Two influential legislators on Tuesday proposed a restructuring of public education in California that would allow groups of teachers to, in effect, secede from their school districts, creating publicly financed “charter schools” free from most local rules and from many statewide requirements as well.
At a news conference, state Sen. Gary Hart (D-Santa Barbara), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, described legislation he has introduced to authorize charter schools as a “bold departure” and a “major educational reform.”
Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Union City), chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee and author of a separate charter schools bill, said, “Some of California’s schools are clearly broken and require fixing.” She said charter schools could be an important part of these repairs.
Both legislators acknowledged that one of their motives in introducing the bills was to blunt the appeal of the Parental Choice Initiative that supporters hope to place before voters next November. That measure would provide vouchers worth about $2,500 annually for every school-age child, money that could be used to pay private or parochial school tuition.
Charter schools, in contrast, would be public schools.
The legislation would permit groups of teachers who want to try a different approach to petition the local school board for a charter to open a school. The school might feature team teaching or have an ungraded structure, or it could be organized around a particular theme, such as history, literature or computer science.
If the local school board rejects the teachers’ request, as Eastin and Hart assume many would, the teachers could appeal to the State Board of Education and the state superintendent of public instruction.
The teachers, with help from parents and the local community, might take over an existing school, become a “school within a school,” or move to a storefront or other facility that might be paid for by local businesses or by a local college or university.
Financial support for the charter schools would come from the state, as much of the funding for public schools does now. The amount would be about $3,200 a year per student, which is the current statewide average for basic state support.
Charter schools would operate almost like autonomous, single-school districts, free from most local district rules and regulations and from many statewide requirements.
“Freedom from bureaucracy, that’s one of the things we’re trying to achieve,” Hart said.
Said Eastin, “There’s an awful lot of talent in the schools now, but some of it is not being allowed to be fully developed. . . . We’re saying to the teachers, ‘We trust you to design a curriculum that has more relevance for the students’ ” than what is offered now in many cases.
In their charter petition, the school founders would spell out their educational objectives and say how they intend to achieve them and what means they will use to measure success.
Eastin said the new schools generally would follow the outlines of state curriculum frameworks but otherwise would be free to teach whatever they want.
She said it would be up to the school district or the state, whichever granted the charter, to make sure that “pap and hokum” are not taught.
Charter school teachers would not have to hold state credentials, nor would they be granted tenure. Schools could engage in collective bargaining with teachers only if such a provision was written into the charter petition.
Although charter schools would not have to meet requirements of the state’s earthquake safety laws, or other state health and safety regulations, they would be expected to maintain standards that are acceptable to the parents and teachers involved.
The schools would have to reflect the racial mix of their surroundings and could not discriminate on racial or ethnic grounds, or against disabled students.
The Eastin and Hart bills call for between 50 and 200 charter schools to be started in the first year, which could be as soon as 1992-93 if the Legislature and Gov. Pete Wilson approve the plans.
State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig said charter schools “are a great idea--we’re all looking for ways to make public schools more creative and effective and this is one way.”
But Lois Tinson, secretary-treasurer of the California Teachers Assn., said staffing charter schools with non-credentialed teachers “is not a concept that I think CTA could support at this time.”
David Harmer, president of the Education through Choice in Education League (EXCEL), which is sponsoring the voucher initiative, said the effort to hinder his group’s attempts to obtain enough signatures to place the measure on the November ballot might backfire.
“That’s a slippery slope,” Harmer said. “They’ve essentially admitted all the premises our initiative is based on. . . . We think they’re on the right track but why stop there? If you’re going to give parents choice, why not give them complete choice?”