The state Board of Education ordered new rules last week to clarify how charter schools are granted statewide operating privileges. The action comes in the wake of a July 2010 Court of Appeals ruling that found the board improperly awarded statewide status to Aspire Public Schools, a charter school company founded in 2000.
Aspire currently operates six "statewide benefit" schools – two each in Sacramento, Huntington Park and Stockton. The organization has appealed the ruling – the result of a lawsuit filed by the California Teachers Association, California School Board Association and others – to the state Supreme Court. The court has not announced whether it will hear the case.
Lupita Alcala, deputy superintendent of government affairs and charter development at the state Department of Education, said clearer rules are needed because the existing policies lack definitions and standards for statewide charters.
Statewide operating status allows charter organizations to start schools wherever they see fit in California, without the risk of being rejected by local school authorities. The state Board of Education is responsible for overseeing the operations of such schools, instead of a local school district – a situation some charters consider financially advantageous.
Aspire, for example, has been able to pass millions in bonds to build their own buildings since acquiring statewide operating status – something that would be nearly impossible to do under the control of a school district.
But under the law, charters can only earn statewide privileges by proving their services are a "statewide benefit" that cannot be provided by "locally approved" charters. The Court of Appeals found the state board violated the law in awarding Aspire statewide status because it never examined whether the charter could meet the necessary requirements.
The three charter organizations with statewide operating rights – Aspire, High Tech High and Pacific Technology School – will be allowed to continue as usual while the new rules are being drafted, a process Alcala says will likely take at least a year.
"We want a solution that would benefit all schools so we won't find ourselves in another litigation situation," Alcala said.