Leyva Charter School Accountability and Transparency Bill Passes Senate

SB 126 Ensures Publicly Funded Schools Comply With Good Government Laws

Thursday, February 21, 2019

SACRAMENTO – With strong bipartisan support, the California State Senate today passed important legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) and Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) that will require charter school governing boards to comply with the same accountability and transparency laws that traditional school district governing boards already follow.

SB 126 specifically ensures that charter school governing boards observe the same open meeting, conflict-of-interest, and disclosure laws as traditional public schools. This measure is essential for ensuring that, as public schools, all charter schools are good stewards of the public funds they receive.

“Though charter schools are publicly funded, they currently lack the same accountability and transparency requirements that traditional public schools already comply with under the law,” Senator Leyva said.  “SB 126 directly responds to Governor Gavin Newsom’s call for swift action to resolve ongoing charter school transparency issues, as well as codifies the Attorney General’s recent advisory opinion related to charter schools. This bicameral response will ensure that charter school governing boards, in accepting public funds, meet the same requirements as other public schools.  I thank my joint author Assemblymember O’Donnell for his collaboration on this issue and look forward to this important bill providing communities, especially parents, fair and open access to participate in the decisions and collective missions of their charter schools.”

Under the Ralph M. Brown Act and the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, all meetings of a state body or a legislative body of a local agency must be open and public, with everyone being allowed to attend. The California Public Records Act requires state and local agencies to make their records publicly available. Government Code Section 1090 prohibits public officials from being financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity, or by any body or board of which they are members.

“SB 126 provides safeguards so that our public school dollars are subject to transparency, common ethical practices, and good government laws that are applied to other governmental operations in California. The bill ensures that schools are learning centers, not profit centers.  Our valuable education dollars must be used for student success, not to line the pockets of charter board members,” noted Assemblymember O’Donnell.

There has been a longstanding debate over whether charter school board members are subject to the same open meeting, public disclosure, and conflict-of-interest requirements that school district board members already comply with under state law.  The California Office of the Attorney General (AG) recently published an advisory opinion stating that good government laws apply to charter school governing boards.  While the AG’s opinion greatly influences the debate about whether or not these laws apply to charter school governing boards, the opinion is not legally binding on courts, agencies, or individuals. SB 126 will codify the AG’s opinion and settle how these laws apply to charter schools.

Now advancing to the Assembly, SB 126 is supported by the ACLU, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees / Council 57, Association of California School Administrators, California Association of School Business Officials, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, California Federation of Teachers, California Labor Federation,, California School Boards Association, California State PTA, California Teachers Association, Kern County Superintendent of Schools, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Public Advocates, Riverside County Office of Education, San Diego Unified School District, San Francisco Unified School District, School for Integrated Academics and Technologies, SEIU California, and Small School Districts’ Association.