Legislative Wrap-Up: Charter School Bills

September 30, 2011

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A year of anti-charter school bills "popping up" comes to a close

The 2011 Legislative year began under the backdrop of an uncertain political landscape for charter schools. With the inauguration of a new Governor, a new State Superintendent of Public Instruction, a new majority on the State Board of Education, and over one-third of the Legislature turning over due to term-limits, relationships and policy agendas were still being cemented. CCSA, through outreach efforts such as our first Legislative "back to session" reception for policymakers, educated newly elected policymakers about charter school issues.

However, not only did we see a vast increase in the number of anti-charter school bills introduced, but throughout the spring, bills were gutted and amended to become anti-charter school bills, resulting in new bills popping up each week. These bills ranged from well-intended fixes to vast amounts of punitive re-regulation and attempts to restrict charter school growth. CCSA ramped up our advocacy efforts this year in response, and you as members helped, with record participation in our Action Alerts. Because of your help and CCSA's advocacy efforts, no bills are headed to the Governor for his signature or veto that CCSA opposes. The major bills that CCSA engaged on, with member advocacy and support, are below, along with their eventual outcome.

AB 86 (Mendoza) - When it was introduced, this bill required a charter school (start up or conversion) that is submitting certificated employee signatures for its petition signature requirement to also include at least half of the classified employee signatures; CCSA was opposed to this increased hurdle for creating a charter school. The author recently agreed to CCSA amendments that created one large pool of eligible employees from which to draw signatures, including classified employees along with teachers for the signature requirement, rather than creating two pools of required employee signatures. That amendment moved CCSA to a support position on the bill. It now awaits action by the Governor.

10/10/11 Update: This bill was vetoed by the Governor, who in his veto message wrote in part, "notwithstanding the important contributions classified staff make to the operation of a school, this bill would unnecessarily complicate an already difficult charter school petition process."

AB 269 (Ma) and SB 755 (Lieu) - Both of these bills dealt with student health and safety. As charter school detractors get more sophisticated in their attacks, they are narrowing the scope of anti-charter school legislation to things like student safety that are politically very difficult to oppose. It falls to CCSA and charter schools to educate Legislators on the need to retain charter school autonomy. We expect even more bills on this topic to be introduced next year. CCSA proposed amendments to the Lieu bill last year (this is the second time we have seen that bill) that would have simply expanded upon the existing petition requirement on student health and safety. In proposing amendments, CCSA sought to clarify and expand that particular petition requirement, while removing the bill's attempts to place other sections of law into charter school law and preventing the inclusion of criminal penalties. Senator Lieu agreed to CCSA's amendments, moving to a "support if amended" position. Because CCSA believes the Lieu bill more effectively and appropriately deals with the issue, we opposed Assemblymember Ma's bill. Both of these bills were held by their Appropriations committees, taking them off the table for the year. CCSA will approach similar future bills with the same policy and political perspective.

AB 401 (Ammiano) - Unfortunately this was another bill that we had seen before. It placed a new hard cap on the number of charter schools allowed to operate in California. This bill was a no brainer for CCSA - anything designed to blatantly restrict charter school growth must be opposed. We asked members to help weigh in on this bill, and you participated in several Action Alerts on the bill. Due in part to your advocacy, AB 401 was never set for a hearing when it reached the Senate Education committee, rendering it dead for the year. We continue to need your help to educate Legislators about the impact of bills like this one.

AB 925 (Lara) - One of the costliest anti-charter school bills introduced this year; the Appropriations committee tagged this bill with over $16 million in costs for charter schools. It applied various education code sections covering classified employees to charter schools, drastically reducing the operational flexibility of charter schools. This was an inappropriate re-regulation of charter schools, and something that is more appropriately dealt with at the employee-employer level. CCSA advocated strongly against this measure, and it is dead for the year after the author did not have the bill set for committee hearing.

AB 1034 (Gatto) - This bill was another bill that would have reduced charter schools' autonomy and ability to be mission-driven among other things, in its introduced form. The bill would have crippled the charter school movement's ability to do many things such as providing statistical advantages in lotteries to low income students, first generation college attendees, foster youth, credit recovery students and students in the criminal justice system. CCSA offered amendments to the author months ago that would address his concern of transparency and openness in the lottery and admission process by clarifying those petition elements, rather than eliminating or changing them. In the last weeks of session, the author accepted those amendments, making CCSA neutral on the bill. It now awaits action by the Governor.

10/10/11 Update: This bill was vetoed by the Governor. The Governor's eloquent veto message read, in its entirety, "Charter schools are established to encourage the widest possible range of innovation and creativity. Their governing charters reflect the ideas and aspirations of those willing to undertake this profoundly difficult challenge. It is critical that they have the flexibility to set admission criteria and parent involvement practices that are consistent with the school's mission."

AB 1172 (Mendoza) - A blatant attack on charter schools, this bill if enacted, would gut the Charter Schools Act. It allowed an authorizer to deny a charter school petition if it found that the school would have a negative fiscal impact on the school district, decreased charter schools' appeal rights by only allowing them to appeal a denial if they are alleging a procedural violation, and deleted the countywide and statewide charter options completely. After a significant advocacy effort by CCSA, including hundreds of phone calls by our members to Democratic members of the Assembly Education committee, emails, and charter school supporters in the committee room, the author (and the sponsor, CTA) refused to take committee amendments to remove all but the fiscal aspect from the bill. Subsequently, the bill garnered only two aye votes and was held in Assembly Education Committee (2-3), providing a significant win for charter schools. We cannot stress enough how important member action was on this bill. Because the bill was being heard in committee on CCSA's annual Advocacy Day, the room was packed with charter school supporters - those of you who were there got to see firsthand some of the anti-charter school arguments that CCSA's Government Affairs team hears on a daily basis.

SB 433 (Liu) - Sponsored by the Los Angeles Unified School District, this bill would have applied traditional public school suspension and expulsion policies to charter schools. Staff worked with the author and sponsor to turn the bill into a two-year bill. We will continue to work collaboratively on a best practices solution during the fall.

In addition to all of the anti-charter school bills this year, the Government Affairs team closely tracked dozens of peripheral bills that affected charter schools indirectly, such as a new process to enforce the state's ban on imposing pupil fees in public schools. That bill, AB 165 (Lara), created a process that was difficult to implement at charter schools due to their unique governing structure.

10/10/11 Update: AB 165 was vetoed by the Governor.

Also, as you know, this summer CCSA reached agreement with Assemblymember Brownley and Senator Simitian on a package of charter school bills meant to occupy the field on conflict of interest requirements, academic accountability, audit transparency, increased facilities access, and other areas of law. Those bills, which contain issues that we have discussed with members for several years, included Brownley's AB 360 and AB 440, and Simitian's SB 645, which was sponsored by CCSA. We were able to reach this agreement after two years of work with Assemblymember Brownley on these issues, including direct conversations between her and charter school leaders.

CCSA made these bills a priority during the legislative session, and two of the three bills made it to their final floor votes. As the bills neared the finish line, there remained several substantial unresolved issues that must be addressed before the package is sent to the Governor for action, including related reforms in support of charter schools. Working with the authors, we decided to delay action on the package that would create a standard of transparency and academic accountability to further support high-performing charter schools. The Governor has expressed an interest in working with us in the fall on this legislation.

CCSA is committed to the reforms that this bill package includes, and along with our members, we will continue to work with the Legislature and the Governor during the fall to complete the most comprehensive and workable package possible.

If you've been tracking our Capitol Updates, you know that legislation is just one area that the Government Affairs team works on. Keep reading the Capitol Update during the fall for updates on State Board of Education actions, and any developments in the state budget situation. We'll also let you know what actions the Governor takes on charter school bills.

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