The current system for approving charter schools in the state of California is broken.
Rather than creating space for innovation and creativity to improve public education as a whole, the system is being abused, and as a result we see inadequate charter schools failing our precious children. Locally elected school boards do not have the final authority to determine whether or not a charter school fits the needs of their student population and community.
Here in Glendale Unified School District, I serve on the school board and had a front-row seat to another teachable moment about the broken charter approval process. The school board denied a charter school application, which then moved to the county school board level and once again was denied — only to be eventually approved by the California State Board of Education.
Why did we in Glendale deny the petition? It was clearly unsound academically and financially. The school had no location, no clear plan for curriculum, only a plan that would take many years to implement. In addition, the basic idea for the charter was to try and duplicate a wildly successful Glendale Unified district program, which has taken many years and tremendous resources to develop.
Both the local school board and the county school board denied the petition. Yet, upon reaching the state level, the state Board of Education decided to authorize the petition and allow the charter school to move forward. Long story short, the charter school never opened.
Why not? They lacked the resources and ability to find a location, hire staff and develop curriculum, just as both the local and county boards of education noted in their denials. Unfortunately, that process took two years of effort that strained and even broke relationships within the community as trust was questioned and promises by the charter had to be broken.
Proposed Senate Bill 808 by state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) would help avoid this scenario by allowing the local authorizer, the locally elected school board, to determine what is best in the local district. The locally elected school board is directly accountable to the community and will clearly operate with that in mind.
When the important process of a charter school’s approval becomes a roller coaster of appeals that ignores local control, our students get taken for a ride. When locally accountable school boards have the ability to regulate charters and integrate them into local education systems, our students, parents and communities will all benefit in the long run.
Jennifer Freemon is a member of the Glendale Unified School District school board.