Charter Schools Act Complaint #99-38
The 1998-1999 Sacramento County Grand Jury initiated a complaint based on an article which appeared in a local newspaper. The article described the plan of a local private school in Citrus Heights to petition a Nevada County school district for permission to become a charter school. The article noted the school district board of trustees' 4-0 vote to support the petition.
The Grand Jury initially questioned the feasibility of exercising its oversight authority of such a tax-supported entity. However, the Grand Jury sought information from educational institutions to increase its knowledge of the various requirements for the establishment, operation and control of charter schools. The Grand Jury's questions (Q) and the responses (A), shown here verbatim, were gathered from the San Juan Unified School District, the Sacramento County Office of Education and the California Department of Education.
From an official in the San Juan Unified School District:
Q. Must all charter school petitions for schools to be situated in the territory of the district be presented to the district for review and approval?
A. According to the State Attorney General, a charter school need NOT (Grand Jury emphasis) be located physically within the boundaries of the district that granted the charter. This was the conclusion reached in the Attorney General Opinion No. 97-1001. All charter petitions must be submitted to a school district for approval, but it need not be the district within the boundaries of which the school is to be located.
The Grand Jury's comment: The smallest school district in the state is empowered to grant a charter anywhere in the state! But, exactly how does the state expect a small, remote northern California school district to exercise oversight of a charter school in San Diego County?
Q. What procedures does the district utilize to notify other state, county, and local entities having oversight responsibilities of public schools of the submittal, review, approval, or disapproval of a grant of charter petition?
A. Once a district governing board grants a charter petition, the petitioner submits the charter and information concerning the action to the State Board of Education, which issues the charter school a number, thereby authorizing the charter school to commence operation. The district does not notify any agency.
The Grand Jury's comment: Neither the "foreign" charter-granting school district nor the recipient charter school must notify anyone in the county in which the school is physically located of its existence!
Q. How does the district exercise its oversight responsibilities of a charter school in its territory if the petition is granted by a district in another county?
A. The chartering agency (i.e., the district that granted the charter) is responsible to provide oversight regardless of where the charter school is located. Presumably (the charter law is silent on these points), the district in which the charter school is actually located bears no oversight responsibility since there is no legal relationship between that district and the charter school.
Q. Has the district been approached or notified of the intent of such a "foreign" district to accept a petition for a charter school within the territory of San Juan Unified School District (SJUSD)? If the district has been notified of such an action, has the district sought or been provided any guidance by the County Office of Education regarding procedures or policies to comply or follow?
A. No. The district learned through the newspaper that a school district in another county had granted a charter for a charter school that was physically located within the territorial jurisdiction of their district. However, no contact has been made, to my knowledge, by the charter granting district or the charter school. Consequently, the district has not sought any guidance from the Sacramento Office of Education.
Q. Has the district been notified by the State Board of Education of the provision of a charter school quota to such a "foreign" district of the establishment of a charter school in the territory of SJUSD?
A. No. To my knowledge, the District received no notice from the State Board of Education.
The Grand Jury's comment: Not even the State Board of Education is informing anyone of the formation of charter schools.
From the Sacramento County Office of Education:
Q. Must all charter school petitions, for schools to be situated in the territory of a Sacramento County school district, be submitted to your office for review?
Q. Does your office delineate procedures to be followed in the submittal, review, approval, or disapproval of a grant of charter petition?
A. No. County offices of education have no legal authority to delineate procedures to be followed.
Q. What procedures does your office follow to notify other state, county, and local entities having oversight responsibilities of Sacramento County public schools?
Q. What procedures are exercised by your office, in its oversight responsibilities of a charter school in its territory, if the petition is granted by a school district in another county?
A. None. County offices of education have no legal authority.
Q. Is your office cognizant of the intent of such a "foreign" district to accept a petition for a charter school within the territory of San Juan Unified School District (SJUSD)?
A. There are no legal requirements that school districts notify county offices of education regarding charter petitions it has received.
Q. Pertaining to an action as set forth in the immediately preceding question, has your office sought or been provided any guidance by the state Board of Education regarding procedures or policies governing such a situation?
Q. Has your office been notified by the state Board of Education of the provision of a charter school quota to such a "foreign" district for the purpose of the establishment of a charter school in the SJUSD?
The Grand Jury's comment: Again, there is no legal requirement for local county offices of education to be notified of actions being taken by "foreign" districts within those office's geographical boundaries.
From the California Department of Education:
Q. Is it legally permissible for a public school district of one county to grant the petition for a group or organization to establish a charter school in the territory of a public school district in another county?
A. In response to your recent question . . . am enclosing a copy of a formal Attorney General's Opinion (No. 97-1001, February 25, 1998) that directly addresses that issue. Although differing readings of the relevant law are arguably possible . . . the opinion, a published matter of public record, was rendered at the request of a member of the legislature, and that the legislature has taken no steps, in the time since the opinion was released, to amend the law in a way that would contradict the opinion or that would otherwise alter the cited statutory basis on which the opinion rests.
The Grand Jury was provided copies of the Charter Schools Act of 1992, amendments thereto, and copious analyses by many authorities. Combining all these with the Attorney General's opinion, and the anecdotal information made available regarding established charter schools, a disturbing picture emerges. Local charter schools have been established and appear to be achieving the educational objectives sought by the public. But the Grand Jury believes the potential for abuse of the public school system is overwhelmingly obvious from a close examination of the Charter Schools Act. Correction lies with the state government. This flawed Charter Schools Act effectively gives the tax funds, state control, and local control to the non-elected entrepreneur, who is answerable to no one, not even to the student.
Even though the Charter Schools Act precludes oversight by any state or local authority, it does not waive the authority of the Grand Jury nor the federal oversight of Title I funds. The Charter Schools Act educational objectives are laudable. However, the oversight normally accorded any tax-supported program to ensure achievement of the program objectives is virtually non-existent. Is this what the state government intended to unleash on our childrens' educational system?
The 1998-1999 Grand Jury suggests that succeeding Sacramento County grand juries actively seek out all such charter schools established in this County. It also suggests all grand juries, statewide, thoroughly review all aspects of their charter schools operations to assure they have been established pursuant to, and are complying with, the provisions of the Charter Schools Act and that state tax funds are being legally disbursed and used.
No Response is Required.