Opposing sides find agreement on charter transparency

Opposing sides find agreement on charter transparency

(Calif.) It appears a standoff of nearly a decade between charters and traditional public schools over what extent charters are subject to California’s open meeting and disclosure laws may finally be coming to an end.

AB 276, authored by Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, would put charter schools and entities managing charter schools under the Ralph M. Brown Act or Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act–whichever is applicable.

Similar bills have been proposed in recent years, but failed to win passage because charter advocates successfully argued that rigid requirements of such laws don’t mesh well with fundamental tenants of the charter movement that give the schools freedom and flexibility.

Supporters of prior bills–including the California Teachers Association and the California Schools Boards Association–have said that more transparency is needed on charter operations.

This time, it would appear, that the charter schools have finally agreed.

Medina’s bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee late last month, and is scheduled for a hearing before the appropriations committee once the Legislature reconvenes next month.

Carlos Marquez, speaking on behalf of the California Charter Schools Association, told lawmakers that the bill is “fair and balanced, and a common sense approach to aligning charter school flexibilities with compliance with open meetings and public records acts.”

Additionally, he noted that if the bill remains as is, “we’re inclined to support the bill as it moves forward through the legislative process and as it goes before the governor.”

At least eight other bills have been introduced that aimed to require charter schools to comply with the open meeting and public disclosure requirements under the Ralph M. Brown Act, Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, the California Public Records Act, and the conflict of interest disclosure requirements under the Political Reform Act–or some combination of those.

One such bill, SB 1216, authored by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, failed to move forward earlier this year after failing to find a middle ground between charter advocates and opposition.

As has been the case in the past, Glazer’s bill was met with pushback from both sides which claim to be supportive of the same reforms, though often disagree over the details.

For instance, Brown Act requirements have been interpreted to call on charter operators to hold their board meetings in each jurisdiction where they have schools–posing a logistical nightmare for large operators with schools scattered statewide.

Glazer’s bill sought to allow charter school governing bodies that operate charter schools in multiple school districts to hold an open meeting within the geographic boundaries of a school district in which one of the charter schools operates, and set up teleconference locations in each school district where its other sites are located.

Critics of the bill argued that face-to-face meetings within local communities would be a better way of engaging with families, and that telecommunication is largely dissatisfying for parents who want to express concerns.

Under the Bagley-Keene Act school districts are required to keep the public informed by posting notices and agendas of state public body meetings and publicly reporting any action taken in closed sessions.

Medina’s bill also states that charters would be subject to the California Public Records Act, the Political Reform Act of 1974, and the conflict of interest provisions of Government Code Section 1090.

“This has been an issue that we’ve been working on for a decade, and we’re pleased to have finally found the right balance,” Carlos Machado, a legislative advocate for the California School Boards Association, told lawmakers. “Right now we have a patchwork of compliance statewide, depending upon how well negotiations happen locally between authorizers and the charters. This would finally provide some consistency statewide.”

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