The State Board of Education will hold a public hearing today to discuss what has become a thorny question: Under what circumstances should a charter school company be allowed to bypass local district control and operate statewide?
The board has granted statewide status to three charter school organizations since 2006: High Tech High, Pacific Technology School and Aspire Public Schools.
The privilege is a boon to charters. It allows the organizations to start schools wherever they see fit in California, without the risk of being rejected by local school authorities. Some charters see state oversight as better for them financially. 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.
Under the law, charters can be granted statewide privileges only after proving their services are a "statewide benefit" that cannot be provided by "locally approved" charters.
But last July, the California Court of Appeals determined the state board awarded Aspire Public Schools statewide status in 2007 without examining whether the charter could meet the necessary requirements. The ruling, prompted by a lawsuit by the California Teachers Association, California School Board Association and others, has forced state education to reassess.
Lupita Alcala, deputy superintendent at the California Department of Education, said until state education officials can tweak the rules granting statewide status, Aspire should be allowed to operate existing schools, but be blocked from opening new facilities.
The organization currently operates six "statewide benefit" schools – two each in Sacramento, Huntington Park and Stockton.
"The regulations are not clear on what constitutes a statewide benefit charter," Alcala said. "We are asking the board delay but hold harmless Aspire. We want a solution that would benefit all schools so we won't find ourselves in another litigation situation."
Documents filed with the board show Aspire is asking the board to reinstate their statewide privileges now. Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter School Association said he is supporting Aspire's fight to get its statewide rights restored in full.
"Aspire is trying to come forward with new and innovative ways to get high quality schools," Wallace said. "We think Aspire makes a very compelling case."