Charter School Transparency and Ethics In Oakland-The Facts

After two special meetings this week discussing charter schools by the OUSD board I was more confused than enlightened.  And while there are legitimate, if sometimes overstated, critiques of charters and the effect they can have on the broader system, some of what I heard was just factually wrong, and could have been corrected by just checking with staff.  Not sure why that happened, but let me try to correct the record here.

Public schools need transparency around decision-making, use of the public’s money, and to avoid conflicts of interest.  As a legal matter this means following the “Brown Act” Open Meeting Law, Public Records Act, and also public ethics laws around conflict of interest.  While there is some dispute around whether charters statewide are bound by all these standards, from my understanding, every Oakland charter school agrees in its charter to meet the Brown Act, Public records Act, and also to comply with the same conflict of interest standards governing public officials like the OUSD Board.

Let me repeat, every Oakland charter school agrees in its charter to meet the Brown Act, Public Records Act, and also to comply with the same conflict of interest standards governing public officials like the OUSD Board.

It was particularly strange that the OUSD board members didn’t seem aware of this fact, and wasted precious time bemoaning it.

Every charter in Oakland, as part of its chartering or renewal, agrees to a set of conditions.  There are 28 pages of required language in every charter and also a statement of assurances (which I copied at the end of the piece).  Brown Act- yes, Public records- yes, Conflicts- yes.

I know you may have heard differently, but every charter public school posts its meetings on their website, the meetings are open, and the public can observe and comment.  Check the websites, visit a meeting, please just don’t act like some of y’all do at the OUSD meetings.

And OUSD board members we would love to see you at our meetings, they take less than 6 hours.

Every charter can attest that we follow the Public Records Act.  In fact, right now hundreds of hours are being taken away from children by burdensome records requests from folks who profess to be serving kids.

And, again as far as I can figure out, the same conflict of interest requirement that apply to OUSD have been adopted by every Oakland charter, and from what I have seen we interpret them even more tightly (at least at my schools).  Case and point, I taught a year- long club and also a stipended class, but rather than accepting payment or even reimbursement for materials and then potentially implicating conflict of interest rules—I just charged it to the game.

Does every school follow these perfectly, probably not.  If they are out of compliance they should face the music, face whatever sanction is due and get compliant. But let’s not start throwing stones from glass houses.  In fact I think if you double check the OUSD’s boards meetings this week—not sure they met the Brown Act requirements.  And on conflicts, has the OUSD Board had members who also contracted with the district or whose non profits did?

This stuff is tough, and keeping up with it can be practically hard while getting the business of the schools done.  And in reality, sometimes these contracts, even when there are technical conflicts of interest, are good for schools.

But if you didn’t know what rules govern Oakland charters, now you do.  There are real issues of quality, access, equity, and coordination that we should be discussing.  I hope that we can get to those discussions rather than this ongoing expedition of bigfoot hunting, where we imagine myths and rail against them, while missing real threats and opportunities.

(As a follow up there is some question around the two different conflict of interest laws and specifically the application of government code 1090, we do follow that at EFC schools and our counsel has advised us and other charters to, in a short survey others did as well, but I would need to double check to be sure around every school accepting the requirements–I did reach out to the authorizer but have not heard back)


Statement of Assurances of Every applicant


This form or other similar form must be signed by a duly authorized representative of the petitioner group and submitted with the petition. A petition will be considered incomplete if it is not accompanied by the Statement of Assurances or does not otherwise contain these assurances.


As the authorized representative of the applicant group, I hereby certify under the penalties of perjury that the information submitted in this petition for a charter for (name of school) to be located at___________________________is true to the best of my knowledge and belief; and further, I certify that, if granted a charter, the school:


  1. Will not charge tuition, fees, or other mandatory payments for attendance at the charter school or for participation in programs that are required for students.


  1. Will enroll any eligible student who submits a timely and complete application, unless the school receives a greater number of applications than there are spaces for students, in which case a lottery will take place in accordance with California charter laws and regulations.


  1. Will be non-sectarian in its curriculum, programs, admissions, policies, governance, employment practices, and all other operations.


  1. Will be open to all students, on a space available basis, and shall not discriminate on the basis of the characteristics included in Education Code section 220, including but not limited to race, color, national origin, creed, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, age, ancestry, athletic performance, special need, proficiency in the English language or a foreign language, or academic achievement.


  1. Will not exclude admission based on the student’s or parent’s/guardian’s place of residence, except that a conversion school shall give admission preference to students who reside within the former attendance area of the public school.


  1. Will meet all statewide standards and conduct the pupil assessments required pursuant to Education Code Sections 60605 and 60851 and any other statewide standards authorized in statute or pupil assessments applicable to pupils in noncharter public schools.


  1. Will comply with all applicable portions of the 2015 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act (also known as “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)”).


  1. Will consult, on a regular basis, with parents, guardians and teachers regarding its educational programs, as required by Education Code section 47605(c)(2).


  1. Will offer at least the minimum amount of instructional time at each grade level as required by law, and comply with Title 5, California Code of Regulations, section 11960(b) with respect to the legally required minimum school days.


  1. Will comply with the conditions of apportionment set forth in Education Code section 47612(b) that average daily attendance not be generated by a pupil who is not a California resident, and that “a pupil over 19 years of age shall be continuously enrolled in public school and make satisfactory progress towards award of a high school diploma,” to remain eligible for generating charter school apportionments.


  1. Will provide to the Office of Charter Schools information regarding the proposed operation and potential effects of the school, including, but not limited to, the facilities to be used by the school, including where the school intends to locate, the manner in which administrative services will be provided, and potential civil liability effects, if any, upon the school and authorizing board.


  1. Will adhere to all applicable provisions of federal law relating to students with disabilities, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.


  1. Will comply with the requirement set forth in Education Code section 47605(d)(3) that “[i]f a pupil is expelled or leaves the charter school without graduating or completing the school year for any reason, the charter school shall notify the superintendent of the school district of the pupil’s last known address within 30 days, and shall, upon request, provide that school district with a copy of the cumulative record of the pupil, including a transcript of grades or report card, and health information.”


  1. Will adhere to all applicable provisions of federal law relating to students who are English language learners, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974; MGL c. 76, §5; and MGL c. 89, 71 § (f) and (I).


  1. Will comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99).


  1. Will comply with all other applicable federal and state laws and regulations, including the California Code of Regulations.


  1. Will submit an annual report and annual independent audits to the OUSD Office of Charter Schools by all required deadlines.


  1. Will maintain written contemporaneous records that document all pupil attendance and make these records available for audit and inspection, as required by Education Code section 47612.5(a)(2).


  1. Will submit required enrollment data to the OUSD Office of Charter Schools by the required deadline.


  1. Will comply with “[a]ll laws establishing minimum age for public school attendance,” as required by Education Code section 47610(c).


  1. Will operate in compliance with generally accepted government accounting principles.


  1. Will maintain separate accountings of all funds received and disbursed by the school.


  1. Will participate in the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and other retirement systems, as applicable.


  1. Will obtain, keep current, and make available for inspection all necessary permits, licenses, and certifications related to fire, health and safety within the building(s) and on school property.


  1. Will obtain, keep current, and make available for inspection all necessary teacher certifications, permits or other documents as required under EC Section 47605(l).


  1. Will at all times maintain all necessary and appropriate insurance coverage.


  1. Will submit to the OUSD Office of Charter Schools the names, mailing addresses, and employment and educational histories of proposed new members of the Board of Trustees prior to their service.


  1. Will, in the event the Board of Trustees intends to procure substantially all educational services for the charter school through a contract with another person or entity, provide for approval of such contract by the Board of Education in advance of the beginning of the contract period.


  1. Will require the Charter School Board to comply with the provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act (California Government section Code 54950 et seq.)


  1. Will comply with the provisions of the California Public Records Act (California Government Code section 6250 et seq.).


  1. Will provide financial statements that include a proposed first-year operational budget with start-up costs and anticipated revenues and expenditures necessary to operate the school, including special education; and cash-flow and financial projections for the first three years of operation.


  1. Will provide to the Office of Charter Schools a school code of conduct, Board of Trustee bylaws, an enrollment policy, and an approved certificate of building occupancy for each facility in use by the school, according to the schedule set by the Office of Charter Schools but in any event prior to the opening of the school.


  1. Will be located within the geographical boundaries of the District in locating its site, or otherwise comply with the requirements in Education Code section 47605 and 47605.1.


  1. Will annually adopt a School Accountability Report Card. (Education Code section 47612; California Constitution, Article XVI, Section 8.5).


  1. Will promptly respond to all reasonable requests for information from the District, Alameda County Office of Education, or the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. (Education Code section 47604.3)



  1. Will provide students the right to the exercise of free speech and of the press, including but not limited to the use of bulletin boards; the distribution of printed materials or petitions; the wearing of buttons, badges or other insignia; and the right of expression in official publications. (Education Code sections 48907, 48950).


  1. Will comply with the applicable requirement for instructional minutes set forth in Education Code section 47612.5)


  1. Will comply with the requirements of Education Code section 49010 et seq. with respect to the imposition of pupil fees.


  1. If the school provides independent study, will meet the requirements of Education Code sections 51745-51749.3, as well as report to the Superintendent of Public Instruction any portion of its average daily attendance that is generated through non-classroom-based instruction, including, but not limited to, independent study, home study, work study, and distance and computer-based education. (Education Code section 47612.5, 47632.2, 5 CCR section 11963.2)
What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Charter School Transparency and Ethics In Oakland-The Facts

  1. I am not running any charters, I ran the first charter in NYC to voluntarily organize, and I sit on the board of Education for Change in Oakland and Integration Charter Schools in NYC, which targets students with emerging mental health challenges, and serves over 30% special education students in all our sites most who would get services 60% or above (self contained), I want to develop an inter-generational charter school in Oakland for former foster kids and their kids, but that’s in development

  2. Thanks, Dirk. I missed the OUSD charter school meetings because of the poor notice by the district and am definitely interested to catch up. Hoping you can clarify as I was surprised by your statement that all Oakland charters are submitting to the same conflict of interest provisions as OUSD board and public officials. If they are doing so voluntarily, that would be great to learn I checked the assurances above and a few Oakland charter petitions and I don’t see it. My experience has been that most charter schools and CCSA strongly maintain that the stricter conflict of interest provisions in Gov Code 1090 that apply to district school board members do not apply to non-profit charter boards. It is really the conflict of interest provisions that have been the sticking point over the years more so than Brown Act or Public Records every time the bill (currently AB1478) to clarify this matter comes up in the legislature. There is definite need for clarification in this area, especially as this issue has come up repeatedly in the context of concerns about fraud or financial mismanagement at some schools in the charter sector. For some reason, the state AG’s office has been sitting on issuing an opinion on this matter for more than 6 years–it’s the longest pending request for an advisory opinion. Public Advocates has extensive analysis on these issues in a submission to the AG’s office that I’m happy to share and will try to get posted to our site.

    Another issue is whether schools are actually meeting their assurances. We know across both sectors compliance and execution is a challenge. For example, the assurances above contain a provision around not charging illegal fees (which has always been the law applying to public schools including charters) but as of a few years ago, several charter schools in Oakland were requiring set number work hours from parents. The OUSD charter office only took action on this after PA released its Charging for Access report documenting this practice across the state.

    It is helpful to have folks working with charter schools supporting them to provide public transparency and local accountability. If you’re in touch with any, please remind them to post LCAPs and engage students and families in their development. I know of at least one charter school that adopts their education and spending plan as part of the consent agenda.

    1. Really appreciate the comments, we follow 1090 and that was the recommendation of counsel and we almost all use the same counsel, I would have to double check if everyone does, though I thought that was the district’s position– but they didnt respond when I asked about what they required– and yes– even with what is on paper the proof is in the practices, I will circulate a reminder about LCAP posting, we have done some proactive Brown Act work– auditing web sites and informing schools and leaders about compliance as well as training, I want us to do a pre emptive look at admissions and disciplinary policies, and beyond compliance to think about more effective and equitable policies. Happy to discuss how to best do this work. And by all means if you hear of charters doing dirt, let me know and I will do my best to have a “conversation” about it with them. But more broadly happy to share some of what I am trying to do around charter compliance and equity, and would love to get your input.

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