AB 1316 Aims to Destroy Charter Schools

Back in 2019, facing a barrage of legislation that threatened to destroy their institutions, advocates for charter schools reached a “compromise” agreement with lawmakers. The results were sweeping changes, expressed in SB 126, AB 1505 and AB 1507, that mingled common sense reforms with measures that have made it harder than ever for charters to operate in California.

What happened in 2019 wasn’t really a compromise. It was a defeat, accepted in order to avoid an even bigger defeat. But that was then.

Today, in what officials at the California Charter School Association have characterized as “a blatant violation of the deal that we had from AB 1505 in 2019,” and “an existential threat to charter schools in California,” we now have AB 1316. Masquerading as a “transparency” reform, AB 1316 will decimate charter schools across the state.

Weighing in at over 31,000 words, the entirety of this expansive bill is designed to prevent any growth in charter school enrollment, attack home schools, defund online learning programs associated with charter schools, and force the closure of those charter schools that are unable to cope with the avalanche of new regulations.

Among the new rules will be a requirement for tutors to have teaching credentials. The thoughtless cruelty of this can only be explained in light of the underlying goal, which is to make it harder for charter schools to attract talent and effectively teach their students. There are retired and semi-retired professionals, often coming from STEM fields, that can walk into a classroom, pick up a syllabus, and deliver extraordinary, inspiring lessons to students. This sort of excellence is hard to find in a traditional public school where every instructor has to have a teaching credential.

Another worrisome feature of AB 1316, according to the California Charter Schools Association, will be to “prohibit multiple-track schools that offer additional instructional days than students would otherwise receive, and restrict instructional day flexibility for all charter schools that would negatively hurt at-risk students that require scheduling flexibility.” This amounts to putting a stop to the types of innovation and adaptability to student needs that are defining characteristics of charter schools.

AB 1316 also attacks charter schools by requiring them to only enroll students in counties where they’re located. Currently charters operate in regions, often straddling two or more counties. Under 1316 these charters would either have to apply and obtain permission to operate from every county in which they had even one student. AB 1316 would also cap total charter enrollment based on the size of the traditional public school districts where they are located. And it goes on.

The “transparency” provisions in AB 1316 call for new and duplicative auditing of enrollment and expenditures. These audits impose burdensome tasks on charter school staff, which typically – and laudably – do not suffer from administrative bloat. And to pay for them, AB 1316 calls for new fees on charter schools ranging from 3 to 5 percent of revenues. This is a significant amount considering that charters, which are public schools, already have to operate on less money than traditional public schools. A lot less money.

A study just released in 2020 by a team of experts commissioned by the Reason Foundation looked at the disparity in per pupil funding between charter schools and traditional public schools across the United States. In Los Angeles County, where one in four K-12 students go to school in California, district per student revenue was $20,783, compared to charter per student revenue of only $13,488. On balance, charter schools already deliver educational outcomes that are as good or better than traditional public schools, and they do it with 35 percent less money. Now AB 1316 wants to expand that disparity by another 3 to 5 percent.

Perhaps the height of hypocrisy embodied by AB 1316 is the language that takes aim at remote learning. Based on the argument that it costs less to educate a student if you don’t have to provide a classroom, AB 1316 will reduce the per pupil reimbursement to charter operations that offer distance learning. Depending on how the formulas are applied according to this convoluted legislation, schools could see their per pupil revenue decline by as much as 30 percent for students they’re teaching remotely. But that’s not all.

In a brazen display of antipathy towards charter schools, AB 1316 does nothing to reduce the per pupil reimbursements, for remote learning, to which traditional public schools have access. This is a stunning failure to recognize that over the past year of COVID, while public schools shut down in-class instruction and made half-hearted attempts to implement distance learning, across the state the charter schools rapidly innovated and were able to keep most of their students on track.

There’s a lot more to AB 1316, but this reality – that distance learning is now a robust educational alternative, destined to attract increasing numbers of students into charter and home school networks – is the true motivation behind AB 1316. Written by politicians in the pockets of the teachers union, AB 1316 is designed to protect their monopoly grip on public education in California. AB 1316 must be opposed at all costs.

This article originally appeared on the website of the California Globe.

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