Give All Public Schools the Best Environment to Recover from the Pandemic
California’s Charter Public Schools Are Facing an End to an Important Protection that Will Divert Resources from Classrooms and Lead to Instability for Students
By Myrna Castrejón, President & CEO, California Charter Schools Association
California law requires that charter public schools be renewed periodically — typically every five years — based on specific metrics of school performance. Unlike traditional public schools, charter public schools are held to high stakes accountability and must demonstrate student achievement to have their charter renewed or be closed.
Significant data gaps and testing suspensions caused by the pandemic upended our system for all public schools, making it impossible to accurately measure school performance. In 2021, the Legislature and Governor were right in extending the renewal periods for charter public schools. We are at the end of that window, however, yet significant data gaps in school performance remain and do not tell the full story.
To ensure student stability and mitigate disruption in education, it is vital that we take honest stock of where we are today and accept that schools are still recovering from the lingering effects of the pandemic. All public schools are working to re-engage their students and deal with learning loss, which in some cases is catastrophic. At the same time, leaders are contending with burnout and a resulting teacher shortage. Now is the time for elected officials and authorizers to put kids first and let educators focus on getting students back on track — not on a rigorous and lengthy review and renewal process with no guardrails for universally understood benchmarks.
SB 739 by Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil (D-Jackson) will extend the renewal period for all charter schools by one year so they can be measured by their response to the pandemic and provide their districts and authorizers more complete data which demonstrates their ability to deliver a high-quality education to students.
Renewing charter schools based on the system that has been fractured by the pandemic is misaligned with the state’s commitment to continuous improvement. This system has proven to be effective in supporting the nearly 700,000 students that attend charter public schools. It is vital that the state should only resume charter renewals based on assessment of post-pandemic data and demonstrable improvement, and after the data gaps have been resolved.
Support stability in public education — Write your State Senator about SB 739 and join our campaign.
There was no crystal ball that would tell us when the impacts of Covid would be behind us. The extension provided by SB 739 will allow schools to continue to deliver important services to their students.
For many children and their families, their schools were places of stability and comfort, and it was our most vulnerable groups that were impacted the most amid the pandemic: students of color, students from low-income families, and homeless and transient students. An extension will accommodate the gap in student data caused by the pandemic and allow students to remain in the learning environment that supported them throughout.
Last year’s Smarter Balanced standardized test data provided a baseline that shows where educators should focus. Since the 2018–19 academic year, when the tests were last administered before the pandemic, students meeting math standards fell 7 percentage points to 33%. English and Language Arts scores dropped 4 percentage points to 47.1%. The results reflected a statewide decline that nearly wiped out the progress that was made since the test was introduced in 2014.
The last thing we need to be doing right now is adding a bureaucratic and political task to already overburdened public school leaders, administrators, and districts. Absent reliable data, the charter public school renewal process will be fraught with uncertainty for students, families, and teachers, and may be overwhelming for county boards and the State Board of Education, which conduct denial appeals.
In a moment where there are no fair, reliable, and objective benchmarks from which to measure school performance, it is unreasonable to put school leaders in an inherently political process that can result in shutdowns. As each authorizer struggles with its own interpretation of charter renewals and the process is applied unevenly across the state, the result will create greater instability for children.
Charter public schools should and would remain accountable during this time through ongoing authorized oversight, participation in the state’s broader accountability system, and if needed, a robust revocation process still in place. We are in no way stepping away from our commitment to accountability. And yet, when the first pandemic testing window showed the magnitude of learning loss, everyone in education publicly declared this to be a ‘new baseline’ from which we could begin to assess progress, especially recognizing that our vast demographic shifts across the state mean we are simply not educating the same cohort of students from 2019 through 2023. We are simply asking for the same accommodation as all other public schools to assess the success of our mission.
With the passage of SB 739, the Legislature and Governor have the opportunity to help charter public school educators deliver on their promise to focus on students and provide high-quality education opportunities to all California students, regardless of their income or zip code.
As charters enter their fourth decade of providing unique and personalized learning models to California students, I am excited to see what is coming next. I’ve really enjoyed visiting campuses this year and witnessing the joy and inspiration of students as they connect with their teachers.
Let’s give our educators the best environment for them to operate and continue to reinvent public education in California.
SB 739 by Senator Maria Alvarado-Gil provides charter public schools with a one-year renewal extension. Support stability in public education — support this legislation and join our campaign.