Charter School Law California

The Legislature adopted the Charter Schools Act of 1992 ( 47600 et seq.; hereafter Charter Schools Act) to "provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure ... ." ( 47601.) The Legislature intended charter schools to be a means of (1) improving student learning; (2) increasing learning opportunities, especially for low-achieving students; (3) encouraging the use of different and innovative teaching methods; (4) creating new professional opportunities for teachers; (5) offering parents and students more choices within the public school system; and (6) giving schools a way to change from a rule-based to a performance-based accountability system. (Id., subds. (a)-(f); Wilson v. State Bd. of Education (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 1125, 1130-1131 89 Cal. Rptr. 2d 745.) In 1998, the Legislature added a seventh goal to this list: to "provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools." ( 47601, subd. (g), added by Stats. 1998, ch. 34, 1, p. 193.) A charter school may be created a number of different ways under the Charter Schools Act. A petition to establish a charter school may be granted by a school district's governing board after the petition has been circulated and signed either by a number of parents or legal guardians of students that is equivalent to at least 50 percent of the number of students that is estimated will be enrolled in the charter school in the first year or a number of teachers that is equivalent to at least 50 percent of the number of teachers the charter school estimates will be employed at the school in the first year. ( 47605, subds. (a)(1) & (b).) A petition to convert certain existing public schools to charter schools may be granted by a school district's governing board after the petition has been circulated and signed by not less than 50 percent of the permanent status teachers currently employed at the public school to be converted. (Id., subds. (a)(2) & (b).) If the governing board of a school district denies a petition for a charter school, the petition may be submitted to and granted by the applicable county board of education or the State Board. (Id., subd. (j).) A petition may also be submitted directly to a county board of education or the State Board. ( 47605.5, 47605.6, 47605.8.) In addition to charter schools formed under the Charter Schools Act, parents of pupils in certain underachieving schools may apply directly to the State Board to allow them to establish a charter school "at the existing schoolsite." ( 52055.5, subd. (b)(3)(B), 52055.55, subd. (b)(3), 52055.650, subd. (h)(2)(B).) Prior to the adoption of Proposition 39, former section 47614 provided: "A school district in which a charter school operates shall permit a charter school to use, at no charge, facilities not currently being used by the school district for instructional or administrative purposes, or that have not been historically used for rental purposes provided the charter school shall be responsible for reasonable maintenance of those facilities." (Stats. 1998, ch. 34, 15, p. 202.) Proposition 39 changed this limited obligation of a school district to provide facilities to a charter school. The voters of California expressed the intent "that public school facilities should be shared fairly among all public school pupils, including those in charter schools." ( 47614, subd. (a).) Post-Proposition 39, section 47614, subdivision (b), now provides: "Each school district shall make available, to each charter school operating in the school district, facilities sufficient for the charter school to accommodate all of the charter school's in-district students in conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which the students would be ac commodated if they were attending other public schools of the district. Facilities provided shall be contiguous, furnished, and equipped, and shall remain the property of the school district. The school district shall make reasonable efforts to provide the charter school with facilities near to where the charter school wishes to locate, and shall not move the charter school unnecessarily." Section 47614 sets forth certain parameters for the school district and the responsibilities of the charter schools. Section 47614 allows a school district providing facilities to a charter school to "charge the charter school a pro rata share (based on the ratio of space allocated by the school district to the charter school divided by the total space of the district) of those school district facilities costs which the school district pays for with unrestricted general fund revenues. The charter school shall not be otherwise charged for use of the facilities. No school district shall be required to use unrestricted general fund revenues to rent, buy, or lease facilities for charter school students." ( 47614, subd. (b)(1).) Section 47614 requires each charter school desiring facilities from a school district to each year "provide the school district with a reasonable projection of the charter school's average daily classroom attendance by in-district students for the following year. The district shall allocate facilities to the charter school for that following year based upon this projection. If the charter school, during that following year, generates less average daily classroom attendance by in-district students than it projected, the charter school shall reimburse the district for the over-allocated space at rates to be set by the State Board of Education." ( 47614, subd. (b)(2).) A school district may deny facilities requests based upon projections of fewer than 80 units of average daily classroom attendance for the year. (Id., subd. (b)(4).) Section 47614 also provides: "The State Department of Education shall propose, and the State Board of Education may adopt, regulations implementing this subdivision, including but not limited to defining the terms 'average daily classroom attendance,' 'conditions reasonably equivalent,' 'in-district students,' 'facilities costs,' as well as defining the procedures and establishing timelines for the request for, reimbursement for, and provision of, facilities." ( 47614, subd. (b)(6).) The State Board's rulemaking authority in section 47614 complements its general authority in section 33031 to "adopt rules and regulations not inconsistent with the laws of this state ... (c) for the government of the day and evening elementary schools, the day and evening secondary schools, and the technical and vocational schools of the state, and (d) for the government of other schools, excepting the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges, as may receive in whole or in part financial support from the state." In 2002, the State Board adopted regulations to implement the provisions of section 47614. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 5, 11969.1 et seq.) Several years later, the State Department of Education was directed to review the existing regulations with the assistance of a workgroup broadly representative of the educational community, including charter schools, school administrators, school boards, and teachers. The objective was to identify amendments that would update, clarify, or enhance the existing regulations based on experience, as well as several published appellate court decisions. Using workgroup input and other sources of information, regulatory amendments were proposed by the State Department of Education to the State Board. In 2008, the State Board adopted the new regulations.