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Charter School Developments: Education Omnibus Budget Trailer Bill and Lawsuit Decisions on Charter Petition Denials

Jul 17, 2023 | Legal Developments and News

Items in the Education Omnibus Budget Trailer Bill and Decision in lawsuits challenging State Board of Education action reversing local board charter petition denials.

Summary

The Governor signed the Education Omnibus Budget Trailer Bill into law, which contains several provisions relevant to charter schools. Second, the Sacramento Superior found that the State Board of Education (SBE) decision to reverse the denials of the Mayacamas Charter Middle School Petition by local school district and county board of education to be an abuse of discretion ordering the decisions be set aside.

Dannis Woliver Kelley acted as legal counsel for the California School Boards Association in the lawsuit, California School Boards Association’s Education Legal Alliance v. California State Board of Education (CSBA v. SBE).

Background

The Education Omnibus Budget Trailer was signed into law by Governor Newsom on July 10, 2023. Included in these bills are three provisions applicable to charter schools: 1) the term of all charter schools whose charters expire between January 1, 2024, and June 30, 2027, are extended by one additional year; 2) the moratorium on nonclassroom-based charter schools will remain in place for an additional year; and, 3) on review of charter petition appeals the SBE must give local board’s decisions the highest level of deference under the abuse of discretion standard.

The trial court in Napa Valley Unified School District v. California State Board of Education and the related case, California School Boards Association’s Education Legal Alliance v. California State Board of Education (CSBA v. SBE) issued its ruling overturning the SBE’s action to reverse the local district and county boards’ decisions denying the charter petition. CSBA and Napa Valley Unified School District (Napa Valley) each filed petitions for writ of mandate following SBE’s decision to reverse the denials of the Mayacamas Charter Middle School charter petition. The Court issued its ruling on June 29, 2023, granting the petitions and holding that SBE abused its discretion in that it had no legal basis on which to take such action.

Impacts of the Education Omnibus Budget Trailer Bill

Education Code section 47607.4 is amended to extend the term of all charter schools whose petitions expire between January 1, 2024, and June 30, 2027, by one additional year. This is a continuation of the two-year extension passed during the COVID-19 era for charter petitions expiring in this time period. This extension also has the effect of granting charter schools out of compliance with geographical location limitations an additional extension to come into compliance, as these charter schools were obligated to comply by the time of their charter petition renewal. With this additional year, some charter schools will receive a three year extension overall.

Education Code section 47612.7 is amended to extend the moratorium on nonclassroom-based charter schools by an additional year. This extension was initially made to allow the Legislature additional time to work on legislation to address the loopholes that lead to the misappropriation of public funds and fraud by unscrupulous non-classroom.

In the wake of SBE’s decision reversing the local board decisions denying the Mayacamas Charter Middle School Petition, the Legislature amended Education Code section 47605(k)(2)(E) to emphasize that the abuse of discretion standard “is the most deferential standard of review, under which the state board must give deference to the decisions of the governing board of the school district and the county board of education to deny the petition.”

Impact of Legal Challenges to SBE

Both CSBA and Napa Valley filed petitions for writ of mandate to review the decision by SBE overturning the decision by Napa Valley and the Napa Valley County Board of Education denying a charter petition. SBE reversed the decisions on the grounds that the Napa Valley process was “unfair” and the County Board finding regarding community impact was not supported.

Prior to SBE’s review of Napa Valley’s decision, the Legislature drastically revised the process for establishing charter schools – placing this authority exclusively in the hands of locally elected board members. Under the revised process, if a charter petition is denied by the local school district and county board, an appeal to SBE is limited to a review of the documentary record. SBE may only overturn the decisions below only upon a finding that there was an abuse of discretion by both the district and county board as demonstrated the documentary record.

In this case, CSBA and Napa Valley alleged that SBE did not comply with the terms of the revised process. Rather than reviewing the record for an abuse of discretion, SBE substituted its own discretion for that of the local agencies, directly contradicting the purpose of the revised charter petition review process. The Court determined that SBE had exceeded its authority under the appeal process by failing to apply the correct standard of review; that there was no violation of process; and the finding regarding community impact was amply supported in the record. The Court held that there was no proper legal basis for SBE’s decision reversing the local board decisions and granted the petition for writ of mandate.

The CSBA v. SBE case reinforces the purpose of the Legislatures’ change to the charter petition process. The Court recognized that the Legislature placed the discretion to consider charter petitions with the local agencies, significantly limiting the ability of SBE to overturn local board decisions.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact a DWK attorney in our Charter Schools practice group.

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