Charter school curbs pass Assembly, but drama foretells compromise

A day after bills clear hurdles at state Capitol, an East Palo Alto school board lends its support to the proposals

Teachers unions rallied in Sacramento as the Assembly narrowly passed part of a package of charter school reforms. Photo for CALmatters by Ricardo Cano.

Legislation that would give local school districts more control over charter-school authorizations narrowly passed the California State Assembly Wednesday in a dramatic vote that served as an initial litmus test for a package of consequential, union-backed charter regulation bills.

Among the local school districts that have lent their support to the bills is the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, where the Board of Education on Thursday approved a moratorium that throws their support behind the legislation.

For nearly an hour, Assembly Bill 1505 stood just shy of a handful of the 41 votes required to advance to the Senate, in part because of concerns the bill went too far in limiting the ability of charter schools to appeal authorization denials from local school districts to county and state education boards.

Only one Republican, Jordan Cunningham, ended up voting yes on the measure. Many moderate Democrats initially were reluctant to support it, but support in the final tally included a mix of mods and liberal Democrats. Seventeen members chose not to vote.

When the bill finally passed 44-19-17, it was with an assurance from Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell, the bill's author, that the bill would be amended to include a "fair" appeal process.

"We knew this was going to be a fight because this is a heavily political matter," O'Donnell said following the floor vote. "Charter schools have a lot of resources that public schools don't on the political front, and they employ them in the state Capitol, and we saw that today."

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, and until this past election, when union candidates triumphed in races for governor and statewide schools chief, they have largely fought to a draw.

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.

Learn more about the four bills through this chart.

Supporters and legislators backing the bills say the proposed regulations are long overdue and describe them as common-sense reforms to a sector of public education that has grown too quickly, especially in cities. Charter advocates say the bills threaten the existence of an important alternative to an overworked, underfunded public school system that offers too little choice and inadequately serves low-income neighborhoods.

One of those bills, AB 1507, already passed the Assembly earlier this month by a decisive margin, 54-18. That bill is aimed at closing a loophole that has allowed several small school districts to boost their budgets by mass-authorizing charter schools outside their boundaries, in some cases by hundreds of miles. Earlier versions of AB 1507 had passed the full Legislature, only to be vetoed by former Gov. Jerry Brown.

During more than an hour of intense debate on the Assembly floor, several members of the Democratic majority admitted to mixed feelings. Some legislators said they were concerned the lack of an appeal process endangered charter schools with track records of good student performance.

Others wanted to reserve judgment pending a parallel effort by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who, at Gov. Gavin Newsom's request, is leading a highly-anticipated study that will provide recommendations on charter regulations this summer.

And several legislators said they believe the state's finite funding for public schools has exacerbated tensions between charter schools and school districts and called for more school funding.

"I'm really torn over this bill," said Al Muratsuchi, a Democratic Assemblyman from Torrance. "I want to support any measure that will crack down on bad charter schools, because we know we know that there are too many bad charter schools out there and we should shut them down. My concern is that this bill may risk shutting down good existing charter schools."

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego, said Wednesday's vote was a "tough subject" for her, too, as both a supporter of labor and a charter school parent.

"On the one hand, I completely agree with the innovation that some charter schools are engaging in," Gonzalez said. "My understanding of the (charter) movement is it was supposed to be very limited, and we were supposed to take that innovation and scale it so that every kid in every public school would have those same opportunities."

Gonzalez voted in favor of the bill, and said, "It's time to press pause, bring people together (and) figure out how we get back to what this movement was supposed to be."

The scene at the Capitol during the bill's hour of uncertainty was hectic. Earlier in the day, about 2,500 teachers had marched the streets of downtown Sacramento in a rally organized by California Teachers' Association, which supports the charter bills, and several of those teachers lined up outside the offices of on-the-fence Democrats to lobby for "yes" votes. Others were crowded into the Assembly's gallery, watching, and cheered when the bill finally got enough votes to pass.

The California Charter Schools Association, which opposes the charter bills, had also organized a smaller "black parent strike" in which several protesters held signs that read, "The System Wants to Trap My Son in a Failing School."

"We are deeply dismayed by today's vote which demonstrates a limited understanding and respect for the needs of public school families and students across the state," Myrna Castrejón, president and CEO of the state's charter association, said in a statement following Wednesday's vote. She described AB 1505 as "politically motivated and a slap in the face to parents and families who deserve to choose the best school for their children."

O'Donnell acknowledged that "today's bill thus far is the most controversial (charter) bill" state lawmakers have debated this year. He said its passage is significant because "a couple of years ago, we wouldn't be able to get this bill through the state Legislature because of the political might that charter schools have."

"The California Charter Schools Association's sole mission is to have no change," O'Donnell said. "And what they are witnessing and we are witnessing is a Legislature that's awake, that's watching, and wants to ensure that charter schools are held accountable and held transparent." is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California's policies and politics. Read more state news from CALmatters here.


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7 people like this
Posted by Local family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2019 at 1:14 pm

How are county homeschool charters affected by this? Given that a lot of the students are often those poorly served by schools whose parents find that school boards are in fact TOO powerful and not that interested in improving or serving everyone (PAUSD) - gifted, 2e, highly creative, special needs, health issues, etc - having homeschool charters allows families recourse their students need, and they save districts from costly lawsuits and frankly, costly students they clearly don't want. Usually families leave only after trying to make things work with schools and even trying to improve them - leaving is usually the last resort in order.

School board control is not the same as local control, since school boards are uniquely insular as governmental bodies. If there were an independent office of ombudsman who represented the interests of students, that would be a start.

If it does affect homeschool charters, I hope the homeschoolers finally organize and force California to finally provide something even remotely like parity in education for independent learners, as the law requires, so that families of high-risk students don't feel that their only choice is leaving without any of the public educational parity the state Constitution ostensibly promises.

California once allowed people to take their per-student money and choose a private school. Interestingly, we had much more highly ranked schools then. It didn't hurt the quality of the schools, and a lot of parents whose kids were privately education chose not to use it. But independent study charters are the only way homeschoolers can engage in a public education with some resources (albeit inferior to what is provided in school).

There are currently more homeschool students that students in brick and mortar charters nationally. You would think if the was about oversight, they might not be trying to hard to push the homeschool students away.

12 people like this
Posted by Cover-up Culture
a resident of Community Center
on May 26, 2019 at 12:27 pm

This a a teacher's UNION issue trying to eliminate NON UNION competition, in charters. Greed, pure and simple.

6 people like this
Posted by Jane Gill
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 26, 2019 at 12:50 pm

When Democrats have to choose between supporting teacher unions or doing what’s best to aid student learning, they’ll invariably go with the former.

17 people like this
Posted by regulation for protection
a resident of Woodside
on May 26, 2019 at 1:43 pm

Forbes reported last month that out of $4 billion in charter school funding, over $1 billion was involved in waste and fraud. Web Link

A billion taxpayer dollars.

No thanks.

9 people like this
Posted by Cover-up Culture
a resident of Community Center
on May 26, 2019 at 11:08 pm

And how much money was wasted in traditional public schools...flat academic performance for years and many multiples increased spending....

UNIONS trying to eliminate competition by shutting down NON UNION charters. If UNION public schools were so great, there would be no reason anyone would send their child to a charter school. But they do...and giving parents choice to find the best environment for their child is important, and btw union sympathizers, it is a free country and it's our public tax dollar!!

Like this comment
Posted by SRB
a resident of Mountain View
on May 27, 2019 at 8:51 am

If you want to gauge the influence of the Charter School Lobby on the State legislature look no further then our AD24 rep.

Why did Assembly Member Marc Berman not register a vote on AB1505? Maybe because he's still indebted to the Edvoice PAC that flooded his 2016 campaign with money and littered our mailboxes ?
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by regulation for protection
a resident of Woodside
on May 27, 2019 at 8:55 am

>>> And how much money was wasted in traditional public schools

What-about-ism at it's finest.

You don't care that about a billion taxpayer dollars are lost to waste and fraud, as long as you get to rail about school teachers and other perceived boogiemen and women.

again: Forbes reported last month that out of $4 billion in charter school funding, over $1 billion was involved in waste and fraud.

Stronger regulations on charters. Ignore the whatabouters who have axes to grind elsewhere. This thread is about charter regulation.

5 people like this
Posted by The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 27, 2019 at 10:22 pm

There’s nothing progressive about strangling charter schools.
Web Link

4 people like this
Posted by Cover-up Culture
a resident of Community Center
on May 27, 2019 at 10:27 pm

Too bad you don't care about our kids. Kids deserve an environment in which they can learn, and traditional public schools in EPA have not performed.

7 people like this
Posted by Wishful thinking
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2019 at 10:43 pm

The union, casting the impasse as “a struggle over the future of public education,” has taken direct aim at the charters, largely non-union, which enroll about 1 in 5 of all L.A. public school students. The union wants a cap on their growth, along with stricter regulation. Trotted out is the now-familiar and phony trope about charters “draining” or “siphoning” money from public schools. Charters are public schools. In California, they are operated by nonprofit organizations, and the money they receive is public per-pupil funding that follows students. It is not the district’s money, nor the union’s money; it is the students’ money. In Los Angeles, 88 percent of these students are Latino and black, and 82 percent are low-income. A 2015 Stanford University study found that students at charters in Southern California are learning more than their counterparts in traditional public schools. No question that charters must be held accountable, as all schools should be. But whose interest would be served by capping their growth and inhibiting their operations? Not the children’s.

1 person likes this
Posted by Innovation
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 2, 2019 at 6:45 am

There is no justification for a government monopoly in education. It stifles progress, innovation and harms the customer (children) in benefit of the monopoly (Union).

Think of the children.

Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 2, 2019 at 11:24 pm

"If it does affect homeschool charters, I hope the homeschoolers finally organize and force California to finally provide something even remotely like parity in education for independent learners, ..."

Easy in theory. Just get the kids smarter parents to teach them.

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