Charter Schools Do Not Get Free Ride – Court Holds That School Districts Can Pass Along Proportionate Operational and Maintenance Expenses Relating to Property Used By Charter School

The charter school movement has swept across California, as it has in other states.  Proposition 39, approved by the voters in 2000, added section 47614 to the state Education Code, which provides that “[e]ach school district shall make available, to each charter school operating in the school district, facilities sufficient for the charter school to accommodate all of the charter schools 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.” 

Often times, local school districts make available vacant classrooms in occupied buildings or, in certain cases, they make available entire school buildings that would otherwise sit vacant.  But the facilities do not come for free, as the section cited above also provides that the school district may pass on to the charter school a pro rata share of certain defined costs.  These costs usually include operation and maintenance costs apportioned to the space provided.  Other than such expenses, there are no other charges imposed by districts when they accommodate charter schools. (See Cal. Education Code, § 47614 (b)(1); see also Cal. Code Regs, tit. 5 § 11969.4.)

These provisions were discussed in detail in the case of New West Charter Middle School v. Los Angeles Unified School District.  Although the case involved other issues (such as the calculation of damages for relocation to another facility and questions about attorney’s fees), the salient point for education lawyers is the court’s reaffirmation that the facilities provided to charter schools are not free. Such schools must pay their pro rata share of the operation and maintenance expenses associated with district property they occupy.  Indeed, the court appeared to rebuke the charter school when it commented in a footnote that “New West [the charter school] believes LAUSD should keep the lights on for free in the classrooms allocated to New West’s exclusive use.”

For your convenience, a complete copy of the court’s ruling is attached.

Our firm regularly advises public and private school administrators, teachers, students, parents on a variety of legal issues pertaining to education and if you have questions in this area, please feel free to consult our office.