Charter Schools: State Profile

Charter Schools: State Profile - California

January 2018

Charter School Basics 2018
Does the state have a charter school law? Yes. A charter may be granted for a period not to exceed 5 years, and each renewal is for a period of 5 years.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47600 et seq.

Does the state allow existing public schools to convert to charter schools? Yes. A district may choose to convert all of its schools if 50% of teachers sign a petition and the petition is approved by both the superintendent of public instruction and the state board of education.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47605; Cal. Educ. Code § 47606

Does the state have any caps on the number of charter schools? Yes. The cap initially was set at 250 for the 1998-99 school year, but state law authorizes that limit to increase by 100 each successive year. 

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47602

Does the state specify who may apply to open a charter school? Yes. Applications are by petition circulated by on or more persons. The petition is required to be signed by a number of parents of pupils equivalent to at least one-half of the number of pupils that the charter school estimates will enroll in the school for its first year of operation. Similarly, the petition is signed by a number of teachers that is equivalent to at least one-half of the number of teachers that the charter school estimates will be employed at the school during its first year of operation. Completed petitions are submitted to a governing board. 

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47605

Does the state specify the types of charter schools that may be given approval preference? Yes. Priority in the approval process must be given to schools demonstrating competency in serving low-achieving students. 

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47605

Does the state specify the students who may be given enrollment preference? Yes. Enrollment priority is given to pupils currently attending the school, pupils in an attendance area where 50% of more are eligible for free and reduced lunch, and pupils who reside within the district. Other enrollment preferences may be authorized by the chartering authority. Conversion charter schools must give preference to pupils who reside within the former attendance area of that charter school. 

Enrollment preferences may include, but are not limited to, siblings admitted or attending the school and children of the school's teachers, staff and founders. Priority order for enrollment preferences are to be determined by the charter petition, approved at a hearing, and be consistent with federal, state law and the state constitution.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47605

Does the state specify who must provide transportation to charter school students? No
Charter School Authorizing 2018
What organizations may authorize charter schools, and is there a statewide authorizing body? A local school board, county board of education, and the state board of education may approve charter schools.

Local school boards have all the monitoring and supervisory authority of a chartering agency except for revocation (only the state board has that authority).

The state board of education may approve a charter school operating in multiple sites throughout the state if the charter will provide instructional services of statewide benefit. County offices of education and the state board of education hear appeals.

The state board of education serves as a statewide authorizing body. 

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47605

Is there an appeals process for charter applicants? Yes. An application denied by a local school district may be appealed to the county board of education and then the state board of education. If either the county board of education or the state board fails to act on a petition within 120 days of receipt, the decision of the governing board of the school district to deny a petition is subject to judicial review.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47605

Has the state established standards for quality school authorizing that authorizers must meet? No
Does the state require the authorizer to report on the performance of its portfolio of schools? No. However, authorizers are required to provide timely notification to the department if a charter is granted, denied, revoked, or will cease operation.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47604

Are there sanctions in place for authorizers? No
Charter School Autonomy and Accountability 2018
What rules are waived for charter schools? Charter schools are allowed an automatic waiver from most state laws, regulations, and policies governing school districts. They are not exempt from laws establishing minimum age for public school attendance, the California building standards, facilities requirements, and fiscal requirements such as the Charters Revolving Loan Fund policies. Charter schools are required to conduct statewide assessments and meet content standards.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47610; Cal. Educ. Code § 47611; Cal. Educ. Code § 41365

Does the state specify grounds for terminating or not renewing a school’s charter? Yes. A charter may be revoked if the authorizer finds, through a showing of substantial evidence, that the charter school:
  • Committed a material violation of any of the conditions, standards or procedures set forth in the charter.
  • Failed to meet or pursue any of the pupil outcomes identified in the charter.
  • Failed to meet generally accepted accounting principles, or engaged in fiscal mismanagement
  • Violated any provision of law.

The authorizer must consider increases in pupil academic achievement for all groups of pupils served by the charter school as the most important factor in determining whether to revoke a charter. In addition, a charter school that fails to improve outcomes for three or more student subgroups in three out of four consecutive years may receive technical assistance and intervention from its authorizer or the collaborative for educational excellence. If the intervention is unsuccessful, the charter may be revoked without appeal.
After a charter school has been in operation for four years, the school must meet at least one of five academic performance criteria established in state law prior to receiving a charter renewal.

In addition, the state board, whether or not it is the authority that granted the charter, may, based upon the recommendation of the superintendent, take appropriate action, including, but not limited to, revocation of the school's charter, when it finds any of the following:
  • Gross financial mismanagement that jeopardizes the financial stability of the charter school.
  • Illegal or substantially improper use of charter school funds for the personal benefit of any officer, director, or fiduciary of the charter school.
  • Substantial and sustained departure from measurably successful practices such that continued departure would jeopardize the educational development of the school's pupils.
  • Failure to improve pupil outcomes across multiple state and school priorities identified in the charter.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47604; Cal. Educ. Code § 47607

Does the state set a threshold beneath which a charter school must automatically be closed? No. However, if a charter school fails to improve outcomes for 3 or more subgroups or for all of the pupil subgroups, the chartering authority is required to provide technical assistance and is required to consider revocation.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47607

Charter School Finance 2018
How is the funding for a charter school determined? Charter schools receive a combination of state aid and local funds according to the same weighted student funding formula applied to traditional public schools. Charter schools are eligible for a transfer of funds from their sponsoring school districts in lieu of property taxes.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47630; Cal. Educ. Code § 47633; Cal. Educ. Code § 47634; Cal. Educ. Code § 47635; Cal. Code Regs. tit. 5, § 11963

Who provides charter schools with their funding? The school district. However, a charter school may elect to receive its funds directly from the state through the Charter School Direct Funding Option.
Does the state provide start-up or planning grants to new charter schools? Yes. The Charter School Revolving Loan Fund allows charter schools to receive low-interest loans for as much as $250,000, allowing up to 5 years for repayment.
What kind of facilities funding is available to charter schools? Direct funding:
Each school district is required to make available to each charter school operating in the school district facilities sufficient for the charter school to accommodate all of its in-district students in conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which the students would be accommodated if they were attending other public schools of the district. Districts can only charge a charter school a proportionate share of its facilities costs that are paid from the general fund. Districts must allocate facilities to in-district charter schools based upon the charter school’s projection of average daily attendance of in-district students. If the charter school generates less than it projected, the charter school must reimburse the district for the over-allocated space at rates to be set by the state board of education. Through the Charter School Facility Grant Program, the state may reimburse charter schools serving 55% or more pupils that qualify for free or reduced price meals up to $750 per unit of average daily attendance but not more than 75% of the annual facilities rent or lease costs for the charter school. Charters may access per-pupil facility grant funding for 50% of the total cost for new construction or renovation of charter facilities. This program is subject to available statewide school bonds passed to support charter school facilities. In addition, the Charter School Revolving Loan Fund allows charter schools to receive low-interest loans for as much as $250,000, and allows up to 5 years for repayment.

Other funding:
Charter schools have access to tax-exempt financing through the California Municipal Finance Authority, California School Finance Authority and the California Statewide Communities Development Authority. Charter schools also have a first right of refusal to any surplus school district property.

Citations: West's Ann. Cal. Educ. Code § 47614; West's Ann.Cal.Educ.Code § 41365

Charter School Teachers 2018
Do teachers in a charter school have to be certified? Yes

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47605

What sets teacher salaries? The charter school or, if applicable, the collective bargaining agreement. Charters are required to declare whether they will be deemed the exclusive public school employer (for purposes of setting salaries) rather than participating in a district's collective bargaining.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 3540; Cal. Educ. Code § 47611

Does the state require school districts to grant teachers a leave of absence to teach in a charter school? Yes. A district governing board may deny a charter petition on a number of grounds, one of which is failure to specify the rights of an employee of the district to leave to work in a charter school and of any rights to return to the district.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47615.5

Do teachers in a state’s charter schools have equal access to the public school teachers’ retirement system?
Yes. However, only if a charter school chooses to make the retirement plan available.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 47611

Virtual Charter Schools 2018
Does state law explicitly allow virtual charter schools? Yes. State law defines a "virtual or online charter school" as a charter school in which 80% or more of teacher and pupil interaction occurs via the Internet. However, this provision is scheduled to sunset effective January 1, 2018.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 51747

Is there a statewide authorizer specific for virtual charter schools? No
Does the state set enrollment limits for virtual charter schools? No
Is there additional oversight specific to virtual charter schools? Yes. "Virtual or online charter school" is defined as a charter school in which 80% of teacher and pupil interaction occurs via the Internet. Other provisions pertain to claiming state funding for the independent study of a pupil. However, this section of law is scheduled for automatic repeal effective January 1, 2018.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 51747

© 2020 by the Education Commission of the States (ECS). All rights reserved. ECS is the only nationwide, nonpartisan interstate compact devoted to education. 700 Broadway #810, Denver, CO 80203-3442

To request permission to excerpt part of this publication, either in print or electronically, please contact the Education Commission of the States’ Communications Department at 303.299.3636 or

Your Education Policy Team