County Office of Education Calls For End to Charter School Conflict By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday June 28, 2005

Describing relationships between charter and district schools as an “ongoing hostility” that “benefits no one,” Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan released a report last week calling for a “truce” to “resolve the conflict” between the two public school institutions. In addition, Jordan is calling for an ambitious legislative and lobbying campaign to implement task force recommendations. 

The conflicts—which the strongly-worded report calls a “collision course”—have arisen, says Jordan, “around issues of funding, conflicting state policies, and the lack of a clear understanding of the role of charter schools in public education. While it’s not clear that charter schools are here forever, they are here for the near future.” She called for “an improved and constructive co-existence between charters and districts” around the mutual goal of “equitable quality education for all children in Alameda County and beyond.” 

Charter schools are publicly-funded schools which operate under state and local education guidelines and oversight, but are run by organizations independent of local school districts. 

Fueled in part by President George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act,” which favors conversion to charters for underperforming schools, the charter school movement has virtually exploded in recent years, with 30 schools presently operating in Alameda County and, according to Jordan, “new petitions arriving monthly.” 

The financial and oversight strain on the county education office leaped following the passage of a state law earlier this year that allowed charters to apply directly to county school districts for oversight. The report called the oversight system “under-resourced and often unfunded; this results in frequent understaffing” of authorizing agencies “and the inability of authorizers to oversee to the full extent needed.” One of the report’s recommendations is to increase the amount of money allocated to local school districts for such oversight. 

Another task force recommendation calls for the state legislature to “swiftly move to help mitigate sharp, sudden, and dramatic losses in funding to many school districts from any outflow of students to charter schools.” 

The report also takes shots at California’s charter school law, which Jordan calls “complicated and convoluted.” The report called the charter petitioning process under the law “difficult and expensive for both the petitioner and the potential authorizer; results are often unpredictable and without clear and consistent standards; the process is often needlessly adversarial.” 

The 27-page report was prepared over a six month period by a 21-member task force made up of educators, youth advocates, and representatives of both school districts and charter school organizations. The report calls for changes to California’s charter school law, a state Department of Education-sponsored review of charter and district school financing, and proactive moves to promote cooperation between charters and school districts.  

While the report was prepared specifically for the problems being faced by the Alameda County Office of Education, its findings appear to be directed towards local and county school districts across the state. 

Jordan said that she has already contacted State Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) about sponsoring some of the legislative action called for in the report. 

“Loni is key,” Jordan said, “because she both represents Alameda County and sits on the Assembly Education Committee.” 

But Jordan says she also plans to present the task force findings and proposals to other Alameda County state legislators, including powerful Senate President Pro Tem Don Peralta (D-Oakland) and former Assembly Majority Leader Wilma Chan (D-Oakland). 

The Superintendent is also calling for meetings with State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell “to discuss implementing a California Department of Education review of financing of charter and district schools to eliminate conflicts, determine if current financing formulas and mechanisms are equitable, and set policies to achieve equity.” 

Included on the task force were representatives of such organizations as the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, Aspire Public Schools (the operator of several charters), charter school business and technology consultant EdTec, and several local school districts. 

“It was the first time many of these stakeholders had a chance to engage in dialogue outside of some advocacy situation,” Jordan said. “Most of them on each side of the conflict have felt that their concerns were not fully appreciated by representatives of the other side. The task force allowed them to conduct a discussion on these issues without animosity.” 

The report has not yet been presented to the Alameda County Office of Education Board of Directors, but the Superintendent’s office expects the report to go before the board sometime in August or September. While Jordan says there are not yet any specific plans to present the report to school districts within the county, she left open that possibility. 

The full task force report is available online at www.acoe.org/charters.