California: Deal Struck in Legislature to Reform Charters’ Enrollment and Discipline Policies

Kyle Stokes of public radio station KPCC reports that a deal has been struck between the California Teachers Association and the California Charter Schools Association to allow rights for charter school students.

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“Parents who believe their child is being “counseled out” of a charter school in California could soon have the right to request a hearing to challenge the student’s removal.

“This provision is part of a broader deal State Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) brokered between charter school lobbyists and teachers union leaders in Sacramento, potentially paving the way for state lawmakers to change state laws governing charter schools’ enrollment or discipline policies this session.

“The deal would amend Assembly Bill 1360, which members of the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee could take up and send to the House floor at their meeting on Friday. Bonta said the legislature’s lawyers are still working out the exact wording for the changes.

“But if the new language meets with all sides’ approval, Bonta will have sewn up a rare agreement between two rival Sacramento heavyweights: the state’s largest teachers union, the California Teachers Association; and the California Charter Schools Association….

“Under terms of the deal, the amended AB 1360 would strengthen or clarify several state charter school laws:

“Discipline policies. The bill would require charter schools to publish a specific list of acts for which a student could be suspended or expelled. The bill also spells out the “due process” rights of a charter school student facing discipline. Depending on the length of the student’s suspension, she could be entitled to oral or written notice of the charges, the right to present alternative evidence or even a hearing overseen by a neutral arbitrator.

‘Non-disciplinary’ dismissals. Critics often allege charter schools attempt to push out students who are costly or difficult to educate, such as special education students. (Charter school advocates say the charges are often overblown.) The amended AB 1360 would outline a similar “due process” procedure for charter school students who are transferred or dis-enrolled for “non-disciplinary” reasons, giving parents up to five school days to request a hearing challenging the students’ dismissal.

“Enrollment preferences. Charter schools are supposed to admit any student who applies so long as there’s space. When applicants outnumber available seats, charter schools must hold random drawings to fill those seats. State law allows charter schools to set limited admissions preferences, such as for pupils who reside in the district — but current law also leaves a big grey area, saying charter schools can enact “other preferences” so long as they’re not discriminatory. Under the deal, AB 1360 would officially allow two “other preferences” that have become common practice among charter schools — preferences for children of charter staff members and for siblings of current charter school students.

“Mandatory parent volunteer hours. California Department of Education officials have said parents cannot be compelled to volunteer their time or donate money to any public schools. Still, last year, the report from the ACLU and Public Advocates found more than 60 California charter schools which required parents to commit to a set number of volunteer hours as a condition for enrollment. The amended AB 1360’s language would explicitly prohibit these volunteerism requirements. (By the way, half of those 60 schools have since changed their policies.)”

This is a big step forward for charters, which have consistently fought off any efforts to regulate their practices.

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