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With Choice Initiative as a Backdrop, 'Charter Schools' Proposed in Calif.

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Two influential California lawmakers have moved to head off support for a proposed school-choice ballot initiative by introducing proposals under which groups of teachers would be able to break away from the existing public school bureaucracy and create their own schools under a contract or "charter" with a district or the state.

The charter-schools bills were unveiled this month by Senator Gary K. Hart and Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin, the chairmen of the education committees in the two legislative chambers.

Both lawmakers acknowledged that their legislation was designed, in part, to derail the choice proposal, which would enable parents to send their children to public or private schools at state expense. (See Education Week, Sept. 18, 1991.)

Supporters of the Parental Choice Initiative are trying to gather enough signatures to place the proposal before voters in November.

But David J. Harmer, president of the Excellence Through Choice in Education League, which is behind the voucher initiative, argued that the bills could actually help his cause.

"People don't think it's coincidental that the legislation is being introduced now, when we're really building momentum for qualifying the choice initiative," he said. "It's just one more sign that they're running scared."

To date, the campaign has gathered about 180,000 signatures out of the 650,000 needed to place it on the November ballot.

'Broken and Require Fixing'

Although the details of the charter-school bills differ, both plans would free charter schools from most existing rules and regulations, in exchange for specifying the educational outcomes that they hope to achieve and agreeing to be held accountable for results.

Charter schools would be nonsectarian and tuition-free. They could not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or disability.

They also would have to meet health and safety standards and reflect the racial and ethnic balance of the district in which they are located.

The two bills contain some significant differences, however. Under Senator Hart's proposal, teachers at charter schools would not have to possess valid teaching licenses, unless specified in the charter. That idea is vehemently opposed by the state's teachers' unions.

Assemblywoman Eastin's bill would allow only credentialed teachers to teach.

The Senate bill also would limit the number of charter schools to 100 and require that such schools gain the support of at least half the teachers in a school or 10 percent of teachers districtwide.

Ms. Eastin's bill would authorize only local school boards to grant charters. But it specifies that if two thirds of the teachers and a majority of the parents at a given school apply to the board to change their school to a charter school, the school board would have to approve their application. It also contains an appeal process for other applicants.

"Clearly, some of California's public schools are broken and require fixing," Ms. Eastin said. "it is time for as to create a different environment for public education the factory-school model is not working for all of our children."

Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig, a vocal opponent of the choice initiative, "is very suppertive" of the charter-schools legislation, according to a spokesman.

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