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The State With the Most Charter Schools Just Gave Districts More Power to Reject Them


California school districts will have expanded authority to reject new charter school applications under a set of bills signed into law on Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The signing capped off a tense summer in which state lawmakers considered a list of bills that would have reined in charter schools, closed avenues for appeals of rejected applications, and even put a moratorium on their creation. Groups on all sides of the issue—including the state's teachers' union and groups representing charter operators—negotiated the compromise legislation Newsom, a Democrat, eventually signed.

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Under the newly signed laws:

  • Local school districts can consider the fiscal impact of a proposed charter school when deciding whether to approve its application. Some school systems said new charter schools threatened their financial stability, particularly when they were forced to quickly absorb new students if those charters failed.
  • School districts cannot approve charter schools that operate outside of their boundaries. Under a loophole in the law, some small school districts had collected fees for approving charter schools well outside of their boundaries, but they provided little oversight of those schools, an Los Angeles Times investigation found.
  • Charter schools that meet new academic performance benchmarks will be renewed under a streamline process for an expanded, seven-year period (current renewals last five years).
  • Charter applicants can still appeal rejected applications to the county and state boards of education, but those boards won't have as broad of authority to grant those appeals. A previous version of the bill suggested eliminating the appeals process all together.
  • Charter school teachers teaching outside of core subject areas will have five years to obtain appropriate certification.

The debate was watched closely be supporters and opponents of charter school growth. Because of California's size, they said, its lawmakers' actions could influence others. And the state bills were proposed as Democrats nationwide continue to debate their position on charters, which are independently run and publicly funded.

California has more charters than any other state and one of the nation's oldest state charter laws, passed in 1992. It educates about 650,000 students—about 11 percent of its total public school enrollment—in about 1,300 charter schools state data show. While the state's overall student enrollment has declined in recent years, charter school enrollment has gone up.

When Newsom signed the bills, he was surrounded by representatives from all sides of the debate.

Photo: Mayra Joseph, a teacher at Sylvia Menez Elementary School in Berkeley, Calif., was among those who rallied at the state Capitol in Sacramento over the summer in favor of more restrictions on charter schools and for added school funding. --Rich Pedroncelli/AP

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