHOR: Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita

WHAT IT WOULD DO: Assembly Bill 1507 essentially prohibits the controversial practice of school districts authorizing charter schools outside of their geographic boundaries by removing loopholes currently in the law. The bill requires charters to be located within the boundaries of the school district that authorized them.

STATUS: Passed the Assembly May 13 on a 54-18 vote.

Two-year charter moratorium
AUTHOR: Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles

WHAT IT WOULD DO: Under Senate Bill 756, no new charter schools can be authorized for two years unless the Legislature passes charter reforms proposed in the above bills by the end of this two-year legislative session.

STATUS: Passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 16 by a vote of 4-2-0.

AB 1505 (O’Donnell), 1506 (McCarty) and SB 756 (Durazo): Legislative Package that Would Close Schools for California’s Most Vulnerable Students
Organizations hostile to charter schools are running a package of legislation that would fundamentally gut the charter schools act. These bills would create an effective moratorium on charter public schools by removing appeal rights, severely limiting new schools, and allowing school districts to close successful schools that are serving hundreds of thousands of students statewide based on factors completely unrelated to student academic performance or families’ demand for charter schools. Charter schools are not the problem, we are part of the solution.

CCSA developed its Accountability Framework in 2009. This framework is a multi-dimensional model that values academic rigor while also giving schools credit for growth and for taking on the challenge of serving traditionally disadvantaged students well.

There are 14% of traditional public schools below the initial filters of CCSA’s accountability framework, compared to 12% of charter schools. The public can view CCSA’s Regional Snapshots to find the percentage of traditional public and charter schools meeting CCSA’s initial filters by district, city, and county.


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