California Cracks Down on Charter School Secrecy With Transparency Bill

LOS ANGELES (CN) – California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Tuesday requiring charter schools to publicly release internal records and hold meetings that are open to the public.

Under Senate Bill 126 – introduced by state Senator Connie Leyva, D-Chino, and Assemblyman and former teacher Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach – charter operators must comply with the same set of open records and conflict-of-interest laws that all other publicly funded schools abide by\

Public school teachers in Los Angeles and Oakland, who settled their recent strikes over student’s learning conditions, made criticism of charter schools – which operate with public funding but sidestep public records policies – part of their bargaining positions.

The Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to a cap on charters and more public oversight as part of a settlement with 30,000 teachers in January. Shortly after, the school board called for a statewide moratorium on charter schools.

SB 126 – which takes effect January 2020 – was fast-tracked through the Legislature at Newsom’s request after calling for the bill during his state budget address in January.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed two similar bills during his tenure.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued an opinion in December declaring that charters were subject to the Public Records Act, Brown Act and the Political Reform Act. He also said in his nonbinding legal opinion that internal records of charter schools could also be reviewed and inspected by a grand jury.

Newsom signed the bill Tuesday afternoon flanked by representatives from the state’s major teacher unions that backed him during his run for governor in 2018.

“It’s common sense. Taxpayers, parents and ultimately kids deserve to know how schools are using their tax dollars,” Newsom said. “This isn’t the end of a conversation but a beginning. Let’s use this momentum to move forward together, constructively and in partnership, to improve education for children across California.”

The California Charter Schools Association – which took a neutral stance on the bill initially but supported the final version – heavily backed Newsom’s Democratic rival, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in the race for governor.

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