This section includes short summaries of several laws having to do with California’s charter schools. These laws and policies may look different in implementation due to administrative realities or subsequent legislation. The full text of the bills as they were enacted can be seen by going to www.leginfo.ca.gov.
Major California Laws
Charter Schools Act of 1992: Senate Bill 1448 (Hart)
Senate Bill (SB) 1448 made California the second state in the nation to allow public charter schools. Its stated intent was to “provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure.”
The legislation limited the number of charter schools to 100, with no more than 10 per school district. In addition, SB 1448 said that the California Department of Education (CDE) must complete an evaluation of the charter school approach six years after the effective date of the law—long enough to see a complete cycle of charter approval and renewal. Funding would “follow the student” as he or she left a traditional public school to attend a charter school.
Assembly Bill 544 (Lempert)In July 1998 lawmakers passed Assembly Bill (AB) 544, which strengthened both the independence and accountability of charter schools. The law also increased the number of charter schools allowed in California from 100 to 250 by the end of the 1998–99 school year and allowed the state to approve up to 100 additional petitions for charter schools annually. Under the law, nonprofit organizations can operate charter schools and the State Board of Education (SBE) has the authority to grant and revoke charters.
AB 544 also changed the charter-petitioning requirements and requires charter school teachers of core academic subjects to hold certification equivalent to what other public school teachers are required to hold.
Assembly Bill 1115 (Budget committee)In 1999, lawmakers passed AB 1115, which set up a system so that all charter schools can receive their funding either through their school district or directly from the state in the form of a entitlement and a block grant. Under the block grant program, charter schools must receive the state average amount allocated to schools for the programs in the block grant but cannot apply for additional funding from those programs. The law also allowed charter schools to apply for categorical programs not included in the block grant and to receive their share of lottery funds directly.
In addition, the law provided that charter schools receive the statewide average in Economic Impact Aid ( ) for every disadvantaged pupil in the school through the categorical block grant. The law also allowed charter schools to negotiate with a local education agency ( ) for shares of local sources of funding.
Finally, AB 1115 allowed charter schools to be LEAs for funding and made it possible for them to join a Special Education Local Plan Area ( ) or form their own SELPA (with approval from the State Board of Education).
Assembly Bill 1994 (Reyes)Financial misconduct by a few charter schools—in particular one that was operating campuses hundreds of miles apart—triggered passage of AB 1994 in 2002, which increased oversight of charter schools. The law also tightened the charter-approval process and curtailed the freedom of charter schools to serve any grade and locate anywhere in the state.
Assembly Bill 1137 (Reyes)Signed into law in October 2003, AB 1137 increased the accountability of charter schools, created performance requirements, and added four programs to the charter school categorical block grant.
Under the accountability requirements of AB 1137, districts or other agencies that grant charter authority must identify a contact person for charter schools, visit each charter school at least once a year, and ensure that charter schools submit all required reports (including fiscal reports that must be sent four times a year to the district and local county office of education). In addition, the district must monitor the fiscal condition of its charter schools and notify the State Department of Education (SBE) whenever a charter is granted, denied, revoked, or closed.
AB 1137 also required that charter schools show a certain level of academic performance to have their charters renewed. For existing charters, this provision takes effect after they have operated for four years. But beginning in 2005, all new charter schools must comply with set academic performance requirements.
Finally, AB 1137 added four programs to the charter school categorical block grant. (See AB 1115 above.)
Other California Laws
Senate Bill 267 (Lewis)In 1999, lawmakers passed SB 267, which allows new “start-up” charter schools to apply directly to the California Department of Education (CDE) for a loan of up to $250,000.
Assembly Bill 631 (Migden)Also passed in 1999, AB 631 made clear that charter employees are allowed to join or form a union and engage in collective bargaining. It also required charter schools to declare whether the school or the charter-granting entity would be the employer for collective bargaining.
Proposition 39In November 2000, voters passed , which lowers the threshold needed to approve local general obligation bonds for school construction from a two-thirds to a 55% majority. Proposition 39 also offered guarantees to charter schools, ensuring that students who attend a charter school in their district of residence have facilities that are “sufficient” and “reasonably equivalent” to the other buildings or classrooms in the district. The buildings also need to be “furnished and equipped” and reasonably close to where the charter school wishes to locate. However, to get this support, the charter school must serve a minimum of 80 students who live within the district’s boundaries.
Senate Bill 675 (Poochigian)Passed in 2001, SB 675 requires charter schools to submit their annual financial and compliance reports to the California Department of Education (CDE) in addition to their chartering agency (school district or county office of education).
Senate Bill 740 (O’Connell)Passed in 2001, SB 740 puts tighter controls on charter schools offering nonclassroom-based instruction, such as distance learning and home schooling. For example, the State Board of Education can reduce the funding that these schools receive based on their operating expenses.
In addition, the bill sought to ease the financial burden of charter schools that operate within districts that serve primarily low-income students. SB 740 provides charter schools with up to $750 per student based on average daily attendance ( ) to assist with rent or lease costs (up to 75% of total rent/lease costs). However, schools accepting this aid cannot offer nonclassroom-based instruction and cannot occupy an existing school district or county office of education facility.