|Budget Issue:||Various changes to charter school petitions and oversight.|
|Finding or Recommendation:||Adopt the Governor’s January proposals to (1) allow petitions for countywide charter schools to provide that individual sites are tracked as separate schools for reporting and accountability purposes and (2) provide the State Board of Education additional authority to delegate charter school oversight.|
Countywide and Statewide Charter Schools. Most charter schools in California are authorized and monitored by the school district in which they reside and are prohibited from operating outside the jurisdiction of that district. If a charter school organization is able to demonstrate that it cannot accomplish its educational mission if limited to a single district, however, it may apply for recognition as a countywide or statewide charter school. Countywide charter schools are authorized by a county office of education (COE) and may operate anywhere within the boundaries of that county. Statewide charter schools are authorized by the State Board of Education (SBE) and may operate anywhere within the state. Currently, there are 28 countywide charter schools and 3 statewide charter schools.
Statewide Charter School Sites Tracked Separately. When a charter school submits a petition to SBE to operate as a statewide charter school, it must specify the sites where student instruction will take place. Existing SBE regulations require the school to consist initially of at least two sites (additional sites may be added later with approval of SBE). Although all of the sites are managed by a single agency, each site is tracked separately by the state. Each site, for example, receives a separate ranking for state and federal accountability purposes, is monitored individually by SBE, and can apply individually for various state and federal programs. The 3 statewide charter schools have a total of 14 separately tracked sites.
Countywide Charter School Sites Tracked Collectively. In contrast to statewide charter schools, the sites operated by a countywide charter school are not tracked separately. When a school submits a petition to a COE to operate as a countywide charter school, it still must describe the locations where instruction will occur. The information from each site, however, is aggregated and tracked as a single school. A countywide charter school, for example, receives a single score for state and federal accountability purposes and can apply only as one entity for various state and federal programs. The number of individual sites at the 28 countywide charter schools is not tracked by the state.
Fiscal Implications for Individual and Collective Tracking. The distinction between individual and collective tracking of site information has fiscal implications for two programs that provide funding for new charter schools: the Public Charter School Grant Program (SGP) and the Charter School Revolving Loan Fund (RLF). The SGP is a federal initiative that provides startup grants to charter schools on a per-school basis. A statewide charter school whose sites are considered separate schools can submit a funding application for each school, while a countywide charter school recognized as one school—even with multiple sites—can submit only one application. The RLF is a pool of state funds that provide low-interest loans to new charter schools and, like the SGP, establishes eligibility on a per-school basis. The distinction between individual and collective tracking is less important for other types of state funding, such as base general purpose funding, because these funds are awarded on a per-student basis.
SBE Oversight Responsibility. In addition to authorizing all statewide charter schools, SBE also authorizes 19 charter schools whose petitions originally were rejected at the local level but approved by SBE on appeal. (Although authorized by SBE, these charter schools must operate within the jurisdiction of the school district or COE that initially reviewed the school’s petition.) Existing law allows SBE to delegate its oversight responsibilities for any school it has authorized to a consenting local educational agency (LEA) in the county where the school is located. The SBE, however, has historically declined to exercise this authority and instead delegated all of its oversight responsibilities to the California Department of Education (CDE).
Allows Countywide Charter Schools to Track Individual Sites. The Governor’s proposal allows countywide charter schools, with the consent of their authorizer, to submit one petition for multiple sites yet track each site separately. This would allow separate sites to be recognized for the purposes of oversight, funding, and accountability. The proposal essentially takes provisions that are similar to those in place for statewide charter schools and applies them to countywide charter schools.
Provides SBE More Options for Delegating Oversight. The Governor also proposes to allow SBE to delegate the oversight responsibilities of any charter school it has authorized to any consenting LEA in the state, even if it is not located within the county where the school is located. (The SBE would retain the discretion to continue delegating oversight to CDE.)
Adopt Proposal to Allow Countywide Charters Schools to Establish Tracking of Individual Sites. We recommend adopting the Governor’s proposal to authorize separate tracking of countywide charter schools’ individual sites. Although countywide charter schools are operated by a single entity, individual sites may serve different grade spans or student populations. Different sites also could be more or less effective than other sites. As such, a countywide charter school may want each site to be tracked separately for funding and accountability purposes. Although certain countywide charter schools could receive additional funding from SGP or RLF due to the proposal, we think this is reasonable given that start-up costs are typically incurred on a per-site basis. Since SGP is federally funded and RLF consists of a fixed pool of state funds, additional funding applications are unlikely to increase state General Fund costs.
Adopt Proposal to Allow SBE to Delegate Oversight to Any LEA.We also recommend adopting the Governor’s proposal to allow SBE to delegate oversight to any LEA in the state. For charter schools located in smaller counties, the options for delegating oversight within the county may be very limited. By allowing SBE to delegate oversight to a capable school district or other COE, the proposal would improve the prospects of quality oversight. In addition, given oversight is currently managed by CDE—which is located a considerable distance from some of the schools it oversees—the entity selected as the oversight authority under the Governor’s proposal likely would be located closer to the charter school.