Governor Newsom Signs Bills Benefitting Black-Owned Charter Schools, Newspapers

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Gov. Gavin Newsom signs charter school accountability bill with Sate School Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurman, and education and legislative leaders by his side. Photo by California Black Media staff.

Among the bills Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law last week was one that supported charter schools owned and operated by Black people  and one that benefits newspapers owned by African Americans and other niche market publications.

AB 1505

On Oct. 3, 2019, Newsom signed AB 1505, which ends the uncertainty that put Black charter school operators on the defensive during a more-than-yearlong fight about the future of charter schools in the state and allows them to continue to educate some 52,800 Black students statewide.

African American-owned charter schools in California are largely credited with working on the leading edge of efforts to close the wide academic achievement gap that exists between African-American students, who are the lowest performing racial group in the state, and their peers of other races.

In English Language Arts, for example, there is more than a 40 percentage-point gap between African-American public school students’ standardized test scores and that of their white counterparts. In math, the disparity is more than 50 percentage points.

When Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) first introduced AB 1505 in February last year, charter school operators and advocates – including Margaret Fortune, president and CEO of Fortune School, a network of predominantly Black charter schools based in Sacramento – accused the bill authors of pushing legislation to eradicate their schools.

O’Donnell and other Assemblymembers on the education committee championed two other charter school bills, AB 1506 and 1507. Those companion bills to 1505 proposed restricting the operations and expansion of charter schools.

Unlike 1505, the other two bills did not pass in the legislature.

AB 1505 makes the most significant changes to California’s Charter School law, which former Gov. Pete Wilson signed into law in 1992. The language and provisions in the final version of the bill includes the input of various education stakeholders in the state, including unions representing traditional public school teachers, state education administrators, academics, as well charter school leaders and backers.

“It listens to the needs of school districts and authorizers to be able to weigh the fiscal impacts and the community impacts before making a decision about whether or not to authorize a charter school,” said Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of Public Instruction. “At the same time, it listens to applicants who have said ‘we need to have a clearer path to know how renewal will happen.’ This legislation is long overdue. “

The law allows local school boards, which authorize charters, to now close charter schools for fiscal and governance issues, and also to consider how a new charter school might impact  a school district financially when reviewing an application to open a new public charter school or to renew an existing charter.

It also gives authorizers the right to deny an application if a school district is experiencing financial problems, and empowers school districts or county offices of education to now oversee the operations of charter schools.

AB 170

On Oct. 2, Newsom signed AB 170, a law that gives newspapers in California a one-year extension to reclassify the contract drivers who deliver their newspapers as W-2 employees, or come up with  a new way to distribute their newspapers to subscribers.

Black-owned newspapers across the state joined hundreds of others last month to call on the governor and Legislature to create a carve-out for their industry under the new rules of AB 5, also known as the Dynamex Law. The publications – many of them small, family-owned weeklies – said the high cost of having to immediately hire part-time contract drivers as full-time employees would have been unaffordable and forced them out of business.

As a constitutionally protected industry, we are fighting on many fronts to continue to report critically and objectively on issues that are important to the people of California. And CNPA, for over 130 years, has remained vigilant in that effort as we help our hundreds of member and non-member news publishers fulfill their missions to serve their communities and provide vital information to the public,” said Paulette Brown-Hinds, President of the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

“With the signing of AB 170,” Brown-Hinds continued, “we appreciate the overwhelming support from the Legislature and Governor Newsom in securing more time for our industry to find a model for newspaper carriers that works for news publishers and complies with state law.”

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