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A Smart Partnership

March 19, 2004

Charter schools and their legislative benefactors have learned a lesson after a poorly thought-out bill languished in Sacramento. A new version eliminates the old problems while giving the charter-school movement what it most needs: a way to grow without relying on sometimes-hostile public schools.

Recent studies laud the progress of charter schools, which are publicly funded but operate free of many state regulations in exchange for meeting certain goals. They provide frustrated parents with a choice, whether it's an innovative teaching approach or a well-disciplined alternative to an out-of-control neighborhood school.

Problem is, groups that want to open a new charter generally must apply to the local school board. Some school districts despise charter schools as competitors, since state funds follow each child to the new school. To others, charters are a money-making proposition. They approve the charters, only to charge exorbitant administrative fees while virtually ignoring the schools.

AB 2764, sponsored by Assemblywoman Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), could fix all that, and more, by letting California's public universities and colleges approve and oversee charters. They're a natural pair. Colleges have an inherent interest in planning and observing school programs. Charter schools can benefit from professors' expertise and college students' volunteer efforts.

Bates introduced a similar bill last year that would have gone too far, extending approval powers to big-city mayors and nonprofit groups. The mayoral provision would have exposed schools to the whims of cronyism and campaign contributions. And any wacky nonprofit group could have approved and supervised an equally wacky charter school. That's why this page opposed that bill. The new measure cleans up the old mess. Based on its merits and its bipartisan support (Sen. Dede Alpert, a San Diego Democrat, is a co-author), it should win quick approval.

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