The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes bills seeking more accountability for troubled charter-school sector

California Gov. Jerry Brown  (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

California Gov. Jerry Brown, who years ago opened two charter schools, just vetoed legislation passed by legislators who were seeking to bring some accountability to the state’s scandal-ridden charter-school sector.

California has more publicly funded charter schools and charter-school students than any other state. While some of the schools are high-achieving, others have been plagued by financial and other problems.

Why California’s charter-school sector is called ‘the Wild West’

State authorities have found more than $80 million in wasteful and fraudulent spending of public money by California charters, according to the sponsors of one of the bills that Brown vetoed. A recent report found that more than 20 percent of all California charters have enrollment policies that violate state and federal law. And a Mercury News investigation published in April found that the state’s online charter schools, run by Virginia-based K12 Inc., the largest for-profit charter operator in the country, have “a dismal record of academic achievement” but have won more than $310 million in state funding over the past dozen years.

An alliance of business and political leaders in the state had urged Brown to sign Assembly Bill 709, which would have required that all charters be transparent about how they spend public funds, and would have barred charter school board members and their relatives from profiting from their schools. The bill also would have insisted that charter schools be subject to the state’s laws involving conflict of interest, open meetings and open records.

How messed up is California’s charter-school sector? You won’t believe how much.

Brown’s veto message said that he had vetoed a similar bill in 2014 and that he felt that the new legislation went too far in telling charters how to operate. On Thursday, he voted Senate Bill 739, which was narrower than AB 709. It sought to prevent financially troubled school districts from authorizing charter schools to operate in other school districts that haven’t approved them.

In fact, several school districts have sued to shut down charters operating in their districts that they did not authorize. The Grossmont Union High School District, for example, sued to shut down two charters operating in Grossmont under agreements signed by another school district. The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted Scott Patterson, Grossmont’s deputy superintendent of business services, as saying, “It’s been described as the Wild West out there.”

Brown started two charter schools — the Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute — when he was mayor of Oakland from 1999 to 2007. In his 2016-2017 budget for the state, he included $20 million in funds for new charter schools.

Why California’s charter school sector is called ‘the Wild West’

How messed up is California’s charter school sector? You won’t believe how much.