Governor Signs Legislation to Allow 'Charter' Schools : Education: New law permits independently run public institutions where only the basics are taught.


Gov. Pete Wilson has signed a potentially far-reaching bill that will empower parents, teachers and others to create new taxpayer-financed schools that operate free of most state and local controls, it was announced Monday.

The author of the bill, Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), envisions the proposed "charter" schools as those where only the academic basics are taught; students and teachers do the work of custodians, and parents and children go to school together on Saturdays.

"We are certainly going to get some innovation and variety in the schools that I think is way overdue," said Hart, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and possible contender in 1994 for state superintendent of schools.

"We are trying to break out of the bureaucratic, legalistic mode that is so frustrating to so many people," Hart said.

Starting Jan. 1, the Hart legislation establishes a voluntary process by which parents, teachers, education activists and community organizations can petition local school boards for a charter to establish a new public school within a district. It would function mostly independent of state and local regulations.

From among the applicants, up to 100 charter schools will be authorized throughout the state. The same level of state and local financial support that students receive at their regular school will follow them to the charter schools.

The schools could be set up in storefront office space, on a campus or elsewhere, depending on local needs.

Charter schools still will be subjected to the basic statewide pupil assessment program that measures progress in all public schools.

Wilson vetoed a similar bill by Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Fremont), another potential candidate for state schools chief. Wilson said her version would have given teachers unions too much say in the operations of a charter school.

The Hart and Eastin measures were introduced last winter as alternatives to the Parental Choice ballot initiative, which envisions the use of tax dollars--about $2,500 per student--to pay for private schooling if parents so choose. Supporters have qualified the so-called voucher initiative for the 1994 ballot.

Hart said that although local organizations will write their own rules for operation of the charter schools, his own hypothetical notion of a charter high school would include having:

* Students attend classes daily until noon, when each would be given an off-campus job apprenticeship assignment. Only the basics of mathematics, science, English and social studies would be offered--no physical education, art, shop or vocational education. Classes would be limited to 20 students.

* Parents attend school with their children every fourth Saturday for two hours to assess pupil progress with a counselor and teacher.

* Students and teachers clean the school site. The educational program would gain from the money saved by not hiring a custodian.

* Adjunct instructors without teaching credentials. "A poet could teach creative writing and a retired aerospace engineer could do science experiments," Hart said.

* The school run by the teachers who set it up. Teachers would sit as the board of directors and be empowered to hire and fire the principal.

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