Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Legalese: Serious question--What do HB 83 and SB 140 do? Put lobbyists into charter school code?

I think I follow the session, especially education related issues, as close as anyone not on Capitol Hill, but there are just so many laws and so many meetings that it is impossible to keep up. Plus, "education issues" encompasses a huge range of topics and I don't think anyone can understand the background and impact of every bill in every area.

This leads to my questions about two charter school bills from the Red Meat Regulators, Rep. Greg Hughes and Sen. Howard Stephenson. I just don't know enough about the technical twists of charter school funding and governance to understand the potential impacts of the bills. They will both be discussed in committee tomorrow, Feb. 2, 2011, and finding time to go back and listen to the audio after missing the live hearings will be tough for me this week. The written minutes of both the Senate and House Education Committees don't help either, listing the bare bones of who spoke for or against proposals. (As opposed to the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee--composed of both senators and House representatives who hash out the budget--which posts long, detailed minutes of debate.)

So, anyone interested, please listen and post here about the bills. I would love detailed summaries of debate, but I'll take even a quick snapshot. What is the rationale behind the bills? What are the claimed benefits? Who spoke in support and opposition of the bills?

1. SB 140 State Charter School Board Amendments -- Howard Stephenson
Senate Education Committee meeting, 9:00 AM, Feb 2, 2011
(The committees often start 5-20 minutes late. If you refresh the Meeting Schedule page I linked to, a Live Audio icon will appear next to the date when the meeting begins. You will need Real Player.)

There is already a seven member State Charter School Board that the governor appoints after receiving nominations from charter schools and the State Board of Education. I would not be able to explain very well what they do. This bill summary states that the bill:
"provides that of the seven members appointed by the governor to the State Charter School Board, three members shall: be nominated by an organization that represents Utah's charter schools; and have expertise or experience in developing or administering a charter school;

allows the governor to seek nominations from more than one organization that represents Utah's charter schools;

allows the governor to remove a member of the State Charter School Board at any time for official misconduct, habitual or willful neglect of duty, or for other good and sufficient cause;

What is the purpose of the bill? Looking at the bill text, I'm guessing it was fuzzy exactly who decided the nominations in behalf of "charter schools." The bill mandates now that the nominations will made by "organizations" that represent and manage charter schools. That seems like power is being given to the few charter school lobbyists and management companies who are almost 100% connected with conservative legislators and the Parents for Choice in Education voucher crowd. This City Weekly article treats the Utah Association of Charter Schools Board as the "State Charter Board." Is that accurate? If not, the association is another of the advocacy groups given power to pick the members of the state board. The article delved into the massive conflicts of interest on the association board, with legislators (Craig Frank) and board members profiting from contracts. 4 of the 7 members are are either directors or trustees of PCE, and most also run for-profit charter school contract management companies. The new board forced out the executive director of the association right after the previous article was written because he was providing too much "training and support" of charter schools, which of course conflicted with the business interests of the management company owners.

I have also written a couple of times about how Howard Stephenson purposely changed charter school law last year to allow conflicts of interest, and how at least one lobbyist/charter school board chair with ties to Howard Stephenson is now paying his sister's company $986 per student.

So I'm very suspicious that this purpose of the bill is literally to give board selection authority to lobbyists and relatives like Lincoln Fillmore, Jed Stevenson, and Carolyn Sharette. (Those are basically the only active charter management organizations in the state.) I would love to hear if I am wrong or right on this one.

2. HB 83 Charter School Revolving Account -- Greg Hughes
House Education Committee meeting, 2:00 PM, Feb. 2, 2011.

I just have no idea on this one. The summary reads:
eliminates the Charter School Building Revolving Subaccount within the School Building Revolving Account and creates the Charter School Revolving Account within the Uniform School Fund;

specifies the permitted uses of funds in the Charter School Revolving Account and procedures for making loans from the account;

and makes technical amendments.

Who knows the difference made by designating the Charter School Revolving Account as its own account instead of a subaccount of the School Building Revolving Account? Not me.

The bill's fiscal note reveals no costs. So what is the point? Is it just technical? Or does it change what the account can be used for? Other effects?

Please comment if you can. Thank you.


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