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Court Rules Charter Operator in Calif. Needs Local Approval

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By guest blogger Mike Bock

A superior court judge in Calif. ruled that Aspire Public Schools, a charter agency that runs more than 30 schools in the state, must seek approval from local boards of education for six of those schools by June 2013 if operation is to continue.

According to the news site California Watch, the lawsuit against Aspire, which was filed in 2007 and has been on appeal since 2010, prompted state leaders to re-evaluate California's policy on granting charter schools permission to operate. State law says schools must provide services that are a "statewide benefit," which school groups, like the California Teachers Association, California School Board Association, charged the board of education failed to determine.

James Willcox, CEO of Aspire, told California Watch he wasn't concerned that his schools wouldn't get approval from local districts once the lawsuit ended:

"We are committed to serving all of our students and families who count on Aspire and want to calm any uncertainty that this decision may cause," Willcox said. "As we discussed on our recent conference call, we have applied for charters or renewals nearly 60 times since our founding, with positive results in all cases. We are hopeful that the three school districts involved will recognize the success we have had for students from their communities."

The lawsuit is another blow to the charter agency, which my colleague Sean Cavanaugh reported has been aggressive in its expansion efforts. Fitch Ratings, a New York City- and London-based credit rating agency, recently downgraded Aspire's bond ratings from a BB+ to a BBB, mostly due to concerns about the lawsuit.

Interesting note: the conclusion reached by Calif.'s court is almost an exact opposite of North Carolina's virtual charter decision, in which the State Board of Education determined that districts do not have the power to grant approval to statewide virtual charter schools.

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