Court ruling limits charter schools' expansions with satellite campuses outside their territory

By Joe Dyton | Nov 17, 2016

SAN DIEGO — A California appellate court recently ruled that charter schools cannot expand throughout their home county by opening satellite campuses outside of the district that granted them authorization.


The ruling was considered a win for California's school districts that have seen student numbers and state attendance funds decrease when charters opened “resource centers” in their boundaries without the district’s approval or oversight.


For charter advocates, the ruling is a disappointment. They say it will disrupt the education of more than 150,000 independent study charter school students unless the case is appealed to the California Supreme Court.


“We are very disappointed in the decision,” Ricardo Soto, senior vice president of Legal Advocacy and general counsel for California Charter Schools Association told the Northern California Record. “We think the decision goes against many years of the previous interpretation about the operation of charter schools up and down the state, which aren’t classroom based. They are independent study students in resource centers in districts where they are authorized.”


The ruling comes from the 3rd District Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn a lower court’s decision in lawsuit the Anderson Union High School District filed. The Redding-based district claimed in its suit the Shasta Charter Academy illegally started a resource center in its jurisdiction.


The lower court ruled in the charter’s favor, saying it’s legal to operate a resource center in the nearby Anderson district to allow independent study students an opportunity to use computers, receive tutoring and complete schoolwork in a classroom setting. While the state education code allows independent study charters to operate satellite campuses in their home district or nearby counties, the law say nothing about whether a charter may operate the same type of centers outside of their home district, which is why the lower court’s ruling was overturned.


“I think the court took a very strict reading of the statue and didn’t consider the policy arguments why the statute should have been interpreted to permit the location of these resource centers,” Soto said.


While the ruling is a positive for the various school districts, the ones who are impacted the most are the students who attend the charter schools and their families, according to Soto. Tens of thousands of students depend on the charter schools that operate the resource centers. The decision also hurts those who run the centers themselves, because oftentimes the locations are private and leased, and there are financial consequences for organizations that have to break a lease because they can’t keep the center open.

Even though the school districts have the current law on their side, the Charter School Association still plans to appeal the recent ruling. One of the charter schools in the case has already submitted a petition for a rehearing with the Court of Appeals, which is essentially a precursor to an appeal, according to Soto. The charter school organization’s attorney has already preparing to file an appeal.

“These schools typically serve families of students that are either not succeeding in the regular pubic school system where they are located, or, in some cases, they are serving families within the public school system through these resource centers and charter schools that wouldn’t have otherwise accessed the public school system,” Soto said. “It’s unfortunate the school districts have targeted these programs to try to close them down when families are choosing to go there to try to access the public school system in California. I think it’s a sad commentary that the school districts might be more interested in protecting their territory than figuring out a way to serve these families better.”

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