On December 26, 2018, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra confirmed in a published opinion that charter schools are subject to the same public-integrity statutes as traditional public schools, including the Ralph M. Brown Act, the California Public Records Act, the Political Reform Act of 1974, and Government Code section 1090. That opinion is attached to this Legal Update.
The Attorney General opined that charter schools are school districts or other local public agencies within the meaning of the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act. The Attorney General also noted that charter schools are subject to laws of general application governing all local agencies such as the Brown Act and the California Public Record Act, regardless of the “mega-waiver” contained in section 47610 of the Education Code.
The Attorney General was clear that, because charter schools are public schools, a charter school’s “governing officials . . . are themselves officers of public schools to the same extent as members of other boards of education of public school districts.” The Attorney General concluded that, insomuch as a private corporation runs a charter school, the public still has a right to transparency as to the public charter school, regardless of governance structure.
Historically, many charter schools have complied with the public-integrity statutes discussed in the Attorney General’s opinion. However, some charter schools have argued they were exempt from some or all of the laws discussed in the Attorney General’s opinion, and there have been several failed attempts by the California Legislature to amend the law to expressly require charter school compliance. The Attorney General’s opinion regarding Section 1090 compliance likely will be divisive.
Attorney General opinions are advisory and not legally binding, but are often given “great weight” by California courts. Accordingly, charter school authorizers should consider this opinion when reviewing charter petitions and/or during oversight practices for existing charter schools. Charter schools themselves should review current policies and practices to determine if they are in compliance with this opinion.
Legal Update written by Jennifer E. Nix, Associate General Counsel.
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The information in this Legal Update is provided as a summary of law and is not intended as legal advice. Application of the law may vary depending on the particular facts and circumstances at issue. We, therefore, recommend that you consult legal counsel to advise you on how the law applies to your specific situation.
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