On Wednesday, a bill designed to limit what charter schools and parents of charter school students spend on private enrichment activities was passed by the Assembly Education Committee 5 to 2.
AB 2990 and charter schools
Assembly Bill 2990, authored by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), would bar charter schools from offering ‘financial incentives’ to students, prospective students, or parents of students for using an enrichment activity and would generate a list of approved enrichment program vendors to choose from.
In addition, AB 2990 would bar any enrichment activities of a religious nature, stop schools from allocating a set amount of money to parents each year for such activities, and stop any enrichment funding to go to private schools. Teacher approval for activities would also be incorporated into the enrichment program process, with vendor contracts above $92,600 needing school board approval. In addition, random checks on vendors and the programs they offer would be conducted.
The bill was created in response to charter schools, specifically home-schooled charters, spending money on vendors with enrichment programs that included Disneyland and ski passes, along with tourism programs as far away as Chicago. Private education was also often offered alongside more tradition enrichment activities such as museum trips and career centers. Some charter schools under religious programs also reportedly spent money on religious enrichment expenditures. Enrichment funding per student was also as high as $3,200 per year.
“Currently there’s no oversight,” said Assemblywoman Garcia in statements earlier this year. “We shouldn’t be paying for extravagant things like trips to Disneyland, things kids at traditional public schools don’t have access to. It’s more important than ever that we have proper accountability and oversight of our dollars.”
Most Committee members agreed with her.
“That clearly is abuse of public tax dollars and making it bad for the home-school families that are doing it right,” stated Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) at the Capitol on Wednesday. McCarty noted that he was not against home-school funding, but that it should have limits on non-educational enrichment activities.
Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) also gave support, explaining that “I don’t really see this as an anti-home school bill at all. I see this as a pro-home school bill, because if I was in home school, I want it to be appropriate. I want accountability. I want oversight. And, from my perspective, that’s what this bill does.”
Opposition to AB 2990
The California Charter Schools Association, who shared Assemblywoman Garcia’s concerns and had supported AB 2990 over abuses in the system, has now come out in opposition due to the new standards and vague definition of enrichment in the bill. Public commenters calling in because of coronavirus restrictions were mixed. Many were charter school parents either defending the enrichment program or saying that only parts of it needed to be fixed.
“We’re taking our kids to museums with this money,” Dorothy Kramer told the Globe. Kramer, a mother of two whose students have gone on approved home-school enrichment activities, said “a few classes had a mix of farming and how plants grow, and we received permission to take them to a farm.”
“That’s the kind of places.”
“With this bill, it’s going to make it much harder. Whatever company they choose may not have the right things to do, or may only offer package deals or something. We want what’s best for our kids, and making it more harder for us to have them have some learning outside the classroom isn’t ideal.”
Many Assembly members also raised questions over the bill, such as Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) who noted that abuses only seemed to have happened a few times.
A reduced Education Committee hearing
AB 2990 was only one of thirteen education bills to be heard this session out of 140 originally planned due to the coronavirus pandemic causing a need for only coronavirus related bills, in addition to urgent and emergency bills, to be heard. AB 2990 itself was heard because of the concern that the bill could affect public schools in vendor selection due to the new charter school rules and the concern that more enrichment programs could be abused following a projected rise in home schooling post-coronavirus.
Eight of the bills were approved by a simple consent. Among other bills approved was AB 1835, which directs unspent school funding to school districts with high numbers of English-learners, low-income students, and other ‘at-risk’ students. Bills also passed by the committee concerned subjects such as school closures and new teacher testing alternatives.
AB 2990, AB 1835, and the other passed bills have gone onto the Appropriations Committee where they are expected to be voted on in the coming weeks.