Legislative Update - Charter School Transparency Bill Fast-Tracked
On Tuesday the Senate Education Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill (SB) 126 (Leyva/O’Donnell), a bill to specifically apply the Ralph M. Brown Act, California Public Records Act, Political Reform Act, and Government Code 1090 to charter schools and entities managing charter schools. These laws already apply to traditional school district governing boards.
The bill is being fast-tracked through the Legislature and comes on the heels of an opinion by the State Attorney General (AG) stating that these laws currently apply to charter schools. But because his opinion is only advisory, the debate will continue until the matter is clarified by statute or case law.
There are a few important caveats to the applicability of the Brown Act and Government Code 1090 referenced in SB 126, specifically around board meeting locations, accommodations for those attending remotely, and protections for charter school employees who also sit on the charter's governing board. You can read the full text of the bill by clicking on the link above.
“Entity Managing a Charter School"
The bill defines an “entity managing a charter school” as any non-profit public benefit corporation that operates a charter school consistent with the definition in Education Code Section 47604.
The bill states an entity that is not authorized to operate a charter school under Section 47604 is not an “entity managing a charter school” solely because it contracts with a charter school to provide to that charter school goods or task-related services that are performed at the direction of the charter school governing board and for which the charter school governing body retains ultimate decision-making authority.
The bill also recognizes that some charter school governing boards may have governance duties unrelated to the charter school and segregates those decisions from these provisions. Specifically, the bill clarifies that a meeting of the governing body of a charter school to discuss items related to the operation of the charter school shall not include discussion on any item regarding an activity of the governing body that is not related to the operation of the charter school.
Given the strong public and institutional support for these reforms and lack of opposition, SB 126 appears to be a juggernaut. It’s widely expected to pass the Legislature and has Governor Newsom’s support. The only opposition to the bill comes from the Charter School Development Center.
The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) has a neutral position on the bill. In a letter to the Senate Education Committee, CCSA writes, “we view SB 126 as a balanced and comprehensive resolution to the longstanding debate about the applicability to charter schools of California’s open meetings, public records, and conflict of interest laws.”
Support for the bill includes statewide labor, management, and social justice groups, specifically:
· California Teachers Association (CTA)
· California Federation of Teachers (CFT)
· AFSCME, local 57
· SEIU California
· State PTA
· Association of School Administrators (ACSA)
· Small School Districts Association (SSDA)
· California School Boards Association (CSBA)
· California Association of School Business Officials (CASBO)
· California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA)
· Public Advocates
· And several individual school agencies
In a letter signed by organizations supporting SB 126, supporters say, “transparency necessitates that we require companies and organizations that manage charter schools to release to parents and the public how they spend taxpayer money, including their annual budgets and contracts. Companies and organizations that manage charter schools must open board meetings to parents and the public, similar to public school board meetings. The public’s business should be transacted in public. Public agencies must take their actions openly and their deliberations must be conducted openly.”
SB 126 is headed directly to the Senate Floor as the bill is not considered a fiscal bill, meaning it will avoid the Appropriations Committees in both houses (absent amendments to make it fiscal). Because the bill is a compromise between the Newsom Administration, CTA, CCSA, and Legislative leaders, we don’t expect significant amendments to the bill as it quickly moves to the Governor’s desk.
Lastly, don’t expect SB 126 to be the only charter school reform legislation in 2019, in fact we anticipate several bill introductions on the topic this week. Those bills will address, among other things, charter school governance, authorization, appeals, location/siting, and transparency. While many legislators will be itching to address these issues, the Governor’s appetite for these changes is unknown. Anyone who follows charter school debates knows that means it’s time to get your popcorn ready and buckle up.
We’ll update you as things develop. In the meantime, please let us know if we can provide any additional information.
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