Measuring Up

 



California

TOTAL SCORE:
156 out of 228

Rank: 9 out of 43

Year Charter School Law Was Enacted:  1992
Estimated Number of Public Charter Schools in 2013-14:  1,130 
Estimated Number of Public Charter School Students in 2013-14:  519,000

California enacted a completely new funding formula for public education that similarly affects public charter schools and school districts. As part of the new funding system, the state enacted new accountability requirements for charters and districts. What exactly these new systems will look like will depend on regulations that must be adopted by the state board of education this year. As further details come to light, California’s score may change.

California’s score increased from 150 points in 2013 to 156 points this year.  The score changed because of a change in our methodology for Component #3 (Multiple Authorizers Available) and Component #4 (Authorizer and Overall Program Accountability System Required).  Its ranking went from #7 to #9.

Potential areas for improvement in its charter law include strengthening authorizer accountability, beefing up requirements for performance-based charter contracts, and enacting statutory guidelines for relationships between charter schools and educational service providers.

Do California's laws align to the model law?

Model Law Component

Matches

California's Charter Law

Score

1. No Caps

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Under California law, the current cap on charter schools is 1,750 statewide, but the cap is raised by 100 schools each year. There are currently 1,130 charter schools open in the state.

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1A. No limits are placed on the number of public charter schools or students (and no geographic limits).

1B. If caps exist, adequate room for growth.

2. A Variety of Public Charter Schools Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

California law allows new starts, public school conversions, and virtual schools.

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2A. New start-ups.

2B. Public school conversions.

2C. Virtual schools.

3. Multiple Authorizers Available

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

California law allows local school boards, county boards of education, and the state board of education to authorize charter schools. The law provides that a local school board may approve charter schools that will operate within the geographic boundaries of the school district.

The law allows a county board of education to approve a charter that will serve pupils for whom the county office of education would otherwise be responsible for providing direct education and related services or will operate at one or more sites within the county’s geographic boundaries as a countywide charter and provide instructional services not generally provided by the county office of education. In addition, the law provides that the county board must find that the charter will serve pupils who will benefit from those services and who cannot be served by a charter school that operates in only one school district in the county.

The law allows the state board of education to approve a charter school that will operate in multiple sites throughout the state if the charter will provide instructional services of statewide benefit.

The law allows a charter applicant denied by a local school board to appeal first to the county board of education and then to the state board of education.

There is considerable authorizing activity by local school boards, county school boards, and the state board of education.

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3A. The state allows two or more authorizing options (e.g., school districts and a state charter schools commission) for each applicant with direct application to each authorizer.

4. Authorizer & Overall Program Accountability System Required

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

California law includes a small number of the model law's provisions for authorizer and overall program accountability.

While the law does not require the legislature and governor to regularly review the performance of the state board of education as an authorizer, they can do so at any time. In addition, the ability of the state board of education to continue authorizing can be removed by the California legislature and governor (the entities that gave it that authority).

However, the law does not include at least a registration process for local school boards and county school boards to affirm their interest in chartering to the state, does not require authorizers to submit an annual report that summarizes the agency’s authorizing activities as well as the performance of its school portfolio, does not require a regular review process by an authorizer oversight body for the local school boards and county school boards, does not give an authorizer oversight body the authority to sanction local school board and county school board authorizers, and does not require a periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

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4A. At least a registration process for local school boards to affirm their interest in chartering to the state.

4B. Application process for other eligible authorizing entities.

N/A

4C. Authorizer submission of annual report, which summarizes the agency’s authorizing activities as well as the performance of its school portfolio.

4D. A regular review process by authorizer oversight body.

4E. Authorizer oversight body with authority to sanction authorizers, including removal of authorizer right to approve schools.

4F. Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

5. Adequate Authorizer Funding

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

California law allows authorizers to charge each charter school up to 1% in revenues for the actual costs of oversight or up to 3% of revenues if the authorizer is providing a substantially rent-free facility to the school.

The statutory language permitting authorizers to charge “actual costs not to exceed” the specified percentage implies public accountability for authorizer expenditures, but it is not practiced in any consistent, structured way.

California law permits a charter school to separately purchase services from its authorizer, indicating that such fees are to be separate from the oversight fee. However, the law is not explicit on requiring a clear, separate contract for such services.

The law does not explicitly prohibit an authorizer from requiring a school to purchase services. In practice, however, such a requirement could not be a condition for charter approval, as a school’s refusal to purchase services would not be cause for denial.

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5A. Adequate funding from authorizing fees (or other sources).

5B. Guaranteed funding from authorizing fees (or from sources not subject to annual legislative appropriations).

5C. Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.

5D. Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.

5E. Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

6. Transparent Charter Application, Review, and Decisionmaking Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

California law sets forth basic required elements for all charter applications, as well as additional requirements specific to conversions and virtual schools.

The law provides that statewide charter petitions must demonstrate the financial and academic success of the applicant’s schools previously approved in California. There is no such requirement for replication applications submitted to local school board and county school board authorizers.

The law requires a public hearing for all charter applications but not in-person interviews.

Authorizers must make charter approval or denial decisions in a public meeting and must state reasons for denial in writing.

The law does not include additional application elements specific to educational service providers and does not require authorizers to issue requests for proposals that include application requirements and approval criteria.

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6A. Application elements for all schools.

6B. Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.

6C. Additional application elements specific to virtual schools.

6D. Additional application elements specific when using educational service providers.

6E. Additional application elements specific to replications.

6F. Authorizer-issued request for proposals (including application requirements and approval criteria).

6G. Thorough evaluation of each application including an in-person interview and a public meeting.

6H. All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

7. Performance-Based Charter Contracts Required

weight = | Possible total = 16

California law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for performance-based charter contracts.
California law states that the charter petition becomes the charter. The law does not require a separately negotiated and executed charter contract that defines the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer and includes clear performance terms and provisions based on a performance framework as recommended in the model law. In practice, most of the charter schools and authorizers in the state execute a memorandum of understanding that covers administrative and operational understandings, but the educational goals in the charter remain as stated in the petition.

California law provides that an initial charter may be granted for up to five years.

California law provides for accountability requirements specific to virtual charter schools.

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7A. Being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.

7B. Defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.

7C. Defining academic and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged, based on a performance framework that includes measures and metrics for, at a minimum, student academic proficiency and growth, achievement gaps, attendance, recurrent enrollment, postsecondary readiness (high schools), financial performance, and board stewardship (including compliance).

7D. Providing an initial term of five operating years (or a longer term with periodic high-stakes reviews.

7E. Including requirements addressing the unique environments of virtual schools, if applicable.

8. Comprehensive Charter School Monitoring and Data Collection Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

The law requires each authorizer to identify at least one staff member as a contact person for each charter school under its oversight, visit each charter school at least annually, ensure that each charter school complies with all reports required by law, monitor the fiscal condition of each charter school, and provide timely notification to the state department of education concerning charter renewal, non-renewal, and revocation decisions, both before and after they occur.

California law requires charter schools to adhere to generally accepted accounting principles and to provide multiple types of annual reports (e.g., attendance reports, school accountability report cards, local control accountability plans) to their authorizer, county office of education, and state board of education. In addition, the law requires a charter school to provide a report to its authorizer and the state on its annual audit and to produce certain annual or periodic reports for their authorizer (e.g., a preliminary budget, a first and second interim financial report, and an unaudited annual financial report). These reports are available to the public.

The law entitles an authorizer to inspect or observe any part of a charter school at any time. California law requires charter schools to respond to all reasonable inquiries from its authorizer, the county office of education, or the state department of education. Regulations set forth compliance monitoring procedures specifically for virtual or non-classroom-based schools.

The law does not require authorizers to produce and publish annual school performance reports aligned with a performance framework set forth in a charter contract. However, it requires that charter schools participate in the state’s accountability system, including annual state-produced school report cards, which are public. These report cards show academic performance on the state assessments, but do not include all the types of measures (including financial performance, compliance, and school-specific measures) that an authorizer’s performance report would normally include.

The law requires an authorizer to notify a school of potential revocation and provide reasonable opportunity for the school to remedy identified problems. Such notification and opportunity to cure is a corrective action. The law also permits the state board of education to take corrective action with a locally-chartered school under certain circumstances.

The law requires charter schools to establish local policies and procedures to allow a complaint that a charter school has not complied with the requirements of the state-mandated local control accountability plan to be filed with a charter school pursuant to the Uniform Complaint Procedures.

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8A. The collection and analysis of student outcome data at least annually by authorizers (consistent with performance framework outlined in the contract).

8B. Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).

8C. Authorizer authority to conduct or require oversight activities.

8D. Annual school performance reports which are made public.

8E. Authorizer notification to their schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.

8F. Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.

9. Clear Processes for Renewal, Nonrenewal, and Revocation Decisions

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

California law describes generally the evidence basis on which authorizers must make renewal determinations, including “documented and clear and convincing data” and “information submitted by the charter school.” Although not explicit, the requirement of school-submitted information prior to renewal appears equivalent to a renewal application.

The law sets forth grounds for revocation or non-renewal and provides that a charter school must meet at least one of five academic performance criteria established in the law prior to renewal. The law also provides that 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 a newly established California Collaborative for Educational Excellence. If intervention is unsuccessful, as specified, the charter may be revoked without appeal. The law also states that the authorizer shall consider increases in pupil academic achievement for all pupil subgroups served by the charter school as the most important factor in determining whether to revoke the charter.

The law provides that renewals must be for five-year terms and does not provide authority to authorizers to vary the length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.

The law requires an authorizer to notify a charter school of potential revocation and provide reasonable opportunity for the school to remedy identified problems, except in case of severe and imminent threat to student health or safety. It requires a public hearing prior to any revocation decision. In cases of non-renewal or revocation, the law provides for appeals to the county or state board of education for schools chartered by districts or county offices of education. The law also authorizes the state board of education to revoke a locally-granted charter under certain circumstances.

The law requires authorizers to make all charter renewal, non-renewal, or revocation decisions in a public meeting and to state reasons for all such decisions in writing.

California regulations establish a protocol for closing a charter school, and state law requires that a school closure protocol is an element of a charter petition.

The law does not require authorizers to issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year and does not require authorizers to issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.

12

9A. Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.

9B. Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.

9C. Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.

9D. Clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.

9E. Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract (in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract).

9F. Authorizer authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.

9G. Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or non-renewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.

9H. Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).

9I. All charter renewal, non-renewal, and revocation decisions made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for non-renewals and revocations in writing.

9J. Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.

10. Educational Service Providers (ESPs) Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

California law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for educational service providers. California law permits education service providers to operate charter schools. However, there are no statutory provisions guiding any charter application requirements for educational service providers, performance contracts between the school and service provider, authorizer approval of contracts, school governing boards operating completely independent of any educational service provider, and conflicts of interest.

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10A. All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and non-profit) explicitly allowed to operate all or parts of schools.

10B. The charter application requires 1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, including documentation of academic achievement and (if applicable) school management success; and 2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.

10C. A performance contract is required between the independent public charter school board and the ESP, setting forth material terms including but not limited to: performance evaluation measures; methods of contract oversight and enforcement by the charter school board; compensation structure and all fees to be paid to the ESP; and conditions for contract renewal and termination.

10D. The material terms of the ESP performance contract must be approved by the authorizer prior to charter approval.

10E. School governing boards operating as entities completely independent of any educational service provider (e.g., must retain independent oversight authority of their charter schools, and cannot give away their authority via contract).

10F. Existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.

11. Fiscally and Legally Autonomous Schools with Independent Public Charter School Boards

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

California law states that a charter authorizer is not liable for the debts, obligations, acts, errors or omissions of a charter school, if the authorizer has complied with its oversight responsibilities under the law. California law allows charter schools to elect to operate as nonprofit public benefit corporations.

The law does not explicitly require a governing board for each school. It only requires that a charter petition describe the governance structure of the school, including, but not limited to, the process to be followed by the school to ensure parental involvement. The law also entitles a local school district board that has granted a charter to place a single representative on the charter school’s governing board.

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11A. Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds, incur debt, and pledge, assign or encumber assets as collateral).

11B. Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).

11C. School governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

12. Clear Student Recruitment, Enrollment, and Lottery Procedures

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

California law requires charter schools to be open to all students in the state.

California law requires charter schools to use a public random drawing if demand exceeds capacity.

California law requires enrollment preferences for conversions and students residing in the school district. It does not require enrollment preferences for prior year students within chartered schools and siblings of enrolled students enrolled at a charter school.

California law specifically permits one optional enrollment preference: A charter school located in the attendance area of a district elementary school in which at least 50% of the enrollment qualifies for free and reduced price lunch may give preference to pupils currently enrolled in that school and to pupils who reside in the elementary school attendance area where the charter school is located.

California law also allows other preferences as permitted by the authorizer on an individual school basis and only if consistent with the law. It is under that authority that charter schools typically will add in their preferences for children of founders, staff, and board members. While not explicit, it is clearly allowed under the law and quite common in practice.

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12A. Open enrollment to any student in the state.

12B. Lottery requirements.

12C. Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions, prior year students within chartered schools, siblings of enrolled students enrolled at a charter school.

12D. Optional enrollment preference for children of a school’s founders, governing board members, and full-time employees, not exceeding 10% of the school’s total student population.

13. Automatic Exemptions from Many State and District Laws and Regulations

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

California law provides that charter schools are automatically exempt from most laws governing school districts.

California law requires charter school teachers to hold a Commission on Teacher Credentialing certificate, permit, or other document equivalent to that required for any other public school teacher. However, the law provides charter schools with some flexibility with regard to teacher credentialing for non-core, non-college preparatory courses.

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13A. Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.

13B. Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

14. Automatic Collective Bargaining Exemption

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

California law provides that charter schools are exempt from district collective bargaining agreements.

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14A. Charter schools authorized by non-local board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.

14B. Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

15. Multischool Charter Contracts and/or Multicharter Contract Boards Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

California law allows a charter school to propose to operate at multiple sites within the school district, as long as each site is identified in the charter petition. Regulations provide for independent academic and compliance accountability for individual schools or campuses that make up a multi-site “statewide benefit” school authorized by the state. However, a multi-site school authorized by a local school or county school board is treated as a single school for all funding and accountability purposes.

California law does not explicitly address whether a single charter governing board may hold multiple charter contracts. However, under the state’s statutorily defined “permissive” Education Code, such a practice is permitted unless expressly prohibited, and such arrangements do occur in California.

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15A. Oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

15B. Hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

16. Extracurricular and Interscholastic Activities Eligibility and Access

weight = 1 | Possible total = 4

California law does not explicitly address these matters. However, under the state’s statutorily defined “permissive” Education Code, these practices are permitted unless expressly prohibited. In practice, the California Interscholastic Federation’s policies tend to make it difficult for charter students to participate in activities in a local high school, even if the local district is amenable. As such, unless the charter school creates its own athletic programs, such activities are usually not an option for charter students.

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16A. Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all interscholastic leagues, competitions, awards, scholarships, and recognition programs available to non-charter public school students and employees.

16B. Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extra-curricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at non-charter public schools for a fee by a mutual agreement.

17. Clear Identification of Special Education Responsibilities

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

California law provides that a charter school must either receive special education services from an LEA or become its own LEA, joining a Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) and providing special education according to that SELPA's plan. Unless a charter school specifically assumes the obligation to become an LEA and join a SELPA, the charter school is deemed to be part of its authorizer’s LEA for special education purposes.

California law provides that a charter school that is deemed part of its authorizer’s LEA for special education must receive state and federal special education funding in the same manner as any other public school of that LEA. It requires the LEA to ensure that each charter school receives an equitable share of special education funding and services, including those for low-incidence, high-cost needs. It also requires any SELPA plan that includes charter schools to address funding for low-incidence, high-cost services.

California law allows for the formation of all-charter SELPAs. In addition, the law allows charter schools to join SELPAs out of their geographic region and allows SELPAs to design service structures specifically for charters. Despite such policies, it is reported that actual practice for these policies is mixed in that many SELPAs do not provide extra funding for low-incidence, high-cost services and simply allocate funding on a per-student basis.

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17A. Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.

17B. Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).

18. Equitable Operational Funding and Equal Access to All State and Federal Categorical Funding

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

California is in the midst of changing how it funds all public schools, including public charter schools.

Previously the law provided for charter schools to receive 100% of state and district operational funding, based on enrollment, in the form of a general purpose entitlement and a categorical block grant.

In 2013, California enacted a completely new funding formula for public education that similarly impacts public charter schools and school districts. What exactly this new system will look like is still dependent on regulations that must be adopted by the state board of education this year. As further details come to light, California’s score may change.

California law requires all special education funds to flow through an intermediate unit (SELPA) that receives special education funds for all LEAs in that SELPA.

A national study of charter school funding (Charter School Funding: Inequity Persists, 2010) found that California charter schools were receiving on average $9,987 per pupil, while districts would have received an estimated $10,995 per pupil to educate those same students – a gap of $1,008 per pupil, or 9.2%. This comparison includes all sources of funding.

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18A. Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.

18B. Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding, and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.

18C. Funding for transportation similar to school districts.

19. Equitable Access to Capital Funding and Facilities

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

California law created the Charter School Facility Grant Program (via SB 740) that provides up to $750 per pupil in lease reimbursement for charter schools in attendance areas where 70% of students qualify for free and reduced price lunch; payments may not exceed 75% of total annual facilities rent costs. In 2012, the legislature increased the funding to the program by $15 million, bringing the total to $93 million.

Under California law, the Charter School Facilities Program authorizes the State Allocation Board to provide per-pupil facilities grant funding for 50% of the total project cost for new construction or renovation of charter facilities. This program is subject to available statewide school bonds passed to support charter school facilities. Currently, no funding is available for this program, while a backlog of almost $2 billion in eligible projects exists. Proposition 47, Proposition 55, and Proposition 1D have placed more than $800 million in a fund for charter school facility development.

Under California law, the Charter School Revolving Loan Program provides below-market loans of up to $250,000 for new-start charter schools, allowing up to five years for repayment. A school may use these loans for any start-up costs, including facilities.

California law provides that charter schools are eligible to access tax-exempt bond financing through the state and eligible to access public borrowing through county boards of education and county treasuries. California law also provides that the state treasurer's office offer a limited credit enhancement program.

The law requires districts to provide charter schools with facilities that are sufficient to accommodate charter school needs and reasonably equivalent to other district facilities, through an annual application process. It allows a district to charge a charter school only a proportionate share of its facilities costs that are paid from the general fund. The law includes a limited option for charter schools to receive the “first right of refusal” to any surplus school district property (but only to July 1, 2016 unless the provision is extended).

California law provides that privately owned charter facilities are exempt from the state building code and that only facilities built with state bond funds must comply with the code.

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19A. A per-pupil facilities allowance which annually reflects actual average district capital costs.

19B. A state grant program for charter school facilities.

19C. A state loan program for charter school facilities.

19D. Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allow charter schools to have their own bonding authority.

19E. A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for public charter school facilities.

19F. Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to non-charter public schools.

19G. Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.

19H. Prohibition of facility-related requirements stricter than those applied to traditional public schools.

20. Access to Relevant Employee Retirement Systems

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

California law allows all charter school employees to choose to participate in the State Teachers Retirement System and the Public Employees Retirement System.

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20A. Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.

20B. Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).