Three charter school bills pass, more work still needed
Senators closed out this month's session today by passing a trio of bills, all related to the operation of Academy Charter Schools.
Sen. Jim Moylan's bill to allow prospective charter schools to choose which option to apply for passed by a 12 to 2 margin. Operators can decide if they want to convert an existing Guam Department of Education facility or build a new one. Previously, the law limited the number of non-converted schools to 3, out of the 7 that are authorized.
Senators also passed a pair of bills by Vice Speaker Telena Nelson. One establishes the budgetary and organizational processes for charter schools, independent of GDOE. It also establishes a separate funding source and sets tuition amounts based on the number of student enrollees, multiplied by the per-pupil cost.
The other measure sets up the requirements for accreditation, and what a school must do if it's placed on probation for not achieving accreditation. Nelson's Bills passed unanimously.
Respectively, Bills 57, 106 and 107 address the approval process, the separation of the budgetary and organizational process of charters from GDOE, and finally their timeline for accreditation and renewal. Chief Operations Officer for iLearn Academy Helen Nishihira says that they support the bills, particularly Bill 107 as she says her school is up for renewal.
"Current law states that the charter has a five-year life span and then is able to renew," she said. "And so with the current law we should be in the process of renewing but we don't have a sitting council that's able to even look into our renewal process. So by passing (Bill) 107 that would give iLearn another year for the council to convene and go through the renewal process. So that's our biggest concern right now, renewal."
Nishihira says there are currently three sitting council members, the former Chair Amanda Blas, stepped down last month. The council needs four members for a quorum. Without a quorum and possibly no GDOE, no action can be taken.
"That was the biggest concern," she said. "With GDOE not in play what would the accountability look like for us? But with GDOE out of the process then that would remove one layer of bureaucracy... so it's a catch 22."
Sen. Taitague agrees that there needs to be a system of accountability in Bill 106. But she says that adding an amendment would require another public hearing.
"I understand the importance of the legislation to push through... I mean we're almost into a school year," the senator said. "We only have a couple months to go and the support by DOE for Bill 106 and 107 was a good indicator that they feel it (charter schools) should be on its own and not under DOE."
The senator says although she feels Bill 106 puts the cart before the horse, she's supported it since she is proposing a bill to address accountability by hiring an executive director to work with the charter school council. Taitague's support for charter schools is based on her support for school choice.
"I think a choice is important for everybody," she said. "You're looking at what the public is wanting, the parents are wanting for their children and complying with them."