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California Charter Oversight: Key Elements and Actual Costs. CRB 12-001.

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This study was mandated by SB537 (Simitian, Chapter 650, Stats. of 2007, codified at Ed. Code Section 47613), which requires the California Research Bureau (CRB) to prepare and submit to the Legislature a report on the key elements and actual costs of charter school oversight. Charter schools are public schools that are operated by entities other than the traditional school district. They are publicly funded, mandated to accept any student who applies, and cannot discriminate based on race, religion, sex, or geographic location. Charter schools are exempted from significant portions of the California Education Code, but are overseen by charter school authorizers. An authorizer is an entity--most often a school district--that approves the formation of a charter school and regularly reviews its academic and financial performance. Authorizers have the power to close underperforming charter schools. Both authorizers and charter schools receive state funds for their operations. Charter schools educate approximately six percent of all California students. Charter authorizers oversee the performance of these schools and are responsible for ensuring that low-performing schools are either improved or closed. Under the direction of the Legislature, CRB examined the relationship between charter authorizers and charter schools, with a special emphasis on financial arrangements that would increase the opportunity for oversight beyond the legislatively mandated oversight activities. Additionally, the Legislature requested that CRB determine if the current funding formula for charter oversight provides sufficient reimbursement for authorizer activities. Finally, CRB addressed the Legislature's request to review best practices for charter school oversight and make recommendations on improving oversight in California. This report presents four key findings. First, the author and her colleagues found that during their study period, authorizers varied widely in both the services they performed and the amounts they charged charter schools for oversight. While some authorizers reported that petition review accounted for less than $1,000 in costs, other authorizers reported petition reviews costing upwards of $112,500. Second, they uncovered no correlation between activities performed for oversight and cost of oversight among study participants. A majority of the respondents had not adopted guidelines to determine what activities or services should be paid for with money received for charter school oversight. Third, few respondents to their survey reported formally accounting for staff time and costs expended conducting charter school oversight. Hence they are unable to provide the Legislature with a meaningful estimate of the true costs of or sufficiency of funding for authorizers' charter school oversight. They found that authorizers ranged from zero to 17 full-time employees dedicated to oversight. While 61 of the 72 respondents were able to provide an estimate on expenditures to revenue ratios, only 16 authorizers reported accounting for their actual oversight costs. Fourth, they found that, while professionally-accepted standards for charter school oversight have begun to emerge, California charter authorizers vary in their adherence to these standards. Several staff at authorizing agencies CRB staff spoke with stated their agency had to "reinvent the wheel" when it came to establishing oversight practices and standards. While some authorizers utilize established professional standards, others create their own unique forms of oversight. SB537 requires CRB to make policy recommendations about the structure and function of charter school oversight. The lack of good information about the costs and revenues including the use of California Education Code section 47613 funding has limited the author's and her colleagues' ability to provide concrete guidance to the Legislature in some areas. Their recommendations are based on current, professionally-accepted standards in charter school authorization and the results of their survey findings. These are: (1) Make charters or charter petitions available to the public; (2) Improve oversight accounting for authorizer reimbursement funds; (3) Define reimbursable oversight activities under California Education Code section 47613; and (4) Use multiple metrics to evaluate charter school performance. Appended are: (1) Advisory Panel; (2) Charter School Authorizer Survey Tool; (3) State Funding Allotments for Oversight Activity; (4) Significant CA Charter School Legislation; (5) Aligned General Oversight Standards; (6) National Consensus Panel on Charter School Academic Quality/National Consensus Panel on Charter School Operational Quality; (7) NACSA Financial Red Flags; (8) Charter School Transparency Laws; (9) Additional Authorizing Experts; (10) Data Overview; and (11) Works Cited. (Contains 15 tables, 18 figures and 2 equations.) [For "California Charter Oversight: Key Elements and Actual Costs. CRB Briefly Stated," see ED528996.
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Title Annotation:California Research Bureau
Author:Blanton, Rebecca E.
Publication:ERIC: Reports
Article Type:Abstract
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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