Legislation tightens restrictions on charter schools | SierraSun.com
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Legislation tightens restrictions on charter schools

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

How Prosser Creek Charter School will operate and how its relationship with Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District regular schools is defined is even more uncertain since California legislators approved a bill that would impose tighter restrictions on charter schools.

SB 434, which passed in the Senate last Thursday, will require that all charter schools have the same amount of instructional minutes as regular public schools and prohibit them from operating in counties not immediately next to the county in which they are chartered.

Approximately 150 Prosser Creek Charter School students who live outside of the contiguous counties will have to find other educational options. These students rely largely on distance learning and homeschool instruction through Prosser Creek.

“Anything that is non- site-based is getting thrown into the independent study box,” said Jayna Gaskell, head of Prosser Creek.

“It is now tied to the educational code and independent study regulations. It’s taking the charter schools and shoving them back in the box.”

Gaskell was very active in opposing the bill and spoke on the senate floor last week on the issue.

“SB 434 will bind all charter schools to the same instructional minutes requirements that don’t seem to be serving our students now in the traditional system. I’d like to meet the person who can prove that the amount of time a child sits in a chair equates to learning,” said Gaskell in her speech.

“How dare these legislators sit in their leather padded offices watching children being shot on campuses of 2,500 students asking, ‘What is wrong with our children? What is wrong with our schools?’ and then pass laws … which destroy small charters that can give the individualized attention and support that our students need and deserve,” she said.

Support for the bill came from legislators who argued that the lack of accountability of distance learning and independent study programs could lead to abuse by charter school operators.

Legislators are looking for a mechanism to provide more consistency between independent study programs at charters and the regular public schools.

Gaskell said that some legislators referred to one particular school that misused funds at the hearing and talked of horror stories at other charter schools.

California’s charter schools were created in 1992 to be free of the rigid public school structure and to provide alternative and unique learning opportunities for those who were struggling in regular schools. There are currently more than 200 charter schools in the state.

SB 434 will impose the following restrictions indicating charter schools must:

– Provide at a minimum, the same amount of instruction time per year as regular public schools.

– Document all pupil attendance and make such records available for audit.

– Administer independent study programs under the same regulations that are applied to public schools.

– Prove, as a condition of receiving state funding, that their students have participated in the same state testing programs in the manner as public school students.

– Only provide things of value to students or parents that are also provided to students who attend regular classes.

According to Gaskell, some charter schools will be forced to shut down because of the legislation.

“I don’t think this is going to shut us down, but this is going to shut other charters down,” said Gaskell. “The instructional minutes and the independent study box they put us in is the biggest problem with all of this.”

The new legislation may cause increased strain on Prosser Creek’s relationship to TTUSD. Now that Prosser Creek will be mostly site-based classes, competition will be inevitable, said Gaskell.

Charter school students must be allowed access to all district resources and TTUSD would be responsible for maintaining the independent study records, both of which could cause the district to object strenuously.

“It could really tie us to the district more than any of us want and vice versa,” she said.

TTUSD Board President Suzanne Prouty is disappointed that the legislation hurts both charter schools and school districts.

“All I wanted the legislators to do is come back and say that if you have children who are enrolled as distance learners, don’t make (the district) count them in our Average Daily Attendance. I don’t support putting restrictions on the charter school,” said Prouty.

“They need to let local people manage their local schools. What works for Los Angeles might not work for me and the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District,” she said.

The new legislation will most likely not be effective until January, said Gaskell, which causes uncertainty with her enrollment. Prosser Creek needs to know when to tell the 150 students who are outside of the contiguous counties if they will be able to take part in the charter school program. And for the next few months, lawmakers will be determining how the new regulations are to be interpreted, said Gaskell. Some change could be made.

“We can’t do anything with our budget until they do this,” said Gaskell.

Many Prosser Creek parents are concerned about what the changes will mean for their children’s education, said Gaskell.

For Brian Kearney, a single father who has three children enrolled in Prosser Creek next year, “rolling with the punches” is the only way to go.

Kearney has been homeschooling his children through Prosser Creek, supplemented by approximately five hours of site-based study a week for the two older children, ages seven and nine. His youngest will be starting the Montessori kindergarten at Prosser Creek next year.

“We’ll still be doing a lot at home, whether they have to be in a site-based program or not,” said Kearney, who enjoys participating in hands-on learning with his children and taking them on field trips.

“I’m going to stay as involved as I can in their education. We’re going to find a way to work within the rules and regulations.

“This is just one battle. I think it’s going to take a couple of years for charter schools to work out a relationship with public schools.”


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