New overseer for charters urgedState board too consumed by charter petitions
Charter schools have become a time sink for the State Board of Education, with a third of its time spent dealing with schools serving 5 percent of California’s students. Relieving that burden is one reason that the Little Hoover Commission, a state oversight body, is recommending that California establish an independent body to directly authorize and oversee charter schools.
A California Board of Charter Schools would not replace local districts and county offices of education, which are still the primary authorizers of charters, but it would offer an alternative path for charter applicants, and, under the Little Hoover Commission’s plan, it would have the ability to revoke the authorizing power of local districts that are either too lax in monitoring charters or discriminatory in keeping them out. The Little Hoover Commission heard evidence that both situations exist.
Creating the charter school board is not a new idea. The Little Hoover Commission and the Legislative Analyst have recommended this before. And Caprice Young, the former CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, reports she urged it as well as a member of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Committee on Education Excellence. With the continued rapid growth of charter schools – there are now 912, the most in any state by far – and the number of appeals before the State Board growing, the idea has again surfaced.
The Board of Charter Schools would operate within the state Department of Education, with its members appointed by the governor and the Legislature. The state Board of Education would continue to hear the appeals from charters denied by local districts and county education offices, and would keep its power to revoke poorly performing or dishonest charters. The Little Hoover Commission expects, however, that over time, the State Board of Education would see a diminishing caseload, opening up more time for it to focus on broader policy questions.
Colorado and Arizona also have independent charter authorizing boards. In several states, colleges and universities are charter authorizers as well, but the Little Hoover Commission said that California institutions of higher education have lobbied against the idea.
The report, Smarter Choices, Better Education: Improving California’s Charter Schools, recommends several other reforms.
- It endorses the idea of a performance contract between charters and authorizers to nail down commitments for academic progress and rights of charters to facilities. The charter petition doesn’t cover some of the negotiated specifics. The report recommends that the new board create model contracts.
- The Little Hoover Commission concluded that the criteria for renewing charters are too vague and “the bar is set too low, making it difficult for authorizers to close down poor-performing schools.” Therefore, the Legislature should rewrite renewal criteria while keeping them flexible enough not to punish charters that serve at-risk students.
- Because it takes at least several years for a new charter to establish itself and collect data on student performance, the report recommends that charters initially be granted for a minimum of five years. (The State Board of Education would still have revocation authority.) Accomplished charter schools should be granted charter extensions for up to 10 years.