Charter Schools Are Public Schools and the Latest Transparency Laws Will Make All of Them Act Like It

Charter schools are public schools by law in California, and the new laws signed by governor Newsom around charter school transparency will make all of them act like it.  This is welcomed by many of us. After banning for profit charters last year, it is another important step in updating the charter law here.  Granted, that most if not all Oakland charters had already agreed to these rules, but there should only be one set of rules around transparency for public schools in California, and it should apply equally to both public school sectors.

Sunshine is a solid disinfectant, and while it won’t solve every issue, having clear rules around open meetings, public document disclosure and conflicts of interest, will help safeguard the public’s trust and the public’s coffers.  This matters for schools, the families, and the public.  I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of charters.  Some schools meticulously follow the rules and include stakeholders and families, but I also was on a board here, run by an outside entity, where they would hand out financial documents at meetings and collect them at the end—calling them “privileged”-that school, Dolores Huerta Learning Academy was rightfully closed.

But years later, and at what cost to families.

Clarifying these rules will help pull the fig leaf from future scammers and incompetents, which exist in every sector.  EdSource summed up the changes here, noting

The new law requires California’s 1,300-plus charter schools to follow the same laws governing open meetings, public records and conflicts of interest that apply to school districts. They include ensuring board meetings are open to the public, providing records to the public upon request and, to prevent personal gain, banning board members from voting on contracts in which they have a financial interest.

“In essence, to me, this made common sense,” Newsom said. “It’s a transparency bill and we are for transparency. And sometimes people claim they are for transparency for everybody else, but not for themselves. In this case it’s transparency for all of us. And I thought it was a very healthy thing as well.”

Combine this bill with last year’s measure banning for profit charter schools, and we are getting some meaningful ground rules for charters in California.  For too long the public school wars have thwarted efforts at reasonable regulation.  With one side trying to weaponize even common sense regulations, and the other side, at times, fighting any all regulation—regardless of merit.

Charter Schools Are Public Schools

Charters are a significant sector of California education, and will continue to be.  They serve roughly 30% of students here in Oakland and operate over 1300 schools statewide.  It is time that the sector grows up and accepts the wholesale responsibility of being public schools.

And just to clarify for the other set of extremists who want to scream about “charters not being public schools” and those who may have heard the mantra and honestly not known better.  Let’s set the record straight.  Here is what the California Department of Education has to say, which is pretty much the last work on education in California.

Q.1 What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school that provides instruction in any combination of grades, kindergarten through grade twelve. Parents, teachers, or community members may initiate a charter petition, which is typically presented to and approved by a local school district governing board. California Education Code (EC) also allows, under certain circumstances, for county boards of education and the State Board of Education to be charter authorizing entities.

Specific goals and operating procedures for a charter school are detailed in the agreement between the charter authorizing entity and the charter developer. A charter school is exempted from many of the statutes and regulations that apply to school districts. Students enroll in charter schools on a voluntary basis.

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Q.2 Are charter schools part of the public school system?

Yes. Charter schools are under the jurisdiction of the Public School System, as specified in EC Section 47615 .

A Cease Fire in the Public School Wars

In the public school wars here, they want you to pick a side.  These rules should be welcomed by both sides, and more so, will help families, students, the public and the taxpayers.  I hope we can put down the pitchforks and make sure that charters schools live up to their promise as public schools, and that all public school do better at keeping their promises to families.

What do you think?

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