School Choice & Charters

Calif. Shelves Bid For More Charter Sponsors

By Caroline Hendrie — May 21, 2003 2 min read
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Getting more players into the game of authorizing and overseeing charter schools was this year’s top legislative priority for California’s charter school association. But a bill to make that happen has been shelved until next year because of lack of support among state legislators.

If the legislation eventually passes, California will join other states that have given chartering authority to big-city mayors, higher education institutions, and certain nonprofit organizations.

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, a former California governor and former candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, was among those who went to bat for the multiple- authorizer measure at a May 7 hearing before the education committee of the California Assembly, the legislature’s lower house.

Mr. Brown was a strong backer of two charter schools that are up and running in Oakland, and told committee members that mayors can play major roles in lowering the barriers charter schools face in getting off the ground.

Powerful Foes

But lining up against the bill were such political heavyweights as the state’s affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, as well as the 750,000-student Los Angeles school district.

“We believe that the authority for running the K-12 schools ought to reside within the K-12 system, period,” Mike Weimer, a legislative representative for the California Federation of Teachers, said in an interview last week.

In California, the power to grant charters rests primarily with local school districts. County boards of education and the state school board can approve charters that are rejected by local officials, as well as certain proposals for multiple-site charters.

The California Network of Educational Charters, which represents about 70 percent of the state’s more than 430 charter schools, argues that expanding the number of authorizers would improve accountability in the charter sector. The group vowed to fight for the bill next year.

Faced with certain defeat in the Assembly education committee, the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Patricia C. Bates, got the panel to agree on May 7 to take the measure off the table for this year. The move allows her to revive the measure in 2004.

Ms. Bates, the top-ranking Republican on the Assembly appropriations committee, said she introduced the bill as a way to expand offerings within public education.

“As a mother, I understand the need to offer parents and students a variety of educational opportunities,” she said in a statement.

But in a letter to the committee, Mr. Weimer of the California Federation of Teachers called the bill “a blatant attempt to expand the number of charter schools.” And in a separate letter objecting to the bill, the top lobbyist for the Los Angeles school district argued that it would cause “confusion at the local level for parents and educational agencies,” by blurring “the question of who would ultimately be held accountable for the education of the children.”

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