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Charter School Law: Equal School Facilities Mandated

charter school law supports good facilities

Last Updated on August 19, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Charter school law can be tricky. One significant case, Bullis Charter School vs. Los Altos School District, vindicated the rights of charter schools to equal facilities (buildings, grounds, etc.).

Charter School Law Interpreted

Bullis discusses a charter school in the Bay Area of California, the Bullis Charter School. The case interprets the California Charter Schools Act (California Education Code 47600) and Proposition 39 (Education Code 47614).

The Court analyzed legal requirements that charter schools be provided with reasonably equivalent facilities. When facilities are evaluated for appropriateness, as described in charter school law, comparisons must be made to other schools in the same school district.  

soccer field at school due to charter school law
Bullis ensured charters will have athletic fields and buildings which are reasonably equivalent to other public schools in district

Bullis Ensured Reasonably Equivalent Facilities for Charters

Bullis was an important decision for California parents and students. It ensured that charter students are not gypped.

For example, charter schools won’t just be stuck in small, run down facilities, with inadequate space for sports, child care, and students. Bullis basically confirmed that charter school law requires decent school facilities be provided for charters if other school buildings and grounds are decent in the same school district.

The Bullis Outcome

In Bullis, the California Court of Appeals for the Sixth District granted Bullis Charter School’s request for a court order to issue to the Los Altos School District. Essentially, the court ordered the school district to provide a “complete and fair facilities offer to Bullis from which it could be determined that ‘reasonably equivalent’ facilities were provided

The District’s Mistakes

Prior to the case, the district had provided an offer of charter facilities to Bullis Charter School.

The offer was lacking in the following ways (among others):

1)  It selected the wrong schools to compare,
2)  Did not compare total site size,
3)  Did not consider three categories of space: teaching, non-teaching and specialized space in its calculations,
4)  Contained flawed and/or missing information on size/square footage.

charter school law mandates equal facilities buildings and grounds
Charter school law means charters get equal facilities and grounds

The district’s proposal basically compared apples to peanuts. It also used flawed financial figures and percentages to make it appear that Bullis Charter School was getting an equivalent space, when they were not.  In fact, in the facilities proposal, the charter school had been required to share outdoor space, had no classroom for its seventh graders, and did not have child care space allotted, among other things.

Victory for All California Charter Schools

The Bullis decision was a student victory and has been a boon to charter school students who have sometimes been stuck in facilities which were not so great. Charter students should not be stuck in terrible classrooms just because they attend a charter.  With charter school law upheld, all students in California benefit, due to increased choices for receiving a proper education.