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Task Force Report: Curb Runaway Charter School Expansion

Will California fix charter authorizations? Also: Who killed L.A.’s school-tax measure?




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“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to, @BillRaden.

The first light at the end of California’s 27-year-long tunnel of unregulated charter school expansion flickered into view last week with the much-anticipated release by state schools superintendent Tony Thurmond of charter law reforms recommended by his California Charter School Policy Task Force (CTF). The 11-member advisory panel was formed last March at the behest of Governor Gavin Newsom in a concession that was instrumental in settling January’s L.A. teachers strike. Thurmond advanced four recommendations and several proposals that address many longstanding complaints of public education stakeholders about the unbridled embrace of free-market ed reform embedded in California’s Charter Schools Act of 1992. Highlights include:

  • Remove the handcuffs from charter school authorizers by permitting them to consider the oversaturation of school choices in the district or a neighborhood, or whether the proposed charter offers an academic option not already offered by existing schools. The majority would also allow school boards to consider the adverse financial impact on districts.
  • Extend the deadline from 60 to 90 days to approve or deny a charter school petition to allow authorizers more time to do proper due diligence. (Supported by unanimous consensus.)
  • Empower a state agency to create uniform authorization guidelines and oversight standards and to train authorizers in their implementation. (Consensus.)
  • End the rubber-stamping of charter petition appeals by the California State Board of Education by removing it as a charter authorizer and by limiting appeals to county boards of education on grounds of procedural errors only. (Majority.)
  • Enact a moratorium on new cyber-charters, which have become an embarrassing source of criminal self-dealing in the Golden State. (Majority.)
  • Prohibit school districts from authorizing charter schools that are outside of their district boundaries. (Majority.)

It remains to be seen  whether the majority recommendations — some of which are already reflected in a raft of bills currently inching towards the governor’s desk — will be supported by Newsom, or how much genuine reform will surmount the legislative hurdles expected from Sacramento’s powerful Corporate Dem caucus.

Postmortems continued this week for the crushing June 4 defeat by Los Angeles voters of Measure EE — the annual parcel tax that would have provided the nation’s second-largest school district with the critical staffing and basic resources that most large urban school systems consider essential to student success. Widely seen as a “disaster” for EE’s high profile political backers — most notably L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti and LAUSD superintendent (and perennial mayoral hopeful) Austin Beutner — the tax, which needed a two-thirds approval to pass, failed by a whopping 54-to-46 percent margin.

On his Monday, June 10 broadcast of his KPFK radio show, Deadline L.A., L.A. Times education reporter Howard Blume dissected the debacle with former LAUSD school board member and education consultant David Tokofsky. Tokofsky’s take? With allies like L.A.’s neoliberal supe Beutner running the Yes on EE campaign, who needs enemies? Beutner’s biggest blunder, according to Tokofsky, came last year when he and his pro-charter allies on the board torpedoed the efforts by board members Dr. George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson to get the tax on the November, 2018 midterms ballot, when polling suggested that a larger, more liberal turnout would have made it a shoo-in.

Beutner  compounded that error by not only scheduling EE for June’s low-turnout, single-measure special election but by bungling a last-minute language change that effectively translated as millions of dollars worth of free publicity for the measure’s opponents — anti-taxers like the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. The silver lining? The loss will provide invaluable lessons for upcoming funding battles, like the education-friendly split-roll corporate property tax fix of Prop. 13 set for the 2020 presidential ballot.

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