Capitol Alert

Charter school disclosure bill on fast track after push by Gavin Newsom

Charter schools in California could soon have to hold open meetings and hand over records under a bill being fast-tracked in the Legislature.

The bill passed the state Senate 34-2 with bipartisan support Thursday and now moves to the Assembly.

Sen. Connie Leyva, who authored the bill, said she anticipates lawmakers will send it to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk next week.

“The governor’s office asked us to do this bill,” said Leyva, a Chino Democrat. “We feel pretty confident that he’ll sign it if it gets to him.”

The bill codifies a recent opinion by the California attorney general that says charter schools, which are publicly funded but operate independently of traditional public school systems, must follow the same transparency rules as traditional public schools. That includes making their board meetings and internal records public.

People who run charter schools would also be banned from using their positions for profit or political gain.

The bill is backed by the state’s major teachers unions, who supported Newsom in his gubernatorial campaign and have long advocated for more transparency for charter schools.

“We want a charter transparency bill,” Newsom said in January when he unveiled his budget proposal. “I’m not bashing charters here, but I made a commitment I’m following through on that commitment.”

He urged lawmakers to push a charter transparency bill “over the finish line.”

“The governor was very clear that he wanted to get something done on transparency and he wanted it done quickly,” Leyva said. “We are getting it done quickly and it’s because we have a deal.”

The California Charter Schools Association took a neutral position on the bill. Carlos Marquez, the organization’s vice president for government affairs, described the bill as a “balanced approach” that preserves charter schools’ flexibility while still requiring that they operate transparently.

Many charter schools are already following the transparency measures in the bill, he said, adding that he hopes it removes the “cudgel” opponents use to characterize people who run charters as “looking to line their pockets.”

“Hopefully settling this area of law will put those falsehoods to bed,” he told lawmakers at a committee hearing earlier this week.

Charter Schools Development Center opposes the bill and has raised concern that the requirements could be overly burdensome for charter schools.

California teachers participating in recent strikes have criticized charter schools as draining money from traditional public schools. In Los Angeles, the school district agreed to the union’s demand to consider a cap on charters as part of its agreement to end a strike there last month. Teachers striking this week in Oakland are demanding more charter school accountability in addition to higher teacher salaries.

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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