SACRAMENTO – A San Francisco charter school run by a for-profit company will reopen next month under state charter, ending three years of bickering with the local school board.
The state Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to give a state charter to the Edison Charter Academy, a 500-student elementary school run since 1998 by Edison Schools Inc. of New York.
While approving that school’s for-profit operators, the board unanimously rejected a Santa Cruz County district’s attempt to become the state’s largest all-charter district because of the district’s financial motives.
Both votes show the state’s increasing involvement in overseeing charter schools. In 1992, California became the nation’s second state to allow local districts to approve charters schools, public schools allowed to operate largely free of most state regulations. Thirty-seven states now allow charters.
California has about 300 charters out of 8,000 public schools with total enrollment of less than 3 percent of the state’s students. They are seen as a popular alternative to conventional schools for parents who want something different for their children.
Edison Charter Academy parents told the state board Thursday the school had made a big difference for their children.
“Edison’s charter breathed new life into a school that had previously known only failure and despair,” said parent Lupe Hernandez.
Parents also said told the board that the company turned Edison Charter Academy, in San Francisco’s Noe Valley area, from one of the city’s worst schools to one of its best.
The school is 40 percent black and 39 percent Hispanic, with 70 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches. Its Academic Performance Index, consisting of state test scores, improved from 465 in 1999 to 552 in 2000, according to state records.
The San Francisco Unified School District board granted Edison’s original charter in 1998. The board had been trying to revoke it because several board members oppose private corporations running public schools.
The San Francisco board and school officials agreed last month to end the dispute by asking the state to take over the charter.
A 1999 law allows backers who are rejected by the local boards to ask the state Board of Education to grant a state charter. The state board last December approved its first two charter schools; Edison is the first state charter that is essentially a renewal of an existing local charter.
In approving Edison’s charter, the board ordered the company to submit detailed financial information and budgets before school opens in August.
State school Superintendent Delaine Eastin, saying she was “not a big fan of for-profit charters,” said that requirement was essential because the company is getting taxpayer money.
Edison vice president Gaynor McCown agreed to provide the information.
The schools in the 4,200-student San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District, which sought to become an all-charter district, are very different. That valley, between Santa Cruz and San Jose, is home to many Silicon Valley workers and the schools all scored high on state tests.
State law allows districts to seek board approval to make all of their schools charters. But they must have the backing of more than half their teachers and provide alternatives for students who don’t want to attend charters. The state’s seven current charter districts are all small ones in the Central Valley and serve only a few hundred students.
San Lorenzo officials said they wanted to turn all-charter to improve educational programs by making them more flexible. The acknowledged they would received $700,000 in extra state money because of the structure of the funding formulas.
Board members disliked that reasoning, and executive director John Mockler said the district couldn’t balance its budget and just wanted a “financial bailout,” not to devise new or improved learning programs.
Eastin’s staff recommended approving the San Lorenzo plan, saying the district could sue if denied. A San Lorenzo official said district officials are now considering their options.