SACRAMENTO — Legislation that cleared the state Assembly on Friday could make it harder to create charter schools in California by requiring supporters to seek consent from at least some lower-level unionized school employees.
Under AB917, at least 50 percent of teachers and support staff, such as cafeteria workers or custodians, would need to back any effort to convert a public school to a charter or start a new one.
The bill’s author, Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, said it would allow “employees who play a vital role in the education of our kids, whether they’re in the classroom or not, to have a voice in whether we convert or create a new charter school.”
Current law requires petitions for a new charter school to include at least half the parents who expect to send their children to the school or half the teachers expected to work here. To convert an existing public school, at least half the teachers working at that school must sign the petition.
The number of teachers and support staffers employed at a public school or expected to be hired at a new charter would form a pool of potential supporters under Bradford’s bill. The 50-percent threshold could be met with any combination of teachers and support staffers.
The proposal to include other school employees in the petition process is sponsored by the Services Employees International Union and is supported by the California Charter School Association. The groups say doing so would give support staff a more substantive role in creating charters without overly burdening charter school petitioners.
“We simply acknowledge that when you’re trying to change the entire culture of a school, that doesn’t just include the teachers or the parents,” said Myrna Castrejon, senior vice president of government affairs for the charter school association.
But opponents, including some Republicans and the Sacramento-based Charter Schools Development Center, say provisions in the bill are confusing and would create roadblocks to forming charter schools.
“With this new signature requirement, it will drive down the number of charter schools that are created in a given year and it will further prevent parents from pursuing education options,” said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.
Eric Premack, executive director of the Charter Schools Development Center, said it’s unclear who would be eligible to offer their backing as a support staffer for creating a new charter school, as opposed to converting a public school.
“It sort of assumes that you have an entity that’s already employing people, when in fact you don’t,” Premack said.
Matt Stauffer, Bradford’s spokesman, said support employees at working at other district schools would be surveyed about their interest in working at the proposed charter and could sign the petition.
The Assembly approved AB917 Friday on a 52-24 vote, sending it to Gov. Jerry Brown.
Brown vetoed an identical bill in 2011. In his veto message, the Democratic governor wrote that while support staff plays a vital role in school operations, “this bill would unnecessarily complicate an already difficult charter school petition process.”
Bradford said in a statement he is continuing to push for approval in spite of the veto because he believes the support employees are critical to the successful operation of charter schools.