September 13, 2010 This summer, Endeavor College Prep students who wanted help in preparing for the rigors of the regular school year attended class in an auditorium. To say learning conditions were less than ideal is an understatement; imagine trying to learn while distracted by poor lighting, poor seating, and horrible acoustics. Then imagine it being three days before the start of the school year and still not knowing where your school would be housed.
That situation happened this year to Endeavor students because the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) rescinded an offer of additional classrooms to Endeavor after facing pressure from the local district public school principal and other local school officials, thereby leaving Endeavor with woefully inadequate class space to meet its growth needs. Unfortunately these circumstances are not the anomalous exception to the rule.
Charter schools across California scrap and scrape for workable facilities solutions each year. That is why the Association has embarked on a multi-year, statewide campaign to seek full implementation of Proposition 39.
The Principle Behind Prop. 39
Prop. 39 was written to ensure that all public school students share equally in the buildings constructed with state facilities dollars. The bargain made when Prop. 39 was passed by California voters in 2000 was to reduce the threshold for the state or a local school district to pass a facilities bond from two-thirds to fifty-five percent, a considerably easier standard to meet. In exchange, charter school students were to be given equal access to the facilities constructed with those funds, if charters are able to meet certain eligibility requirements.
The unfortunate downside to Prop. 39 is that it can force school principals, both charter and traditional, to compete for facilities space and force school district officials to mediate those disputes and in some cases break ties, as in the Endeavor situation. It can also upset school district master facilities planning by allowing an unforeseen charter school to demand access to space that may have been funded, designed, and built for another purpose.
Nonetheless, the principle behind Prop. 39 is one of equity and fairness for all public school students, irrespective of whether they attend public district schools or public charter schools in their communities. Charter school students are public school students. Prop. 39 represents the tangible, pragmatic embodiment of that principle in the most publicly visible sign of a successful school - the building. CCSA advocacy on behalf of schools applying for facilities under Prop. 39 therefore benefits all charter school students in the state.
CCSA Efforts Benefit All California Charter Schools
The Association has spent the last year engaged in policy work at the state-level to add greater clarity to Prop. 39. This work culminated with a revised set of regulations adopted by the State Board of Education to add specificity to the condition of district facilities charter schools are entitled to under Prop. 39, and the criteria and timelines of the Prop. 39 facilities request and offer process.
The Association's Legal Defense Fund also pursued enforcement of Prop. 39 by, among other activities, supporting legal actions against school districts in violation of Prop. 39. CCSA's lawsuit, filed in May 2010, against LAUSD is a prime example of this legal strategy. The lawsuit centers on LAUSD's continued failures to share public school space with all public school students in the LAUSD area, despite clear and unequivocal obligations under the law. During last year's process, 81 charter schools in LAUSD applied for Prop. 39 facilities and yet LAUSD issued only 45 letters purporting to be final offers. Not one of these purported offers is compliant with the law.
Resources Available to Help Schools Get Equitable Facilities
CCSA has stepped up availability of resources and support for Association members across the state, as well as offering heightened support to schools in targeted localities. Based on the local need for equitable facilities and districts' track records of compliance with Prop. 39, CCSA has already undertaken intensive work in San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, Fresno, Chico, and Sacramento; this year we will additionally focus on supporting charter schools seeking Prop. 39 facilities along the Monterey Peninsula.
This year, CCSA is increasing resources for all schools across the state, working to close out unfinished business from last year's push, and again dedicating concentrated resources in targeted areas of need. The Association is encouraging all charter school members who need a facilities solution for the 2011-12 school to submit a Prop. 39 request to your school district and begin to engage the dialogue with school district officials early.
In coming weeks, CCSA will be announcing webinars and online resources available to member across the state. These supports are intended to help charter schools through the entire Prop. 39 lifecycle, from the November 1 facilities application deadline through the May 1 response to final offers, and beyond.
A Victory for Students and the Movement
Students at Endeavor, the charter school in LAUSD that faced facilities-related uncertainty, were fortunate to go back to school in what Prop. 39 calls "reasonably equitable facilities." Endeavor Executive Director Michelle Jasso, with support from CCSA, decided to push back against LAUSD. Jasso contacted school district board members, engaged legal help from Middleton, Young and Minney and advocacy help from the Association, marshaled her school community, and waged a fierce battle to protect her students. This intensive campaign provided a favorable outcome, resulting in a district offer that worked for her students.
Endeavor's situation exemplifies the best and worst of Prop. 39. The law enabled the charter school to exert its rights to fair access to public school space, as intended. It, however, required leadership engagement at the highest level--and a tremendous amount of time and energy by the school, school district officials, and advocates--to accomplish a common sense result in response to Endeavor's modest facilities request. The Association is seeking long-term programmatic solutions as the ultimate goal of our Prop. 39 campaign, so that charter schools are factored into school district long-range facilities planning, and given dedicated, long-term access to facilities space.
Demand your Prop. 39 facility now. Do it for your students. Do it for the movement.