California Lawmakers Extend Moratorium for Online Charter Schools

By Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley is a daily news reporter for The Epoch Times based in Southern California.
July 13, 2021 Updated: July 14, 2021

California lawmakers have extended a moratorium on non-classroom-based charters to 2025.

AB 130, a multibillion-dollar educational budget bill, mandates that no new online charter schools are allowed to open until at least 2025. However, it does not hinder the operations of existing online charters.

The existing moratorium was enacted by AB 1505 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), and was originally set to expire Jan. 1, 2022.

“That is a continuation of the incessant multi-year effort of public education to level down, or to impose on charter schools, the same fetters that have made the rest of education mediocre and California mediocre to a failure,” state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) told The Epoch Times.

“Certain self-interested groups want to do that, and they cap the number of charters. What does that mean to your kids and charter schools—your charter school teachers?”

Opponents of the moratorium said the provision is an effort to curtail the growth of charter schools.

Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa) questioned why the moratorium on non-classroom-based charter schools wasn’t overturned in the bill.

“It seems that flexible types of learning environments are critical now that we’re returning to the in-person learning, as we were discussing earlier, with having options and choices for our families,” Bogh said during a July 7 Senate hearing.

Nielsen presented amendments to AB 130 on the floor on July 8, which would have removed the moratorium. However, his amendments were tabled by a majority of the Senate.

Proponents of the moratorium say it will allow additional time to craft strong solutions that close loopholes, protect public money, and ensure that students have access to a quality education whether they attend a traditional brick and mortar institution or an online school.

Aaron Heredia of California’s Department of Finance said during a July 7 Senate hearing: “There have been several cases, a lot of sensitivity around the state among classroom-based charters, and we felt that it’s most appropriate to continue that moratorium in order to continue examining what is happening within the landscape there, especially given the paradigm of school now, certainly with in-person instruction being the default.

“The reality is that some families may not be comfortable with that, and wanting to make sure that there isn’t too much of an opportunity, inadvertently, for folks to … take advantage of a situation … while making sure that we are still prioritizing parent choice, and ultimately educational outcomes and opportunities for students to the maximum extent possible.”

Transitional Kindergarten

AB 130 also allocates $790 million in one-time funding toward constructing new facilities that will allow all 4-year-olds to enroll in free universal transitional kindergarten (TK).

Nielsen said universal TK’s curriculum is not clearly defined, and there is “no assurance” that kids are going to be “smarter and more capable” after attending TK at age 4.

“What has been defined as the goals of the extension now into the fourth year of life?” he said. “What will be the new measurables to see if this really is working?”

TK is a free, extra public school grade for 4-year-olds who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 5. It began in 2012 to bridge students from preschool into kindergarten.

In 2022–23, all 4-year-olds will gradually become eligible to enroll in TK, with full implementation anticipated in 2025.

Nielsen said it’s only a matter of time before universal education will be extended to 3-year-olds.

He argued that universal TK could undermine private preschools or child care providers, since it would take away all the 4-year-olds from the child care system. This situation could cause private child care providers to lose business, meaning fewer choices for parents, he said.

Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) said he “was really heartened to see significant investment and planning for the implementation of universal TK, which is critical.”

“The science and data on this point are clear, early education is so important for educational outcomes,” he said during the hearing.

Min addressed the concerns that universal TK “might lead to disinvestments in K through 12 and child care.”

“It’s critical that we watch this closely over time,” Min said. “The concerns raised here are legitimate, and I think that going forward, oversight and monitoring are going to be key priorities for this body to ensure that universal TK operates the way that is intended, [and] that does not tax some of the other priorities in education.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom said that lowering the age group for TK ensures students “get off to a strong start.” It can provide an education and improve children’s readiness for transitioning to kindergarten, he said.

“California is leveling the playing field by finally achieving universal pre-kindergarten,” Newsom said in a July 9 statement.

“Regardless of their family’s income or immigration status, California’s children will have access to crucial high-quality instruction by age 4.”

Free Meals for All

AB 130 requires all public schools, beginning 2022–23, to provide two free meals per day to any student who requests a meal, regardless of income eligibility.

Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said that providing meals to students is part of school, and that students perform better when they’re well-fed.

“Any child can show up to school hungry, and then they’re not going to learn as well,” Skinner said during a July 7 hearing.

“We have for the first time said school meals are part of school. If you need to be fed, you’re going to be fed at school, which means that you’ll learn better. That’s really incredible, and we’re the first state to do it.”

Accountability in Government

AB 130 provides billions more to the K–12 education system. However, Nielson questioned the effectiveness of the direction California is taking.

“We’re at the bottom in reading and math in America, for all the billions we’re spending,” he told The Epoch Times.

“Now there’s something wrong in this, very wrong, and just throwing money at it … is not the answer.”

AB 130 allocates $3 billion to convert thousands of school sites into full-service community schools, with expanded learning time, particularly in communities with a high level of poverty.

It also provides $1.8 billion—growing to $5 billion by 2025—toward summer and after-school programs for vulnerable elementary students in disadvantaged communities, including youth in foster care, and those in low-income neighborhoods.

Another $2.9 billion is to match well-prepared teachers with the most vulnerable students, including $500 million in grants for teachers who commit to high-need schools and $250 million to attract expert teachers to high-poverty schools.

The bill allocates $1.1 billion to reduce the teacher-to-student ratio requirement in public schools from at least one adult to every 12 children to one adult every 10 children beginning in the 2022–23 school year.

Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley is a daily news reporter for The Epoch Times based in Southern California.