While many California school districts have floundered during the COVID-19 pandemic, Democrats in the California Legislature are taking aim again at charter schools, which are among the few remaining school-choice options available for parents dissatisfied with the regular public schools.
AB 1316, authored by Assembly education committee chair Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, and supported by the California Teachers Association, is marching through the Legislature and purports just to increase oversight over charter schools.
A CTA talking-points document on AB 1316 says the bill would, among other things, improve “audit and accounting systems,” close “student attendance loopholes,” restructure “the flawed funding determination process,” and improve “[charter school] authorizer oversight.” These elements may seem innocuous or even helpful, but the reality is much different from the union’s rosy propaganda.
As Sacramento County Board of Education member Paul Keefer has noted, “One of the most egregious acts of education inequity is seen in the fine print of AB 1316.”
According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, independent study programs “allow students to earn credit for academic work they complete under a written learning contract with little or no time in a traditional classroom setting.” AB 1316 would discriminate against independent study students at non-classroom-based charter schools, which can be totally virtual or combine virtual and site-based learning, by denying them full state funding.
“One core inequity in the bill,” warns Keefer, “is the preposterous assertion that independent study students at district or county-run schools should receive their full allocation of state education funding while students in independent study programs at public charter schools deserve less funding.
In other words, says Keefer, students who are enrolled in district-run virtual schools, where instruction and learning take place remotely and online, “will receive their fair share of education funding but students at similar programs at non-classroom based public charters down the street will not.”
Funding discrimination, however, is just the start of the bill’s assault on charter schools.
One advantage of enrolling in a non-classroom-based charter school is that students can receive instruction regardless of their physical location vis-à-vis the location of the charter. So, a student in Kern County can enroll in a non-classroom-based charter school that is based in next-door Los Angeles County because learning takes place virtually.
That flexibility will change under AB 1316. The bill requires that students enrolled in a non-classroom-based charter reside in the county in which the school is authorized. Consequently, students who live outside the authorizing county will have to disenroll.
It should be emphasized that AB 1316 does not just hurt non-classroom-based charter schools. All charter schools will suffer from many of the bill’s provisions.
According to a letter signed by several California charter school organizations, the bill “would prohibit multiple-track [charter] schools that offer additional instructional days than students would otherwise receive, and restrict instructional day flexibility for all charter schools that would negatively hurt at-risk students that require scheduling flexibility due to work hours or childcare commitments.”
In addition, the bill imposes an array of new burdens on all charter schools, such as new fees on charters amounting to 3 to 5 percent of their already limited revenue to pay for a new convoluted and bureaucratic audit system. Also, as the California Policy Center’s Edward Ring notes, tutors would be required to have teaching credentials, even though they may have much more valuable real-world subject-matter experience in areas such as STEM.
O’Donnell and the CTA argue for AB 1316 by pointing to the case of a specific charter in San Diego County where the school’s leaders pleaded guilty to fraud charges. Yet, tellingly, cases of fraud in school districts, such as several fraud scandals in the Montebello Unified School District in Los Angeles County, have not spurred legislation aimed at the regular public schools.
Over the last two years, Sacramento lawmakers have enacted a series of anti-charter school laws. With AB 1316 making its way inexorably through the Legislature, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, has warned, “Our political leaders and the special interests they serve have taken another step towards their goal of abolishing charter schools in California.”
Californians must raise their voices loudly to save choice for parents and their children.