California Attorney General Calls for More Charter School Transparency

1 min
Students at Fuerza Community Prep, part of Rocketship Public Schools charter schools, cheer during their daily morning assembly in San Jose. (Preston Gannaway/NPR)

A legal opinion from the office of the California Attorney General saying the state’s charter schools should be subject to the same transparency laws as regular public schools is getting a mixed response.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra's non-binding legal opinion finds that California charter schools should have open meetings and make their financials available to public scrutiny.

"It's likely to be persuasive to some of the legislators who will be considering potential legislation on issues of conflict of interest and transparency around charter school governance," said California School Boards Association spokesman Troy Flint. "A mantra of the charter school movement is that charter schools are public schools. And if that's the case, then they should be subject to the same laws."

In a statement, Brittany Chord Parmley, spokesperson for the California Charter Schools Association, said the vast majority of charter schools in California already comply with these laws.

"The California Charter Schools Association has supported charter schools operating in transparent manner consistent with these laws and has been actively engaged in legislative discussions over these issues," Parmley said. "However, we are concerned that a wholesale application of these laws to charter schools will harm the clear intent of the Charter Schools Act by preventing teachers from serving on their governing boards and allowing board members at charter schools to provide financial support or other resources which could be of great benefit to schools."

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California has the highest number of charter schools of any U.S. state. It also has more students attending charter schools than anywhere else. According to data from the California School Boards Association, there are nearly 1,300 California charter schools serving around 630,000 students. That's around 10 percent of all K-12 public school students.

But despite the fact that charter schools receive public tax dollars, they do not currently have to adhere to requests for information or throw open the doors to their meetings. California's Charter Schools Act of 1992 provides schools with a high degree of autonomy and operational flexibility, exempting them from many of the laws governing school districts.

Despite numerous reports in recent years of financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest, California governors previously vetoed several attempts to make charter schools more accountable.

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For example, Assembly Bill 276, which would have required charter school boards and charter management organizations to adhere to such legislation as the Brown Act (which guarantees the public's right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies) and the California Public Records Act (allowing the public inspection of governmental records upon request) died on the senate floor at the end of November.

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