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When lawmakers passed the Charter Schools Act of 1992, California became the second state in the country (after Minnesota) to enact charter school legislation. The intent was, as the Act states:

...to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure...

Charter Law: the Ed Code

Following the Legislature's intent to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability, charters are exempt from almost all California Education Code ("ed code"). Under what is commonly referred to as the "Charter mega-waiver," with a few exceptions, charters are bound by only by ed code section 47605 which covers the required elements of a charter school petition as well as the submission and appeals process.

One of your first steps in starting a charter school will be getting familiar with applicable laws and regulations.

All of the California education code and regulations governing charter schools can be found in the "Compilation of Selected Laws and Regulations Applicable to Charter Schools," produced annually by Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP.

Authorizers

California empowers three public governing boards with the authority to approve charter schools: local district school boards, county school boards and the State Board of Education.

Local Authorizer

By far, the majority of charter schools are authorized by their local school district. Some authorizers have well defined charter policies and procedures. It is important to learn the expectations of your district; it may be to your advantage to research past school board actions. You might also visit your district website; some post approved petitions and accompanying school board hearing minutes. If not posted, consider requesting local school board meeting minutes.

County and State Authorizers

Charter schools can be approved directly by a county board of education or the State Board of Education and are referred to as county-wide or state-wide benefit schools, but there are some restrictions.

For consideration at the county level, the proposed school must demonstrate that it provides instructional services that are not generally provided by the county office of education. See county-wide benefit charter Ed Code 47605.6. (a) (1)

The bar at the state level is much higher; it requires demonstrated success in an existing charter school(s) and for all intents and purposes is not an option for new charter school developers.

You may find yourself in front of a county or the State Board of Education if you are denied at the local level. Although state law is written to "encourage" charter schools, district authorizers sometimes have the opposite perspective. In the case of denial, charter law allows for an appeal to the county board of education and if denied there, to the State Board of Education. Developers need to be aware of the appeals process and expectations before they submit

Learn about the role various authorizers play in the petition appeals process.

Partners

Partnering can provide a number of important resources--financial, physical, human, and organizational--as you establish, operate, and sustain your charter school. Researchers from the Center on Educational Governance at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education spent two years speaking with nearly 150 people involved with forming and managing charter schools that shared one common characteristic: They chose to enter into partnerships with nonprofit, for-profit and public organizations to help establish and operate the schools. This guidebook represents the experiences of the 22 charter schools visited across the nation and offers a variety of lessons learned about how to form and sustain mutually beneficial partnerships while starting and operating a charter school.