California lawmakers OK overhaul of charter school approvals

Lawmakers sent Gov. Gavin Newsom legislation Tuesday that overhauls the way California approves charter schools.

The measure approved by the Assembly on a 56-16 vote would no longer let the state authorize charter schools, leaving that responsibility to school districts and county governments. The legislation also would require that all charter school teachers be credentialed, while giving existing teachers five years to meet that requirement.

Democratic Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell of Long Beach said his bill will give local districts greater flexibility in considering how the schools affect their community while requiring that charter school teachers are fully qualified. The measure will also reward higher-performing schools by speeding the renewal of their charters, he said.

California has about 1,300 charter schools that enroll about 10% of the state's K-12 population. They are publicly funded, but they operate by different rules than traditional schools.

Several Democratic lawmakers spoke in support of what Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo of Los Angeles called "an historic agreement" between legislative leaders, school officials and labor unions.

But several Republicans spoke against the measure.

"Charter schools are not the enemy unless you are trying to protect the status quo. What is the status quo? In a word: failure," said Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron of Escondido. She said special interests are trying to limit charter schools that provide an alternative to poorly performing public schools.

During Senate debate on Monday night, Republican Sen. Brian Jones of Santee called the bill "another attack of the many this year on charter schools."

But Democratic Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica said negotiators "struck the right balance."

"This deal does affirm that if you are an existing, high quality charter school, you are here to stay," Allen added.

Senators approved the bill on a 27-11 roll call.