SB 1290 Establishes New Renewal Standard for Charter Schools

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October 25, 2012 On September 26, 2012, Governor Brown signed SB 1290, Chapter 576 of the statutes of 2012. SB 1290 amends Education Codes 47605, 47605.5 and 47607 as they relate to measureable pupil outcomes in a schools charter and academic criteria for charter school renewal. SB 1290 was largely enacted to respond to the assertion of the U.S. Department of Education that California was out of compliance with provisions of the federal Public Charter Schools Grant Program, which provides start up and implementation grants to new charter schools. The provisions of SB 1290 mirror federal assurances related to charter school subgroup growth as the primary consideration for renewal and revocation.

SB 1290 goes into effect on January 1, 2013. Therefore, a school entering renewal prior to January may not technically have to apply its provisions immediately depending on the timing of local action. However, since all schools will be measured on the new criteria for their next renewal, it might make sense to consider a charter amendment now to align with the new outcome measures.

The bill primarily makes two changes to the charter elements and renewal criteria:

First, the charter element that requires "measureable pupil outcomes" now must include metrics for subgroup growth. Specifically, Ed Code Section 47605(b)(5) (and Section 47605.6 for county-wide benefit charters) which contains the charter elements, now says the charter must contain:

"(B) The measurable pupil outcomes identified for use by the charter school. "Pupil outcomes," for purposes of this part, means the extent to which all pupils of the school demonstrate that they have attained the skills, knowledge, and attitudes specified as goals in the school's educational program. Pupil outcomes shall include outcomes that address increases in pupil academic achievement both schoolwide and for all groups of pupils served by the charter school, as that term is defined in subparagraph (B) of paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 47607."

All new charters approved after January 1, 2013 should address this new provision. Existing charters are required to make the change at the time of renewal of their charter. As with the other charter elements, the law does not provide specific criteria or guidance on how an individual school or authorizer might interpret, implement or monitor assurance of compliance with that provision. Further, we do not expect the State Board of Education to propose any statewide implementing regulations or guidance on these provisions. Therefore, interpretation and enforcement will occur at the authorizer level, and may vary.

The second change that SB 1290 makes is in the academic criteria required to renew a charter school. Education Code Section 47607(b) requires a school that has been in operation at least four years to meet at least one of five metrics, in order to be renewed:

(1) Attained its Academic Performance Index (API) growth target in the prior year or in two of the last three years, or in the aggregate for the prior three years.
(2) Ranked in deciles 4 to 10, inclusive, on the API in the prior year or in two of the last three years.
(3) Ranked in deciles 4 to 10, inclusive, on the API for a demographically comparable school in the prior year or in two of the last three years.
(4) (A) The entity that granted the charter determines that the academic performance of the charter school is at least equal to the academic performance of the public schools that the charter school pupils would otherwise have been required to attend, as well as the academic performance of the schools in the school district in which the charter school is located, taking into account the composition of the pupil population that is served at the charter school.
(5) Has qualified for an alternative accountability system pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 52052.

SB 1290 amends the first metric relating to meeting the school wide API growth target. That metric has been changed to include growth targets by subgroup. So, for a charter school that has previously met renewal criteria based on that one metric, the bar has been revised because school-wide growth alone is no longer sufficient. If a school is meeting one of the other existing criteria, then this change would not be as significant.

That metric, in 47607(c) of the Education Code now reads:

"(1) Attained its Academic Performance Index (API) growth target in the prior year or in two of the last three years both schoolwide and for all groups of pupils served by the charter school."

SB 1290 also adds to Education Code Section 47607(b) to include the following language related to renewal consideration:

"(3) (A) The authority that granted the charter shall consider increases in pupil academic achievement for all groups of pupils served by the charter school as the most important factor in determining whether to grant a charter renewal. (B) For purposes of this section, "all groups of pupils served by the charter school" means a numerically significant pupil subgroup, as defined by paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 52052, served by the charter school."*

(Section 52052(a) defines the conditions of a numerically significant subgroup which include ethnic subgroups, socioeconomically disadvantaged pupils, English language learners and pupils with disabilities.)

It is less clear how this provision would be practically applied. The law still requires a school to meet one of the five separate academic metrics in order to be renewed, but subgroup growth is only one of the five metrics. Presumably this statement puts more weight on how the charter itself defines targets for subgroup growth. It is possible that authorizers will more heavily consider the achievement of subgroup growth metrics as defined in the measurable pupil outcomes in school's charter. The subgroup outcomes stated in the charter may or may not align with the API growth targets because schools may establish their own metrics and targets within their charter based on their own unique circumstances. Therefore, a school that does not meet its API growth targets as stated in element 1 of section 47607(b) may still be held accountable to its achievement on subgroup growth as it is defined in measurable pupil outcomes stated in its charter.

SB 1290 also requires that "the authority that granted the charter shall consider increases in pupil academic achievement for all groups of pupils served by the charter school as the most important factor in determining whether to revoke a charter." However, the bill does not change any of the other statutory causes for revocation such as a material violation of the charter, failure to meet or pursue any of the pupil outcomes, fiscal mismanagement or other violations of law.

The enactment of SB 1290 protects approximately $60 million dollars per year for federal charter school start up grants and results in a substantive academic accountability change for charter schools. Achievement of targets for student subgroups will become an increasingly important part of charter school accountability in charter approval, renewal and revocation consideration. We believe that subgroup growth will also continue to be an important part of schools accountability discussions as we move into reauthorization of ESEA at the federal level.