October 25, 2011 Imagine a moment when charter operators will be able to focus purely on their educational vision for teaching their students, rather than spending the time to fight for the structures to teach them in. A charter student has the right, and deserves to have the reasonably equivalent facilities of their district counterparts. By continuing to demand our rights under the law, we will be able to provide our students with the public facility resources they deserve, while reforming public education in the process.
It often starts with just one school, courageously deciding to stand up and advocate for facilities as guaranteed under the law. Their charter colleagues, also tired of accepting sub standard facilities, soon join this operator in demanding "facilities equity" from their authorizing district. Soon a critical mass transforms into a formidable movement...one that cannot be ignored. Eventually the district must acknowledge the demand, and provide a meaningful response. Sometimes the response is in the form of one sentence, which, if examined closely signifies profound moment of change.
Case Study: Progress in Los Angeles
On August 11, 2011, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent John Deasy stated in a letter to CCSA that "Long Term charter facilities solutions have been developed in response to significant increases in the annual demand for facilities under Proposition 39." This one sentence represents a profound victory for charters in LAUSD. It is the first time district leadership has expressly articulated in writing a commitment to provide long term facilities solutions as a means of relieving Prop. 39 needs.
This change came about as a result of charters unifying annually over several years to demand their Prop. 39 facilities from LAUSD. What started a few years ago as a small group of charters demanding district sites became 83 applicants strong in 2010. The critical mass compelled inevitable change.
The district's action suggests that LAUSD will work with charters to develop multi-year homes, rather than one-year, temporary solutions. It further means that LAUSD will dedicate new local bond resources in the form of Augmentation Grants for charters who previously secured funding to build permanent structures under the state's Charter School Facilities Program, but fall short of the amount necessary to cover their construction budgets. This is a new initiative that will lead to the development of long term schools for thousands of students.
Most importantly though, this action represents an acknowledgement that charters are not merely a short term fad of small independent schools, but rather a community of students who are now part of the public educational landscape of California. This progress would not have occurred had it not been for charters demanding their Prop. 39 facilities.
Why Should I Apply For Prop. 39 Facilities?
By applying for a Proposition 39 site, you are not only pursuing a cost effective facility for your organization, but you are also playing a critical role in supporting the charter movement throughout California. Charters that have applied for Prop. 39 facilities have served as a catalyst for districts to acknowledge their responsibilities under the law, and have in effect compelled them to take action accordingly.
Charters demanding their rights to Prop. 39 facilities have, as a result, guided districts toward some practical and constructive solutions. Most large districts now possess staff dedicated to charter needs, and have adopted streamlined processes to provide "reasonably equivalent" facilities for them. Some districts have furthermore adopted policies to provide multi-year agreements coterminous with charter authorization, conversion of closed schools into permanent charter campuses, or reconfiguration of existing district campuses in order to develop separate charter schools on district land. Local bond measures now often include proportionate share of funds earmarked for charter seat development. This progress would not have existed had it not been for charters flexing their rights under Proposition 39. Your participation in this effort has driven this progress.
A Valuable Tool
Aside from being good for the movement, Prop. 39 makes practical sense. It is a valuable tool, unique to California, which provides charters with a "safety net" to support their facilities needs. Prop. 39 is useful on a variety of levels, including providing (1) a temporary home for new operators who are seeking an "incubator solution" while they build their student base, (2) an affordable option for charters to compare against their existing private lease agreement, (3) a default option for operators about to enter into a private lease, but might experience entitlement challenges, (4) a means of potentially acquiring district resources in lieu of a standard Prop. 39 site.
Prop. 39 offers has saved numerous charters from many leases which appeared great at first glance, but have, in fact turned into nightmares for many schools. Many operators enter into private leases with landlords who do not meet the proper local Building and Safety requirements and find themselves at risk of being unable to open on time for the new school year, or are at risk of being shut down due to an Order To Comply by the city. Charters then find their entire program at risk of remaining viable. If they have a Proposition 39 offer in hand, it provides the operator with a "Plan B" default option, in case they are unable to occupy the private facility.