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California Poised To Overhaul Charter Schools

In this Aug. 21, 2019 file photo Gov. Gavin Newsom takes questions from second graders during his visit to the Paradise Ridge Elementary School in Paradise, Calif.
Rich Pedroncelli / AP
In this Aug. 21, 2019 file photo Gov. Gavin Newsom takes questions from second graders during his visit to the Paradise Ridge Elementary School in Paradise, Calif.

California is poised to tighten rules for charter schools as the state sees growing enrollment in communities serving mostly low-income families.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a deal on Wednesday that would overhaul how the state authorizes and judges its charter schools. State lawmakers must still approve it, which appears to be a formality after the Legislature's top two leaders endorsed it.

Charter schools are publicly funded, but they operate by different rules than traditional public schools. Anyone can apply for a charter school, and state law requires school districts to OK them if they meet certain basic requirements.


The result is charter school enrollment has more than doubled over the last 10 years, according to a legislative analysis of the proposal. Today, California has more than 1,300 charter schools that account for about 10% of the state's more than 6.2 million public school students, according to the California Department of Education.

RELATED: San Diego Unified Superintendent Seeks Charter Changes Following Critical Report

The bill, which would have to pass the state Legislature by Sept. 12, would no longer let the state authorize charter schools. Instead, only school districts and county governments could do that. And it would narrow the appeals process, forcing applicants to focus on the same set of facts as laid out in their original proposal.

The bill would also require all new charter school teachers to be credentialed and would give existing teachers five years to do so.

And the bill would alter the criteria for approving new charter schools to include an assessment of how the school would impact the community. Going forward, schools would be judged not only by test scores, but also things like graduation and suspension rates.


Details of the bill were confirmed by the governor's office.

"This agreement focuses on the needs of our students," according to a statement released by Newsom, Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and other legislative and executive officials. "It increases accountability for all charter schools, allows high-quality charter schools to thrive, and ensures that the fiscal and community impacts of charter schools on school districts are carefully considered."

More than 60% of the state's charter schools are either in Los Angeles County, San Diego County or the nine counties included in the Bay Area near San Francisco. A legislative analysis says most of the growth in charter schools has been in areas where students come from low-income families.

Critics, including teachers unions, have long blamed the proliferation of charter schools for putting pressure on local education budgets. But supporters say the schools are a necessary alternative for students who need something more than what traditional schools can offer.

The California Charter Schools Association, which had opposed the bill, says it is now "neutral" after the changes.

"We are committed to moving forward together to increase access to high-quality public schools of all types and for all kids," association President and CEO Myrna Castrejon said in a news release.

Labor groups — including the California Teachers Association and the California Labor Federation — issued a statement saying they look forward to Newsom signing the bill into law and that "the groundswell of action and support for this bill over the last several months underscores the sense of urgency in our communities to enact these much-needed changes."