Scores of public charter schools throughout California, including the San Carlos Charter Learning Center and Everest Public High School in Redwood City, are violating state law by forcing families to volunteer or pay a fee as a condition of enrollment, according to a report released Thursday.
Public Advocates Inc., which has offices in San Francisco and Sacramento, investigated 555 of the state's 1,130 charter schools and found that one-third explicitly require unpaid "service hours."
"They call these policies 'required volunteer hours' or 'mandatory service hours,' but when work is required, it's not voluntary," Hilary Hammell, an attorney for the nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization, said during an online press conference Thursday. "Requiring mandatory donations of time, money or goods is illegal in California's public schools."
According to the report, the practice violates the "free schools" clause of the California Constitution, as well as the education code. The latter was amended by the Legislature in 2012 to make it clear that public schools cannot compel "donations of service" from families.
Hammell said it is also limiting enrollment to students who come from privileged backgrounds.
"It's both wrong and unlawful to punish a child for something his parents can't or won't do, and it's those children from resource-strapped families who may need nurturing public schools the most," she said.
"In fact, it appears from our study that most charter schools in our survey do enroll fewer low-income students, fewer English learners and far fewer foster youths than similar non-charter schools in their districts. That shows that something is getting in the way of access to these high-need kids."
The investigation by Public Advocates found work quota policies at charter schools throughout the state. Prevalent approaches include requiring parents to sign a contract promising to volunteer for a set number of hours and requiring parents to log or track their hours.
Parents who cannot fulfill the work quota are often allowed to buy the hours for some amount, which ranges from $6 to $25 per hour, or donate goods to the school, according to the report.
At the San Carlos Charter Learning Center, all families are required to serve 80 to 120 hours per school year.
"Their participation is critical to the success of our school," the school states on its website. "Families support the school by assisting in the classroom, driving on field trips, organizing fund-Report: Charter schools that require volunteering are breaking California law - San Jose Mercury News: