Charter School FAQ Section 2Frequently asked questions regarding the approval, establishment, and closure of a charter school.
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.
Approval and Establishment
What is the definition of an "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 Section 47604(a) is considered to be an incorporated charter school.
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 California Education Code Section 47601 are as follows:
- Improve pupil learning.
- Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils identified as academically low achieving.
- Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods.
- Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.
- Provide parents and students with expanded educational opportunities within the public school system without the constraints of traditional rules and structure.
- Provide schools a way to shift from a rule-based to a performance-based system of accountability.
- Provide competition within the public school system to stimulate improvements in all public schools.
Is there a "cap" on the number of charter schools?
Yes. California Education Code Section 47602 sets the limit of 100 newly established charter school per fiscal year.
Who is eligible to submit a charter petition?
Anyone may develop, circulate, and submit a petition to establish a charter school. Under California Education Code (EC) Section 47605(a) and EC Section 47605.6 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.
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 in which it is approved. Additionally, the following restrictions apply to charter schools:
- California Education Code (EC) Section 47602(b) prohibits the conversion of private schools to public charter schools.
- EC Section 47605(d) 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.
- EC Section 47605(b)(5)(G) 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.
- EC sections 47605(d)(3)(e) and 47605(d)(3)(f) 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.
- EC Section 47605.6(a)(2) prohibits an existing public school (including an active charter school) to convert to a countywide charter school.
On what grounds can a local governing board deny approval of a charter petition?
California Education Code (EC) Section 47605(c) 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, as follows:
- The charter school presents an unsound educational program for the pupils to be enrolled in the charter school.
- The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition.
- The petition does not contain the required number of signatures.
- The petition does not contain an affirmation of each of the conditions described in EC Section 47605(e)
- The petition does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of all of the 15 required elements of the petition.
- The charter school is demonstrably unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community in which the school is proposing to locate per EC Section 47605(c)(7)
- The school district is not positioned to absorb the fiscal impact of the proposed charter school per EC Section 47605(c)(8) .
Can a school district convert all of its schools to charter schools?
Yes. According to California Education Code (EC) Section 47606(a) , a school district may convert all of its schools to charter schools if the charter petition meets the following conditions:
- Fifty percent of the teachers within the school district sign the charter petition.
- The petition specifies the alternative attendance arrangements for pupils residing within the school district who choose not to attend charter schools.
- The petition contains all the requirements set forth pursuant to EC Section 47605 .
Who may approve a charter school petition?
Under California Education Code (EC) Section 47605(b) a local school district governing board may approve a charter school petition, with a few exceptions, that will operate within the district's boundaries.
EC Section 47605.6 allows a petitioner to seek approval of a charter petition from a county board of education if the charter operates at one or more sites within the geographic boundaries of the county and provides instructional services that are not generally provided by a county office of education.
EC Section 47605(k)(1)(A)(i) allows a petitioner to seek approval of a charter petition from a county board of education if the petition is denied by a local school district governing board within the county.
EC Section 47605(k)(1)(B)(2) allows a petitioner to request that the State Board of Education approve a charter petition if the petition has been denied by a local school district governing board and a county board of education.
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 California Education Code Section 47605(a)(6) .
What is the timeline for approval of a charter petition?
California Education Code (EC) Section 47605(b) specifies that a local governing board must hold a public hearing on the provisions of the charter and the level of support for the petition by the school district community, for a proposed charter within 60 days of receipt of the completed petition. Within 90 days from receipt of the petition, following review of the petition and the public hearing, the governing board of the school district shall either approve or deny the charter. A petition is deemed received by the governing board of the school district for purposes of commencing the timelines described in this subdivision on the day the petitioner submits a petition to the district office, along with a signed certification that the petitioner deems the petition to be complete. This time line may be extended by 30 days if both parties agree to the extension.
Also pursuant to EC Section 47605(b), the governing board shall publish all staff recommendations, including the recommended findings, and if applicable, the certification from the county superintendent of schools, regarding the petition at least 15 days before the public hearing at which the governing board will either grant or deny the charter.
When should a newly approved charter school commence instruction?
California Education Code Section 47652(c) requires that a charter school in its first year of operation, commence instruction between July 1 and September 30 of that year. Therefore, the approved charter term should align with the State fiscal year, July 1, XXXX through June 30, XXXX.
What are the required elements of a charter petition?
Each charter petition must contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of each of 15 required elements. The below list summarizes the 15 elements:
- 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 (EC Section 47605[c][A]).
- The measurable pupil outcomes identified for use by the school (EC Section 47605[c][B]).
- The method by which pupil progress in meeting those pupil outcomes is to be measured (EC Section 47605[c][C]).
- The schools governance structure, including parental involvement (EC Section 47605[b][D]).
- The qualifications to be met by individuals employed by the school (EC Section 47605[b][E]).
- Procedures to ensure health and safety of pupils and staff (EC Section 47605[b][F]).
- The means by which the school will achieve racial and ethnic balance among its pupils, reflective of the general population residing in the district (EC Section 47605[b][G]).
- Admission requirements (EC Section 47605[b][H]).
- The manner in which annual financial audits will be conducted, and the manner in which audit exceptions and deficiencies will be resolved (EC Section 47605[b][I]).
- The procedures by which pupils may be suspended or expelled (EC Section 47605[b][J]).
- Provisions for employee coverage under the State Teachers Retirement System, the Public Employees Retirement System, or federal social security (EC Section 47605[b][K]).
- The public school alternatives for pupils residing within the district who choose not to attend charter schools (EC Section 47605[b][L]).
- 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 (EC Section 47605[b][M]).
- A dispute resolution process (EC Section 47605[b][N])
- The procedures to be used if the charter school closes (EC Section 47605[b][O]).
Comprehensive descriptions of each of the required elements are provided in California Education Code (EC) Section 47605(c)(5)(A-O)
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 California Education Code Section 47611.5 and Chapter 10.7 (commencing with Section 3540 ) 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.
What is the process for closing a charter school? What happens to the school's assets and remaining fund balances?
California Education Code Section 47605(b)(5)(O) 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 under California Code of Regulations, Title 5 Section 11962 . Guidance on the process for closing a charter school is available at Charter School Closures.