If the California Charter School Act of 1992 marks the charter school community’s most pivotal legislative victory, it can be argued that California Senate Bill 740 is a close second. However, its 2001 passage was only the beginning, as it paved the way for a triumphant rescue years later.
SB 740 contains two primary provisions. The first provision regulates the actions of non-classroom-based charters. The other creates a facilities grant program for charters serving low-income students—the only program of its kind in California. Though $7.7M was allocated for the grant program, that funding fell victim to budget cuts year after year, requiring extensive lobbying efforts to reinstate it. Branche Jones, Charter School Capital’s California legislative consultant, was instrumental in those efforts from the beginning. “There was always supposed to be $7.7M, but you would end up with $0. We’d have to get Governor Schwarzenegger to put it back in the May budget revision in order to get the money.”
By 2007, the State Speaker’s Office took matters a step further, placing that money in a standalone trailer bill that was ultimately left at the desk. With those funds now off-limits, California charter school stakeholders and supporters came together to take action. From lobbyists in Sacramento to parents from the Camino Nuevo charter school in the Pico-Union district of Los Angeles—the State Speaker’s home district—pressure was brought from all corners of the California charter school community. Eventually, it worked.
Not only did negotiations ensure that the funding was reinstated, but they also resulted in a dramatic increase—from $7.7M to $18M.
And the momentum continued. The following year, in 2008, lobbyists were successful in convincing legislative leadership to improve the way bonding authority was calculated. As a result, existing year-round grant program funding was redirected toward SB 740 as well, adding $20M to the program the first year and $40M thereafter. Today, the program’s funding has climbed to $118M in six years. Better yet, it’s protected as a standalone categorical program.
Looking back, Jones attributes this unprecedented victory to the team effort in place. “For me, the biggest successes aren’t when one or two people are doing it. It’s when the collective body is making it happen. This was one of those unique situations where everybody came together,” he said.