Charter reforms sidetracked

Facing objections raised by Gov. Jerry Brown, Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Julia Brownley this week withdrew a package of charter reform bills that she and the California Charter Schools Assn. had spent four months negotiating. She expressed optimism that she could satisfy Brown’s concerns, which she would not specify, in coming months.

Brownley pulled AB 360, requiring that charters comply with public records, open meeting, and conflict of interest laws, and AB 440, which would set new academic minimums for a school to have its charter renewed. A third bill, SB 645, sponsored by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, had already been waylaid by the Assembly.

Brownley, D-Santa Monica, has spent two years pushing for more transparency and tighter accounting requirements in charter school operations. The charter schools association has called for using minimum API scores and academic growth measures to weed out poorly performing charters, and asked Simitian to sponsor their bill. The association and Brownley came together to see if they could settle their differences.

They came close. AB 320 already had passed both chambers of the Legislature and was a procedural vote from heading to Brown for his signature. AB 440 was headed for a final vote in the Senate, where it faced opposition from some Republican senators, the CTA, and the California School Boards Assn. for different reasons. While there still was a good chance it would have passed, Brownley said she ran out of time to address Brown’s issues.

Brownley and Simitian met with Brown last month for what turned into a 2 ½ hour meeting. Brown founded and was intricately involved in two charter schools in Oakland, and has strong views on how charters should operate.

Brownley said that Brown did not offer specific changes to the bills but expressed concern that the academic targets and blanket conflict of interest regulations not be too prescriptive. The charter schools association had created exemptions to regulations that it thought protected charters.

It was a timing issue, Brownley said. “There wasn’t enough time left in the session for the governor to feel comfortable with where we were headed.”

Author: John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (www.TOPed.org), one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

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