Assembly Education Committee Approves Santa Clarita Valley Charter School Bill
Santa Clarita Valley officials addressing what Senate Bill 1263 supporters call a “loophole” in charter school law garnered a victory Wednesday with the bill’s passage in the Assembly Education Committee.
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Opponents of the bill called it an unnecessary statewide reaction to “a neighborhood brawl” in the Santa Clarita Valley during a committee hearing in Sacramento this week.
The bill authored by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, is a response to Santa Clarita Valley superintendents seeking to stop the alleged “shopping” of charter school petitions to the Acton Agua Dulce Unified School District’s governing board.
“This bill was brought to my attention by five superintendents from the Santa Clarita Valley area,” Pavley said at the hearing. “It’s an important issue that I think needs addressing. This isn’t a bill that’s for or against charters.”
The bill would limit a school district’s ability to charter a school outside of its geographic boundaries, which Assembly Education chair Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, called a loophole in the state’s Education Code.
"The bill isn't taking away the ability for a charter school to locate outside of a district's boundaries," said Erin Evans of the Capitol Advisors Group, "it just makes that process more collaborative."
The bill as it passed in the Assembly provides for several scenarios in which a district could locate a school outside of a chartering district's boundaries, but it sets limitations and requires the consent of the host district in some scenarios.
Consent would not be required by the host district if the site outside of the chartering district's boundaries is neeed as a result of construction. In that scenario, approval beyond 18 months could be granted conditionally by the host district.
The bill also provides for a grandfather clause allowing for schools approved and operational by a certain date to continue operations after the law's passage.
Acton Agua Dulce Superintendent Brent Woodard defended his district’s action, rejected the characterization of AADUSD as a “rogue district” and said the district was looking to create professional learning communities.
“We feel like we could have averted many of the issues that are currently on the table if, in fact, we’d have been able to have some sort of opportunity to discuss it from early on, back in February,” Woodard said. “The truth of it is, we are in a fiscal crisis. However, we’re in the process of that remedy and we’re to the point where we’re going to be certified positive in a certain amount of time exclusive of any revenues (from charter school approvals).”
The focus on the issue was not where it needed to be, according to Woodard.
“I continually hear from my esteemed colleagues that they’re more concerned about the sovereignty of their district and their borders,” Woodard said, “as opposed to the sovereignty of the choices of parents and students in our community.”
Buchanan said she "didn’t buy what Woodard was selling" at the hearing, and questioned whether the district controlled the learning community he created, or vice-versa.
State legislators from San Diego officials challenged the claim from a representative of a statewide charter school organization who felt the issue was localized. The bill also had representatives from San Diego school officials, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the state’s school board association, superintendents and a teachers union.
“The reason I’m supporting this bill is because I think there is a loophole and if we want the charter schools to thrive and grow, we have to have a situation where there is some ethical guidelines,” Buchanan said. “(The law) wasn’t created to say, ‘If mom says no, ask dad,’ and that’s exactly what’s happening here.”
Sen. Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, wanted to see the Legislature wait for pending lawsuits to make their way through the court before lawmakers intervened.
The cost of litigating multiple lawsuits to address a legislative loophole is not something that should be borne by local school districts, according to Newhall School District Superintendent Marc Winger, who spoke in support of SB 1263, along with Saugus Union School District Superintendent Joan Lucid.
Jeffrey Shapiro, executive director for Albert Einstein Academy for the Letters, Arts and Science, provided testimony on the demand for AEALAS in the Santa Clarita Valley, noting there are more than 1,000 students on the school's waiting list.
Acton Agua Dulce's approval of AEALAS for a location outside of the district's geographic boundaries was a big reason why local superintendents asked Pavley to author SB 1263 in the first place.
Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, lauded the effort to stop “authorization shopping,” but felt the burden on an authorizing district was too great.
Legislators hinted at comprehensive reform on the horizon, but Pavley felt the issue needed immediate attention.
“I think we have a problem right now,” Pavley said, “that needs to be taken care of.”
The next step is for the bill to head to the Assembly floor, then, if approved, it would head back to the Senate for a final concurrence before it could land on the governor’s desk.
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