Teachers Association Unveils Package of Anti-Charter Legislation

Published February 27, 2019 03:15

The California Teachers Association (CTA) and several other school employee unions dropped four anti-charter bills into the legislative punchbowl late last week just prior to the annual bill introduction deadline. The four bills, sequentially numbered Assembly Bills 1505-1508, are in addition to Senate Bill 126, a bill that would impose four sets of “transparency” laws on charter schools.

Taken together, these bills signal the unions’ intent to cripple California’s charter schools sector, will test how damaging last Fall’s election results are, and how effectively anti-charter public relations tactics are working. This article offers a summary of the pending bills and their political context. It also urges charter school leaders to contact their legislators immediately and engage their stakeholders to do the same.

Transparency Bill on Legislative Fast Track

Senate Bill 126, introduced just over a week ago, has already passed the Senate Education Committee and full Senate and was approved yesterday by the Assembly Education Committee. CSDC anticipates the full Assembly likely will vote on the measure tomorrow and send it to the governor’s desk. Governor Newsom repeatedly has pledged to sign such legislation.

It would impose especially burdensome versions of several sets of open meeting, public records, and conflict-of-interest laws on charter schools, including the following:

  • Brown Act (open meetings) —the bill would impose California’s complex open meetings laws on charter schools, and would do so in an especially burdensome fashion. The bill requires entities that manage more than one charter school or operate multiple resource centers to establish a two-way teleconference at each schoolsite or resource center, record the teleconferences, and post the recordings on each school’s internet web sites—major logistical and practical burdens that do not apply to school districts.
  • Public Records Act —the bill would impose California’s complex public records disclosure laws on charter schools, generally requiring them to respond to all records requests within 10 days, sorting through often-complex confidentiality and other requirements, assisting the public to frame and refine their requests, etc. Charter schools that currently implement this law often find that vendors, mass-marketing agencies, and labor unions use these laws to compel complex and time-consuming requests that can sidetrack school administrative staff.
  • Political Reform Act —the bill would impose the complex conflict-of-interest provisions of this act which require schools to (1) adopt and frequently update conflict-of-interest policies addressing detailed requirements and (2) ensuring that board members and specified staff file the “Form 700” Statement of Economic Interests, disclosing a laundry list of personal financial and asset data. The forms must be filed annually as well as upon taking/leaving office and/or employment.
  • Government Code Section 1090 —the bill would impose this “scorched Earth” governmental conflict-of-interest law which generally prohibits an agency from entering into a contract (very broadly defined) if a board member is a party to the contract. Unlike most conflict-of-interest laws, Section 1090 is especially severe and prohibits such contracts even when the contract is clearly in the agency’s best interest (i.e., there is no “recusal” exception).

Many provisions of SB 126 are very unclear and raise numerous sharp corners. The measures apply to an “entity managing a charter school,” raising questions as to whether back-office support organizations, charter school management organizations, and others are subject to these complex laws and would need to disclose sensitive proprietary and other data. The term “entity managing a charter school” is not clearly defined, but would not “solely” apply (whatever that means) “because [an entity] contracts with a charter school to provide to that charter school goods or task-related services that are performed at the direction of the governing body of the charter school and for which the governing body retains ultimate decisionmaking authority.” Potentially severe misdemeanor and felony penalties could apply, including disgorgement.

Currently CSDC is the measure’s sole opponent. The bill is said to reflect a compromise negotiated between the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA, which is officially “neutral” on the measure, though tacitly in support) and the CTA. Ironically, and notwithstanding its pro-transparency façade, the bill was posted late on Friday prior to the three-day President’s Day holiday weekend and heard in a special Senate Education Committee hearing that was held “upon call of the chair” without a specified meeting time the following Tuesday—effectively providing less than one business day of notice. The late notice required a special rule waiver and did not allow for advocates to submit letters of opposition in time for inclusion in the committee staff analysis of the bill.

CSDC anticipates SB 126 will be voted upon by the full Assembly tomorrow – Thursday, February 28 – and we urge all charter schools, parents, and staff to immediately call their local Assembly members to voice opposition to this damaging bill. Contact information for Assembly Members is available online here and Senators here and a “find my legislator” tool is online here.

CTA’s New Anti-Charter Bill Package

The four new bills backed by the CTA include the following:

AB 1505 (Assembly Members O-Donnell, D-Long Beach, McCarty, D-Sacramento, Kalra, D—San Jose, and Senator Skinner, D—Berkeley) would place all charter-granting authority solely in the hands of local school district boards, making charter-granting a discretionary act, eliminating the current right of appeal of denials of charter petition and charter renewals. Under current law, schools districts are nominally compelled to grant charters unless they can make specified findings, charter petitioners may appeal denials to both the county and state boards of education, and may also appeal denials of renewals.

This bill would eliminate all such rights of appeal, presumably leaving charter petitioners subject to the sole discretion of local districts, who would no longer need to make specified findings to justify denial of a charter. This bill would also delete the statutes authorizing county boards of education to grant so-called “county population” and “countywide” charters, and the State Board’s authority to grant “statewide” charters, apparently leaving many such schools in legal limbo.

This bill also amends the current law calling for charter renewals to last five years, allowing for renewals as short as a single year, and imposing various renewal restrictions and intervention requirements based on the state’s new California School Dashboard indicators. It would also require charter authorizers to place fake phone calls to charter schools, posing as parents of English learner and special needs students, to test whether charter schools discriminate against such students.

AB 1506 (McCarty, D-Sacramento and O’Donnell, D-Long Beach) would amend the current cap on the number of charter schools that may operate. The language in this bill is nonsensical, so its impact is unclear. The apparent intent is to decrease or limit the cap relative to current law.

California’s original (1992) charter school laws capped the number of charter schools in the state at 100, with no more than 10 in any district. It was amended in 1998 to raise the statewide cap on the number of charter schools to 250 in 1998-99 and increases the cap by 100 schools each year thereafter. The cap currently sits at 2,050 schools, well above the current +/-1,300 schools currently in operation.

AB 1507 (Assembly Members Smith D—Simi Valley, McCarty, D—Sacramento, O’Donnell, D—Long Beach, Kalra, D—San Jose) deletes authority in current law that allows charter schools to locate outside of the charter-granting district’s boundaries when facilities are either (1) unavailable inside district boundaries or (2) during a temporary construction or expansion project.

AB 1508 (Assembly Members Bonta, D—Alameda, McCarty, D—Sacramento, O’Donnell, D—Long Beach, Smith D—Simi Valley, Kalra, D—San Jose, and Senator Skinner, D—Berkeley) is a placeholder “spot” bill expressing intent to enact legislation that would permit chartering authorities to consider financial, academic, and facilities impacts on “neighborhood public schools” when determining whether to approve a petition for a new charter school.

Elections Have Consequences—Charter Style

These bills, many of which are similar to measures in prior legislative sessions, and many of which were vetoed by both Democratic and Republican governors, reflect school employee unions’ long-standing opposition to charter schools. The CTA in particular has been engaged in a lengthy anti-charter propaganda campaign, largely based on false accusations but which play on the public’s limited understanding of California’s actual charter school laws.

Teacher unions currently are enjoying the benefits of a “red for ed” wave of support following successful teacher strikes in Arizona, Oklahoma, and West Virginia where teacher salaries are relatively low. The CTA and its local affiliates are skillfully channeling this wave in support of their false allegations that charter schools are the cause of school districts’ financial mismanagement.

Teacher unions “succeeded” in persuading the Los Angeles Unified School District to settle a labor contract in late January that the district’s own figures clearly demonstrate is not sustainable and will lead to insolvency. The LAUSD board also approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools in Los Angeles in conjunction with the teacher labor agreement. Subsequently, Governor Newsom called upon State Superintendent Tony Thurmond to establish a commission to study the impact of charter schools on district finances.

Newsom previously had called for a “pause” in new charters pending enactment of charter “transparency” legislation, while Thurmond has called for a more broad moratorium. Whether this call for a study indicates a shift in Newsom’s position remains to be seen.

Call to Action

CSDC urges all California charter schools to immediately contact their local assembly members and urge them to vote against SB 126—and to encourage their stakeholders (board members, staff, parents, etc.) to do the same. Since the Assembly is likely to vote on the measure tomorrow (February 28), time is of the essence. While this bill is likely to pass notwithstanding such calls, contacting legislators is an important step nonetheless to highlight the unusually punitive form this bill has taken.

We also urge all schools to establish ongoing capacity to engage their stakeholders in an ongoing fashion. Schools located in or near the districts represented by legislators carrying the CTA’s package of four anti-charter bills (Sacramento, Long Beach, East and South San Francisco Bay Area, North Los Angeles) should immediately contact the authors of the bills as listed above and express their opposition and urge the authors to withdraw the bills.

Contact information for Assembly Members is available online here and Senators here and a “find my legislator” tool is online here.

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