By the time Steve Van Zant left the Mountain Empire Unified School District in 2013, he had overseen the authorization of more than a dozen charter schools to operate in other districts throughout San Diego County — with several going on to hire his education consulting firm.
The Union-Tribune has tracked a charter empire built by Van Zant by taking advantage of what some call a shortcoming in state law that gives districts a financial incentive to place charters in other school districts. By placing charters outside its boundaries, a district can raise new funds — up to 3 percent of a charter’s revenue — without any threat to enrollment or state attendance funds.
County Collaborative would be located in San Diego. The agreement resembled other out-of-district charters approved, in that Mountain Empire would receive a portion of the charter’s revenue without any significant threat to its enrollment. Mountain Empire would get 4 percent of the County Collaborative’s revenue -- 1 percent for general oversight, and 3 percent for special education oversight.
The state does not track how many out-of-district charters operate across California. Contentious charter arrangements (with schools in Santa Clarita Valley, Los Angeles and elsewhere that are listed on Van Zant’s LinkedIn profile) have stirred lawsuits throughout California.
Magee writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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