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Charter Schools FAQ Section 2

Frequently asked questions regarding the overview, approval, start-up, and closing of a charter school.

Overview, Approval, Start-Up, and Closing

Responses to these frequently asked questions are advisory only. Charter schools and charter authorizers are encouraged to review the actual laws and regulations that provide the basis for these responses and consult with their own legal counsel regarding the application of any of these issues to a specific situation.


Q.1. What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school that provides instruction in any combination of grades, kindergarten through grade twelve. Parents, teachers, or community members may initiate a charter petition, which is typically presented to and approved by a local school district governing board. The law also allows, under certain circumstances, for county boards of education and the State Board of Education to be charter authorizing entities.

Specific goals and operating procedures for a charter school are detailed in the agreement between the charter authorizing entity and the charter developer. A charter school is exempted from many of the statutes and regulations that apply to school districts. Students enroll in charter schools on a voluntary basis.

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Q.2. What is the definition of “incorporated charter?”

A charter school that elects to be operated as, or be operated by, a nonprofit public benefit organization, as allowed by California Education Code (EC) Section 47604(a) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47600-47604.5] is considered to be an incorporated charter school.

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Q.3. What is the legislative intent for charter schools?

The California Legislature enacted the Charter Schools Act of 1992 to authorize the establishment of charter schools. The purposes of charter schools, as specified in EC Section 47601 External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47600-47604.5], are to:

  1. Improve pupil learning.
  2. Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils identified as academically low achieving.
  3. Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods.
  4. Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.
  5. Provide parents and students with expanded educational opportunities within the public school system without the constraints of traditional rules and structure.
  6. Provide schools a way to shift from a rule-based to a performance-based system of accountability.
  7. Provide competition within the public school system to stimulate improvements in all public schools.

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Q.4. Is there a "cap" on the number of charter schools?

Yes. EC Section 47602 External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47600-47604.5] currently sets the limit at 1,250 for the 2008-09 fiscal year. The cap increases by 100 each July 1.

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Q.5. Who is eligible to submit a charter petition?

Anyone may develop, circulate, and submit a petition to establish a charter school. EC Section 47605(a) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608] requires charter developers to collect signatures to indicate support for the petition. For a new charter school that is not a conversion of an existing public school, charter developers must obtain the signatures of either 50 percent of the teachers meaningfully interested in teaching at the school, or 50 percent of the parents of pupils expected to enroll at the school. For a charter school that is a conversion of an existing public school, the charter developer must collect the signatures of 50 percent of the teachers at the school to be converted. The petition must contain a prominent statement that a signature means that the person signing is meaningfully interested in teaching in, or in having his or her child(ren) attend the school.

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Q.6. What are the restrictions on the establishment of a charter school?

There are some restrictions on the establishment of a charter school. With a few exceptions, a new charter school may only be located in the district that approves it. Additionally the following restrictions apply to charter schools:

  1. EC Section 47602(b) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47600-47604.5] prohibits the conversion of private schools to public charter schools.
  2. EC Section 47605(d) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608] requires that a charter school be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations; that it not discriminate against any pupil; and not charge tuition.
  3. EC Section 47605(b)(5)(G) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608] requires that the charter include a description of the school’s means for achieving a racial and ethnic balance among its pupils that is reflective of the general population residing in the district.
  4. EC sections 47605(d)(3)(e) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608] and 47605(d)(3)(f) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608] prohibit the governing board of a school district from requiring pupils to attend a charter school or from requiring any employee of the school district to be employed in a charter school.

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Q.7. On what grounds can a local governing board deny approval of a charter petition?

EC Section 47605(b) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608] specifies that a local educational agency shall not deny the approval of a charter petition unless it makes written factual findings, specific to the particular petition, that:

  1. The charter school presents an unsound educational program.
  2. The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition.
  3. The petition does not contain the required number of signatures.
  4. The petition does not contain an affirmation of each of the conditions described in EC Section 47605(d) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608].
  5. The petition does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of all of the 16 required elements of the petition.

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Q.8. Can a school district convert all of its schools to charter schools?

Yes. According to EC Section 47606(a) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608], a school district may convert all of its schools to charter schools if the charter petition meets the following conditions:

  1. Fifty percent of the teachers within the school district sign the charter petition.
  2. The petition specifies the alternative attendance arrangements for pupils residing within the school district who choose not to attend charter schools.
  3. The petition contains all the requirements set forth in EC Section 47605(b), (c), (d), (e), and (f) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608].

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Q.9. Who may approve a charter school petition?

Under EC Section 47605(b) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608] the local school district governing board may approve charter schools, with a few exceptions, that will operate within its boundaries.

EC sections 47605(j) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608] and 47605.6 External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608] allow a petitioner to seek approval of a charter petition from a county board of education if the pupils to be served would normally be provided direct education and related services by the county office of education, if the petition has been previously denied by a local school district governing board within the county, or if the charter provides countywide services that cannot be provided by a district-approved charter school.

EC Section 47605.8 External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608] allows a petitioner to request the SBE approve a charter petition if the petition has been previously denied by a local school district governing board and a county board of education, or if the charter school will provide services of a statewide benefit that cannot be met through the approval of a charter petition by a local charter authorizing entity.

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Q.10. May a district governing board approve a petition to establish a charter school if the grade levels served by the school are not currently served by that district?

The governing board of an elementary or high school district may approve a charter petition for a school that will serve grade levels not served by the district only if the petition also proposes to serve all of the grade levels served by the district. Reference EC sections 47605(a)(6) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608].

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Q.11. What is the timeline for approval of a charter petition?

EC Section 47605(b) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608] specifies that a local governing board must hold a public hearing for a proposed charter within 30 days of receipt of the completed petition, and, within 60 days from receipt of the petition, either approve or deny the charter. This time line may be extended by 30 days if both parties agree to the extension. EC Section 47652(c) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47650-47652] requires that a charter school commence instruction between July 1 and September 30.

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Q.12 What are the required elements of a charter petition?

Each charter petition must contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of each of 16 required elements. The 16 elements, as specified in EC Section 47605(b)(5)(A-P) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608], are:

  1. A description of the educational program of the school. If the proposed charter school will serve high school pupils, a description of how the charter school will inform parents about the transferability of courses to other public high schools and the eligibility of courses to meet college entrance requirements must be included in the charter petition.
  2. The measurable pupil outcomes identified for use by the school.
  3. The method by which pupil progress in meeting those pupil outcomes is to be measured.
  4. The schools governance structure, including parental involvement.
  5. The qualifications to be met by individuals employed by the school.
  6. Procedures to ensure health and safety of pupils and staff.
  7. The means by which the school will achieve racial and ethnic balance among its pupils, reflective of the general population residing in the district.
  8. Admission requirements, if applicable.
  9. The manner in which annual financial audits will be conducted, and the manner in which audit exceptions and deficiencies will be resolved.
  10. The procedures by which pupils may be suspended or expelled.
  11. Provisions for employee coverage under the State Teachers Retirement System, the Public Employees Retirement System, or federal social security.
  12. The public school alternatives for pupils residing within the district who choose not to attend charter schools.
  13. A description of the rights of any employee of the school district upon leaving the employment of the school district to work in a charter school, and of any rights of return to the school district after employment at a charter school.
  14. A dispute resolution process.
  15. A declaration whether or not the charter school will be the exclusive public school employer of the charter school employees.
  16. The procedures to be used if the charter school closes.

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Q.13 How does the Educational Employment Relations Act apply to charter schools?

All charter schools are part of the Public School System and must comply with EC Section 47611.5 External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47610-47615] and Chapter 10.7 (commencing with Section 3540 External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=gov&group=03001-04000&file=3540-3540.2]) of the California Government Code. These sections relate to a public education employee’s right to be represented through a collective bargaining process. The charter school must specify whether it will comply with these sections as part of the charter authorizing entity or as an independent public school employer.

A charter school that is operated by a nonprofit corporation must also comply with these requirements. Employees who work in a charter school, but are hired by a nonprofit corporation, are entitled to the same rights under these code sections.

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Q.14 What is the process for closing a charter school? What happens to the school's assets and remaining fund balances?

EC Section 47605(b)(5)(P) External link opens in new window or tab. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=47001-48000&file=47605-47608] requires each charter to contain a description of the procedures to be used if the school closes, including a final audit, plans for disposing of all assets (fixed assets and remaining fund balances), and maintenance and transfer of pupil records. If a charter school is established as a nonprofit corporation, the corporate bylaws and the statutes governing nonprofit corporations apply.

Regulations pertaining to charter school closure are found in California Code of Regulations, Title 5, sections 11962 External link opens in new window or tab. [http://government.westlaw.com/linkedslice/default.asp?SP=CCR-1000] and 11962.1 External link opens in new window or tab. [http://government.westlaw.com/linkedslice/default.asp?SP=CCR-1000]. A recommended process for closing a charter school can be found on the Charter Schools Division Web page.

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Questions: Charter School Staff | charters@cde.ca.gov | 916-322-6029 
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