Charter Currents: Managing California's Exploding Regulatory Burden on Charter Schools

Published February 05, 2020 10:03

The Charter Schools Act of 1992, Education Code Section 47601 reads that "[i]t is the intent of the Legislature, in enacting this part, to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure, as a method to . . . hold the school established under this part accountable for meeting measurable pupil outcomes, and provide a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.” In 2019, California’s policymakers heaped on myriad new laws, red tape, and restrictions on California’s chartered schools, a shift that is counter to the original Charter School Act.

Part of these changes is reflective of the overall growth of burdensome laws and regulations governing the larger chartered and non-chartered public schools system in California. It’s noteworthy that California’s massive Education Code (the primary body of state statutes governing education) continues to grow, despite the vanishing myth of “local control” that dominates K-12 education policy wonks’ discussions. 
Many of those of us who have to track and implement these laws annually purchase the “compact” edition of Thomson-Reuters’ (formerly WestLaw’s) version of the code. Traditionally, this “compact” edition consisted of a single tome that resembled a Manhattan telephone directory. The 2020 version, however, has now expanded to two volumes, despite what appears to be significantly lower-quality and thinner paper (last year’s single volume version on the left, this year’s two volume version on the right in the image above), and serves as a tacit reminder of the inability of California’s policymakers to keep their hands out of the bureaucratic cookie jar.
The growing burden weighs especially heavy on charter schools. This trend started in the late 1990s as opponents of charter schools began to implement a “death by 1,000 cuts” strategy to oppose the growth of charter schools. Rather than make a full frontal assault on charter schools, opponents instead seek to place a millstone in their backpacks. This burden exploded last year as the Legislature enacted numerous changes that piled new burdens on charter schools. 

While we continue to provide our members with the most up-to-date guidance, the Charter Schools Development Center has compiled an annual checklist and related resources package designed to identify and highlight the key changes to help charter schools manage this burden. Unfortunately, this year’s checklist is 17 pages long, single spaced. While we think our members will find these resources indispensable, we also hope to reverse this troubling policy trend through our ongoing advocacy efforts.


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