Group continues push for charter accountability after Brown veto
The stack of bills vetoed on deadline by Gov. Jerry Brown last week includes legislation that would have called for stepped up charter school transparency.
That Brown killed the bill came as little surprise to state leaders and community groups that had banded together under the “Kids Not Profits” campaign to advocate for AB 709, sponsored by Mike Gipson, D-Carson.
The bill would have held California’s 1,200 charter schools to state laws governing open meetings, open records and conflict of interest laws — just as are traditional public schools.
Brown, who opened charters as mayor of Oakland, vetoed similar legislation two years ago. In his Sept, 30 veto statement, Brown cited the 2014 bill and said his views have not changed since he rejected it.
“Starting a charter school requires the strong commitment of dedicated individuals willing to serve on a governing board,” the governor wrote in a statement. ” While I support transparency, this bill goes further than simply addressing issues of potential conflicts of interest and goes too far in prescribing how these boards must operate.”
Among other provisions, the bill would have required charters to disclose how they spend taxpayer money, including budgets and contracts. The legislation would have also banned charter board members and their families from profiting from their schools.
Although not surprised, advocates of the bill said they were disappointed. They vowed to continue to push for greater transparency of charters.
“With so much evidence documenting the waste, fraud and abuse by privately-managed charter schools, which have cost taxpayers millions at the expense of our students, we hoped the governor would have signed such an important bill,” said California Teachers Association President Eric Heins in a statement. “The impact is far too widespread.”
A string of recent news reports have highlighted incidents of fraud, mismanagement and unfair admissions policies at charters, which have underscored the need for stepped up charter accountability, Heins said.
An ACLU report, “Unequal Access,” issued in July found more than 20 percent of California’s charters have biased admissions policies that allow charters to weed out low-performing students, English learners, and students with disabilities.
State Treasurer John Chiang, Los Angeles Unified School District School Board Vice President Dr. George McKenna, and Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Mike Matsuda are among those who supported the legislation.
The California Charter Schools Association opposed Gipson’s legislation, saying it would have restricted financial flexibility of charters. What’s more, since the vast majority of charter schools are non-profit corporations, they already follow the Corporations Code procedures and restrictions to address concerns over potential self-dealing on non-profit boards.
In 2014, Brown vetoed legislation that would have imposed restrictions on charters that operate outside their home school districts — instead assigning a team to analyze the matter and report back. No follow-up report has been issued on the matter.
Nearly 25 years old, the California Charter Schools Act gives charters freedom from some local and state education laws in exchange for a promise to use innovative measures to improve student achievement. Charters are publicly financed and independently operated schools.
In San Diego County, school districts continue to challenge charter schools and where they can locate in court.
The San Diego Unified and Grossmont Union school districts are suing the Julian Union School District and two of its charters accused of violate the law by operating centers in their boundaries.
Following Julian’s lead, dozens of far-flung charters and resource centers have been authorized by small East County school districts, including some that candidly acknowledged the arrangements were forged mostly for the money since districts can receive up to 3 percent of a charter’s revenue to offset the cost of providing oversight and other services. Costly lawsuits have ensued.
Earlier this year, Steve Van Zant, the former superintendent of the Mountain Empire Unified School District, pleaded guilty to a felony conviction of the Political Reform Act while brokering charter schools. Under his leadership, the tiny district authorized 13 charters, often for the revenue, including some that went on to hire Van Zant’s charter consulting business. Van Zant also earned a stipend for every charter authorized by the district under the terms of his contract.Group continues push for charter accountability after Brown veto - The San Diego Union-Tribune: