Killing fair play for charter schools

Recently, the enemies of school choice won a significant victory. A small, but very important, amendment to the California Education Code, Assembly Bill 2225 by Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, died in the Assembly education committee – voted down by Democrats in a party-line vote. This bill merely said that charter schools should have the right to appeal in cases of revocation of their charters.

A charter school’s charter is the contract that allows the school to exist. At its core is a granting of independence from the red tape that often makes regular public schools ineffectual in exchange for school accountability. Local school boards approve the charter and those boards can revoke the charter for various reasons, including failure to improve student outcomes. When a charter is revoked, the school must close, affecting potentially hundreds of students and parents, to say nothing of teachers and staff.

For years in California, a decision of this magnitude could be appealed. For instance, if a local school district board revoked a charter school’s charter, then the school could appeal to the county board of education, and eventually the appeal could reach the State Board of Education. Last year, however, the law was changed and the right to appeal was taken away from charter schools.

Now, if a local district board revokes a school’s charter, the decision is final and the school has no recourse. Taking away the right to appeal will embolden those local boards, which are biased against charter schools, to use flimsy pretexts to eliminate charter schools.

The non-profit Pacific Legal Foundation has pointed out: “Revocation can cause serious disruption in the lives of the students, and – if unjustified, and particularly if motivated by an ideological or political animus against charter schools – can deal a blow to the cause of educational reform and educational excellence.”

Take, for example, the case of the Today’s Fresh Start charter school in Los Angeles County.

The Los Angeles County Board of Education revoked the school’s charter in 2007, despite the fact that the County Office of Education presented no formal evidence in support of revocation.

After the Los Angeles County Board revoked Today’s Fresh Start’s charter, the school was able to appeal to the State Board of Education. Even the County Board’s legal counsel admitted the importance of this right to appeal, saying at the time, “The [Education Code] provides for an appeal to the State Board of Education, and that is the due process stage.” The county counsel emphasized, “And most important, the adjudicator is the State Board of Education and it is neutral.”

Now, with the elimination of charter schools’ right to appeal, that due process stage has been obliterated, and the neutral judge has been taken out of the picture.

AB2225 would have re-instated charter schools’ crucial due process right. The bill’s author, Assemblyman Allen, says that without the right to appeal, “A charter could be revoked for reasons other than education and performance.”

It is important to point out that anti-charter-school special interest groups, such as the teacher unions, are notorious influencers of local school boards.

Just earlier this year, the pro-union Los Angeles Unified School District board voted against two charter schools, whose performance the district superintendent called “unquestionable and unassailable.” Not surprisingly, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers opposed AB 2225. Without an appeals process, look for the unions to be more aggressive in pushing their allies on local school boards to revoke charters.

The right to appeal a bad decision is one of the foundations of American democracy. Withdrawing that right from charter schools hurts parents and students, and offends our fundamental principle of fairness.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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