By Nancy Gutierrez
The abrupt closure in August of California Charter Academy's four charter schools has resulted in the closure of 70 satellite campuses statewide.
It is estimated that over 9,000 students from these schools will be displaced as a result. The state has nearly 500 public charter schools and approximately 170,000 charter school students. The more than 9,000 students were enrolled in campuses affiliated with four charter schools in Orange and San Bernardino Counties. State Superintendent of Instruction Jack O'Connell called for a joint investigation of California Charter Academy by the California Department of Education and the Orange County and San Bernardino County office of education last March.
Charter Schools are independent public schools designed and operated by educators, parents, community members educational entrepreneurs an others. They are sponsored in California by school district and county boards of education that monitor their quality and integrity but allow them to operate free from regulatory laws that govern school districts. Funded like other public schools, they operate under five-year charter contracts which may be renewed if the school meets its performance goals. They serve a diverse range of students and feature alternative or unique instructional programs.
The Elenore Roosevelt Charter School located near Exeter serves families from Exeter and surrounding communities. It was started four years ago by families who had been homeschooling their children.
"We started because we wanted something for our children," Elenor Roosevelt Charter School director Klara East said. "This is an independent study school so our teachers work with students who are home schooled and support parents with their students education."
ERCS is not in danger of being shut down or investigated by the state. They are locally operated. East said she thinks part of the problem with the CCA schools is the great distance separating the charter school and the satellite schools.
"It is my understanding that [Assemblywoman] Sara Reyes wrote charter school bills limiting the growth area of the schools," she said. "The authoritative agency needs to be there and visit regularly."
The bill, AB 1994, requires the state’s charter schools to comply with significant fiscal and academic reforms.The bill bars charter schools from becoming statewide or county-wide entities unless they can demonstrate that the needs of students could not be met by a series of local charter schools.
It also requires county offices of education to investigate any complaints of questionable practices at local charter schools. All future charter schools would have to submit their charters to the school district within which they intend to operate. The bill would give currently chartered schools until their renewal date or the year 2005 to secure the authorization of a school district in the county in which they are located.
East said the authorizing agency receives funds from the charter school and that the amount varies depending on whether or not the agency supplies a facility for the charter school.
"With some of the big charter schools that could be a large amount of money," East said.
ERCS offers on-sight classes, in addition to support for home schooled children. East said other enrichment classes such as Spanish, Karate, sign language, band, science, guitar, and many others are available at the school site.
"We match our program standards to the state standards because some of our children will go back and forth from public to charter school," East said. "Our testing is the same. In reality what we do is similar to public schools but the difference is the structure. We plan a program that is unique to each child."