Brown’s signature may end for-profit charters in CA

Brown’s signature may end for-profit charters in CA

(Calif.) For-profit charter schools could become a thing of the past in California under a bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s approval.

AB 406–which cleared both houses earlier this week–would prohibit for-profit corporations from managing and operating charter schools, after a highly publicized case in 2016 demonstrated how one of the largest for-profit school management companies in the country was taking millions in public state funding while their students faced poor academic outcomes.

“The privatization of public education must end,” Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, the bill’s author, said in a statement. “Passage of AB 406 puts student success ahead of corporate profits and affirms California’s belief that public tax dollars should be spent to increase student success in the classroom, not to increase corporate wealth the boardroom.”

McCarty cited a story from the Mercury News that uncovered problems with K12 Inc., a for-profit operation based in Virginia that manages publicly funded charter schools in about 15 states, as his motivation for carrying the bill. Reporters found that K12 Inc. graduated fewer than half of its high school students enrolled in its California Virtual Academies, and that some teachers said they were pressured to inflate grades and enrollment records.

California Virtual Academy is the largest provider of online public education in the state, serving more than 25,000 students. The school relies on K-12 Inc. as its primary vendor and manager. According to a legislative staff report, K12 Inc. received more than $310 million in public funds over the last 12 years.

Reporters discovered that children who logged onto the company's software for as little as one minute per day were counted as "present" for the purposes of calculating how much funding the company would receive from California taxpayers.

K12 Inc. settled a lawsuit with the state in 2016 for $168.5 million over claims that it manipulated attendance records and other measures of student success.

AB 406 would prohibit for-profit corporations and for-profit educational management organizations from running taxpayer-funded and independently run charter schools in California, even if the schools themselves are technically nonprofits.

There are currently about 35 charter schools that meet that criteria, according to McCarty’s office.

Gov. Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2015, arguing that the language was too ambiguous, and could prevent nonprofit charters from hiring for-profit companies for various services. In his veto message, he wrote that he didn’t believe “the case has been made to eliminate for-profit charter schools in California.”

Supporters of AB 406 include the California Teachers Association, the Association of California School Administrators, the California School Boards Association, and the California Charter Schools Association–organizations that tend to fall on opposing sides of many issues.

Early discussions about the bill saw charter school supporters worried that the definition of “for-profit” would be overly broad, and could be used to bar any company with which a school has a contract.

The California Charter Schools Association, which originally opposed the bill, moved to support the bill shortly before it passed a final vote in the Assembly.

“We have been working with our members for years to ban for-profit charter schools and we are thrilled this day is finally here,” Jed Wallace, president of the charter schools association, said in a statement. “Charter schools are public schools created to put the needs of students first. Period.”

Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers agreed, saying in a statement that “stopping the practice of diverting public dollars away from students for corporate profits with little to no accountability or transparency.”

Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto bills.

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