Friday, July 02, 2010


By John Fensterwald  | The Educated Guess

July 1st, 2010 -- Charter schools’ lobby and friends have beaten back the latest effort to tighten financial and academic oversight of charter schools.

AB 1950 had easily passed the Assembly. But on Tuesday, the eve  before her bill would have been heard – and likely voted down — in the charter-friendly Senate Education Committee, the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, withdrew it.

That will be it for imposing additional charter regulations for the session, unless Brownley and the California Charter School Assn. can cut a deal on new rules for closing poorly performing charter schools. Bill Lucia, CEO of EdVoice, an advocacy group that organized to kill AB 1950, said yesterday that he still hoped a compromise can be reached.

“Bad charters should be shut down,” he said, “ but not at a cost of stifling growth of the charter movement.”

California has dozens of excellent charters but also too many lousy ones whose test scores bring down the average for all. A half-dozen charter schools appeared on the state’s list of 188 persistently low performing schools.  That shouldn’t happen; they should have been put on a short leash – or had their charters revoked – years before.

California Charter Schools Assn. says it too agrees on the need to weed out the worst charters, but it hasn’t proposed a credible alternative. It spent months designing a model based on individual students’ improvement in test scores that proved impractical.

A seven-year old state law requires that charter schools reach minimal API scores, compared with neighboring district schools, to retain a charter. But districts often ignore the results when faced with lobbying by parents.

One idea is to have the State Board of Education review cases of the lowest performing charters. The board is currently considering new regulations for non-renewals of low-performing charters.

Charters are granted and renewed for five-year periods. AB 1950 would have given local districts authority to grant conditional charters to struggling schools for one or three years.

Brownley’s proposed restrictions wouldn’t have been onerous, assuming local districts didn’t abuse their authority – always a worry. What doomed the bill was its overreach. It would have given state auditing authorities too much power to set new rules. And it would have required a charter’s student body to reflect same demographics as the district as a whole – problematic for charters intentionally located in minority neighborhoods,.  It also could have conflicted with federal rules that require lotteries for charters with wait lists.

AB 1950 also would have been banned for-profit charters –a red herring issue.

A narrower charter-reform bill, demanding tougher academic standards, should now be a top priority. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger,  whose staunch support of charters is a part of his legacy, should demand it before he leaves office.

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