L.A. teachers union unveils bill to replace charter authorizing law

L.A. teachers union unveils bill to replace charter authorizing law

By Anna M. Phillips | Posted: MARCH 17, 2017, 4:00 A.M. | LATimes.com

Leaders of the union that represents most public school teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District announced their support Thursday for a bill that would fundamentally change who has the power to open charter schools in California.

Senate Bill 808, introduced by Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), sets the stage for another year of arguing over how to reshape the state’s charter school law.

If it were to be enacted, it would dismantle the system of appeals that allows charter schools denied authorization or renewal by their local school districts to seek approval from county boards of education or the State Board of Education. Instead, local school districts would have the first and last word on charter school petitions and renewals.

They would also have new authority to deny a charter petition if it would “impose financial hardship on the school district,” a standard that would not be difficult to meet as charter schools often admit students who would otherwise attend traditional public schools. When these children leave the school district, state funding leaves with them.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl announced his support for the bill outside of Arminta Street Elementary School in North Hollywood, where parents are fighting a proposal that would allow Celerity Cardinal Charter School to use several of the elementary school's classrooms next year.

The charter school is part of a network that is under federal investigation and is also the focus of an inquiry by L.A. Unified's inspector general into misuse of public funds. The State Board of Education voted recently to allow Celerity to open two new schools next fall over the objections of district and county education officials.

Examples like Celerity “undermine local control,” Caputo-Pearl said. “This bill would allow our local school boards who know the most about charter operators in their city to make the decision about whether to authorize them.”

Charter advocates say Mendoza’s bill would give school districts legal cover to deny the vast majority of the petitions that come before them.

“This is really among the more extreme pieces of legislation we’ve seen introduced in the California Legislature in memory,” said Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Assn.

“It’s a very clear effort to impose a charter cap via a different mechanism, and we will be very forcefully opposed to this bill,” he said.

The bill has seemingly little chance of winning the support it would need from Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed less controversial proposed legislation last year that would have increased reporting requirements for charter schools.

A bill attempting to resurrect that vetoed legislation also is back in play this year and has the union’s endorsement. It would require charter schools to follow the state’s public records and open meetings law. It would also make them subject to state laws prohibiting public officials — in this case, charter school leaders and board members — from using their positions to enrich themselves.

Introduced by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), this plan is again meeting resistance from charter school advocates who say it goes too far. They are supporting a different bill sponsored by Sen. Steven Glazer (D-Orinda) that appears to apply the same public records and conflict-of-interest laws more narrowly.

Jones-Sawyer said the two bills are similar and expressed confidence that a compromise could be reached.

“I have two Celerity schools in my district,” he said. “And if we had my bill, AB 1478, we would know right now what’s going on with those two schools.”