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Gavin Newsom gives California districts more power to block charter schools with new law

California school districts will soon have more power to block proposed charter schools under a new law Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Thursday.

Newsom, flanked by representatives from both the teachers union and the California Charter Schools Association, described how difficult the negotiations on the bill were.

“There were moments where we honestly thought, ‘this thing’s dead,’” he said after signing the bill.

The new law will let districts consider how proposed charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, would affect traditional schools in the district and whether they would siphon money from schools already in financial distress. High performing charter schools will be eligible for seven-year renewals, compared with five years for middle-performing charter schools.

It will also let districts close charter schools that aren’t serving some student populations, such as students with disabilities.

The California Charter Schools Association, The state’s most prominent charter-advocacy organization, went neutral on the bill after negotiations with Newsom’s office and the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

“It is a historic agreement,” Myrna Castrejón, the charter schools’ president, told The Bee. “While this modifies the rules of the road for renewals and approvals of charter schools, we do believe this agreement does put to rest the idea of whether charter schools have a place in the landscape.”

She said she still has some concerns about aspects of the measure, Assembly Bill 1505, including requirements that all charter school teachers have credentials. But she said it’s a much better bill for charters than some of the initial proposals lawmakers introduced. She pointed specifically to a California Teachers Association-backed bill that would have put a moratorium on all charter schools.

“Some of the protections we were able to secure through these difficult negotiations provide a better road map for what is a high-performing charter school,” Castrejón said. “Let’s remember where we were at the beginning.”

Newsom’s office has touted the deal he brokered on AB 1505 as a signature achievement on an acrimonious issue.

Earlier this year, teachers staged strikes in Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento, in part over complaints that charter schools were draining money from traditional schools.

Meanwhile charter backers argue that their schools are being used as scapegoats for systemic financial problems that should be blamed on districts and lack of action by state officials.

The two sides are often big spenders in California elections, including last year’s gubernatorial race. Teachers unions spent more than $1.3 million to help elect Newsom. Prominent charter school backers spent more than $23 million backing his opponent Antonio Villaraigosa in the primary, but some flipped and backed Newsom in the general election once Villaraigosa was knocked out of the running.

“There was a willingness, I think, for all sides to turn the page,” Newsom said of the negotiations. “It’s not been good for public education what’s been going on, this back and forth and millions and millions of dollars attacking people and process and not focusing on the problem.”

Newsom has highlighted charter school-related issues as a focus in his first year in office. Earlier in the year, he pushed lawmakers to fast-track a charter school transparency bill. Also on Thursday, he signed AB 1507 to require that charter schools must be within the boundaries of the district that authorizes them.

The new laws still face opposition from some charter groups.

Eric Premack, executive director of the Charter Schools Development Center, said the new appeals process under the law Newsom signed Thursday is significantly weakened, which he worries will make it very difficult to open new charter schools in the state.

“When you both expand the reasons for denial and you make it harder to appeal… we think the effect will be to severely constrain the growth of charter schools going forward,” he said.

Premack’s group also opposes other aspects of the new law, including the credential requirements and a two-year ban on online charter schools.

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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