Charter School FAQ Section 3Frequently asked questions regarding the governance, oversight, and liability 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.
Governance, Oversight, and Liability
1. What is the governance structure of a charter school?
Charter school governance structures vary. Many schools involve the school’s stakeholders, including parents, teachers, administrators, classified staff, and community leaders. California Education Code (EC) Section 47605(c)(5)(D) requires the charter to include a reasonably comprehensive description of the school’s governance structure.
If a charter school elects to operate as a nonprofit, public benefit corporation, as allowed by EC Section 47604, the charter authorizing entity is entitled to a representative on the corporation’s board of directors. When a charter school is governed by a nonprofit public benefit corporation, the charter authorizing entity may not be liable for any of the debts or obligations of the charter school. Nonprofit corporations operating charter schools in California are subject to the laws governing nonprofit corporations in the California Corporations Code and all charter school laws.
2. Can a charter school governing board include paid employees of the school?
Because legal views on this topic vary, charter school governing boards should consult with an attorney for advice on this question.
3. Are charter schools subject to open meeting requirements?
Yes. Although charter schools are exempt from most laws applicable to school districts, they are not exempt from laws that generally apply to public agencies, including the legal requirement to hold open meetings. California Government Code Section 54950 et. seq. (commonly referred to as the “Brown Act”) requires that the deliberations and actions taken by local (public) agencies be conducted openly.
4. Who is responsible for student records?
The charter school’s governing board is responsible for developing policies and procedures to address the proper maintenance of student records. California Education Code Section 47605(c)(5)(O) requires each charter to contain a description of the procedures for maintenance and transfer of pupil records including what happens to those records if the school closes.
5. What are the oversight responsibilities of a charter authorizing entity?
The charter authorizing entity is responsible for ensuring the charter school operates in compliance with all applicable laws and the terms of its charter. California Education Code Section 47604.32 identifies the duties of a charter authorizing entity. Specifically, the charter authorizing entity must:
- Identify at least one staff member as a contact person for the charter school.
- Visit each charter school at least annually.
- Ensure that each charter school under its authority complies with all reports required of charter schools by law.
- Monitor the fiscal condition of each charter school under its authority.
- Provide timely notification to the department if the charter is revoked or if the charter school will cease operation for any reason.
In addition to the oversight responsibilities described above, “supervision” includes providing the charter school with general guidance and assistance on various issues, such as funding and compliance. A charter school may opt to contract with its charter authorizing entity or other sources to provide additional services such as administrative, insurance, maintenance, payroll, etc., on a fee-for-service basis.
A charter authorizing entity may establish an agreement with the charter school regarding the format, frequency, and scope of oversight activities.
6. How is a charter authorizing entity compensated for the costs of oversight?
A charter authorizing entity may charge a charter school for supervisorial oversight fees for the costs of performing the duties required by California Education Code (EC) Section 47604.32. EC Section 47613 allows a charter authorizing entity to charge a charter school for the actual costs of supervisorial oversight, not to exceed 1 percent of the revenue of the charter school. However, if the charter authorizing entity provides substantially rent-free facilities for use by the charter school, the charter authorizing entity may charge for the actual costs of supervisorial oversight, not to exceed 3 percent of the revenue of the charter school. For purposes of calculating the oversight fee, revenue is defined as general-purpose entitlement and categorical block grant funding.
7. Can a charter authorizing entity charge for facilities and also charge up to 3 percent of the school’s revenue for oversight fees?
No. California Education Code Section 47614 (Proposition 39) requires a school district to provide district facilities to each charter school operating in the district for the school’s in-district students.
8. Who has the authority and responsibility to ensure appropriate teacher credentialing at a charter school?
California Education Code (EC) Section 47605(l) gives specific authority to the charter authorizing entity to periodically inspect the credentials of charter school teachers as part of its oversight responsibility. EC sections 47604.3 and 47604.4 give county offices of education general authority to request information from a charter school and may request credential information under this general authority.
9. How can a charter authorizing entity limit liability for the acts of the charter school?
California Education Code Section 47604(d) states that a charter authorizing entity that complies with its required oversight responsibilities is not liable for the debts or obligations of the charter school, or for claims arising from the performance of acts, errors, or omissions by a charter school that operates as or by a nonprofit public benefit corporation.