Like the wildfires torching the state’s forests, the debate over California’s charter schools rages on. In the latest move to reign in what many consider the scandal-plagued institutions, the California Legislature passed a bill last week to ban all for-profit charter schools in the state. It’s lawmakers second attempt in three years to ban the schools, the first was vetoed in 2015, and the bill now moves to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk to be signed or vetoed by September 30.
Plagued by corruption and the subject of an intense investigation in 2016 by The Mercury News, the state’s 35 for-profit charter schools ⏤ which are run by five companies and educate around 25,000 students ⏤ have been under attack for some time. And while attention has been focused on one of the companies, Virginia-based K12, which has taken $310 million in state funds over the last 12 years but been accused of “a dismal record of academic achievement,” Assembly Bill 406 would, according to The Mercury News, “prohibit all for-profit corporations and for-profit educational management organizations from running the state’s taxpayer-funded and independently run schools — even if the schools themselves are technically nonprofits.” Charter schools by definition are public schools that are independent of local school boards, and California has used them since the early 1990s. There are currently 1,275 charter schools statewide with an enrollment of around 630,000 students.
The bill’s passage, which wasn’t guaranteed until a deal was struck between the teachers union and the schools’ trade association, comes at an interesting time in the charter-school debate. Not only does the White House support charter schools, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is strongly in favor of for-profit education in general. She was also an investor in K12. Supporters of the bill, however, say it will ensure that the state’s charter schools are run by non-profits, fairly and in accordance with the law, something they note has not been the case with current for-profit schools. According to one report, “more than 20 percent of all California charter schools have enrollment policies that violate state and federal law.”
That said, despite support from both sides on the issue, it’s actually unclear whether the bill will get the governor’s signature. As mayor of Oakland, Brown helped establish two charter schools and has expressed support for, or at least been reluctant to vote against, legislation curtailing their operation.