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Governor signs landmark charter school reform bills

SACRAMENTO—Governor Gavin Newsom signed two landmark charter school bills, CSEA-sponsored bill AB 1505 (O’Donnell) and AB 1507 (Smith), taking a major step forward in reforming California’s decades-old charter school laws.

Over the past several years, public schools and students have suffered from loose guidelines that have allowed many of the state’s 1,300-plus charter schools to seek approval from state-level bureaucrats rather than local school boards. Publicly-funded, privately-managed charter schools have also employed uncredentialed teachers and run afoul of the law, creating online schools with false information. AB 1505 addresses these issues and more in the first major update of the state’s charter school law in decades

“As classified employees, we often see the effects that charter schools have on our local districts and in our communities,” said Association President Ben Valdepeña. “This legislation puts the needs of all California students first by holding charter schools more accountable.”

Governor Newsom said California now has the framework for charter schools and traditional schools to work together collaboratively.

“AB 1505 is the result of leaders from all sides of this issue coming together to enact a law that is meaningful, purposeful and, most importantly, prioritizes students and families from both traditional and charter schools across California,” he said.

Under the new law, many of the problems that have plagued the authorizing process will be improved. The State Board of Education will no longer serve as a chartering authority. Local school boards will be given more discretion to deny charters based on the fiscal impact they pose to local districts and academic programs or services they offer that would substantially undermine those already offered by the district. Charter school petitions will also now have to identify how they will maintain a balance of special education and English language learning students that reflects the community.

Charter school teachers will now have to abide by the same safety, fingerprinting and credentialing requirements as traditional public school teachers. Also, a two-year moratorium will be imposed on new virtual and home school charters.

AB 1507

Governor Newsom also signed AB 1507 which removes a loophole in the law that has allowed charter schools to operate outside their authorizers’ boundaries.

School districts have often been forced to accommodate charter schools they did not authorize themselves, but were approved by an outside district, often limiting resources and splitting student populations. AB 1507 will prevent an authorizer from approving a charter school not within their jurisdiction, but will keep a provision allowing charter schools not approved by a school district to appeal to county boards of education.

AB 1505 Highlights

AB 1505 will curb charter school growth, create more local control for school districts and increase accountability for charter schools.

Limits Charter School Growth:

  • Imposes a two-year moratorium on all new virtual and home school charters, using this time to develop a comprehensive reform package

  • Empowers all school boards to deny new charter schools based on fiscal impact and allows them to deny charter schools if they substantially undermine existing services, academic offerings and programmatic offerings

  • Empowers all school boards to consider the needs of existing students and the impacts the charter school will have on them

  • Allows school boards to deny new charter schools if they would duplicate a program currently offered in the district that has capacity to serve the students

  • Creates a presumption of denial for any new charter schools being proposed in a fiscally strained district or in districts that have been taken over by the state

  • Allows school boards to deny charter school expansion based on fiscal impact

Provides Local Control:

  • Eliminates the State Board of Education (SBE) as a chartering authority, transitioning their existing charter schools and authority to local school districts or county offices

  • Limits the ability of the SBE to reverse a denial of a charter school to only those cases where the local school or county board abused its discretion

  • Prohibits charter schools from making any material changes to their petition without going through the local school board first

  • Provides school districts an additional 30 days to consider charter petitions

  • Clarifies that any charter school may be denied for fiscal and governance concerns

Increases Accountability / Levels the Playing Field

  • Eliminates all prior references to academic achievement as the “most important factor” in renewing or revoking charters

  • Requires all charter school teachers to abide by the same safety/fingerprinting and credentialing requirements as other teachers

  • Requires all charter schools to be evaluated on the same outcomes and data as traditional schools after January 1, 2026

  • Requires all charter schools to receive technical assistance and intervention on the same terms as traditional schools

  • Requires charter schools to identify in their petitions how they will maintain a balance of special education and EL students that reflects the community

  • Requires chartering authorities to monitor “creaming and cropping” (cherry picking the best students) and allows them to shut down schools engaging in such misconduct

  • Establishes presumptive closure for low-performing charter schools with some limited exceptions

  • Reduces the potential renewal term of a low-quality charter school from five years to two years

  • Requires the CDE to collect and monitor data on the implementation of the bill, including patterns in authorization and appeals

  • Specifies that all Charter Schools Act provisions are non-waivable by the SBE, so charter schools cannot avoid provisions of the new law