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Louis Freedberg of EdSource explains here why California charter schools are largely unsupervised, leading to a drumbeat of scandals like the recent indictment of 11 people charged with a theft of $80 million.
As charter school conflicts intensify in California, increasing attention is being focused not only on the schools themselves but on the school boards and other entities that grant them permission to operate in the first place.
They’re called charter authorizers, and unlike many states, California has hundreds of them: 294 local school districts, 41 county offices of education, along with the State Board of Education.
In fact, California, with over 1300 charters schools, has more authorizers than any other state. That’s not only because of California’s size but also because it has an extremely decentralized approach to charter school authorization.
Someone wishing to start a charter school, or to renew a charter, must apply to a local school district to get the green light to do so. If a petition is turned down by the district, applicants can appeal to county boards of education, and if they are denied there, they can go to the State Board of Education as a last resort.
An emerging question is whether California’s authorizers have the skills, capacity and guidance to adequately oversee the charter schools under their jurisdiction.
Under the state’s extremely lax law, a tiny rural district may authorize a charter to open for business in an urban district hundreds of miles away. The rural district collects a commission, the charter has no supervision.
A win-win for the charter and the authorizer, a lose-lose for taxpayers and students.
The California problem is not that authorizers need training, but that any district can authorize charters in other districts.
The law should be changed so that districts control whether charters open inside their boundaries. The current law encourages scavengers to prey on other districts. This must stop. Give districts control and responsibility for the schools inside their geographic area. Stop the charter vandals whose only goal is profiteering without oversight.