Governance and Finance

No. Pursuant to the Executive Order N-26-20 signed by Governor Newsom on March 13, 2020, a charter school, school district or county office of education temporarily closing in response to COVID-19 will continue to receive full funding to: (1) Continue delivering high-quality educational opportunities to students to the extent feasible through, among other options, distance learning and/or independent study; (2) Provide school meals in non-congregate settings; (3) Arrange for, to the extent practicable, supervision for students during ordinary school hours; and (4) Continue to pay employees.  Even charter schools, such as nonclassroom-based or independent study, that continue to serve students will not lose funding, under SB 117, due to a reduction in students attendance beginning March 1, 2020.  In passing SB 117, the Legislature intended that all local educational agencies, including charter schools, receive a hold harmless apportionment to ensure that the employees and contractors are compensated and paid during the COVID–19 health crisis.  As a result of the Executive Order and SB 117, charter school do not need to take pupil attendance for apportionment purposes, but should continue to do so for compulsory education.

There are many questions facing nonclassroom-based (NCB) charter schools as they consider how they may continue to operate. Since many NCB charter schools have significant site-based components, their programs may be significantly impacted. For those charter schools, “closing” may be a way to access the emergency flexibilities enacted in SB 117 while still retaining a high level of service to your students.

SB 117 hold schools harmless for most funding losses and other compliance requirements if they close due to COVID-19. But many NCB charter schools may choose to stay open if they can do it safely. Schools should be coordinating with their local health officials and authorizers on this decision based on their unique circumstances.

It is unclear if SB 117 provides the same waivers and extensions concerning Uniform Complaint Procedure and special education assessments for schools that choose to stay open

The governor has encouraged closed schools to continue to engage students through independent study, online learning and other distance learning modalities.  NCB charter schools are uniquely positioned to provide support and assistance to site-based schools to support their transition to temporary virtual learning.

However, the hold harmless funding provisions of SB 117 appear to limit the potential for schools that stay open to generate funding for new students that enroll mid-year, so the opportunity to significantly increase enrollment is limited.

Non-Classroom Based charter schools are uniquely positioned to continue instruction to their students and to provide support and assistance to site-based schools to support their transition to temporary virtual learning. 

However, the hold harmless funding provisions of SB 117 appear to limit the potential for schools that stay open to generate funding for new students that enroll mid-year, so the opportunity to increase enrollment is limited.

If your school is closed, there is no need to continue to keep attendance records for apportionment purposes. Schools might consider maintaining some form of attendance records for instructional or other purposes.

Closure due to COVID-19 is considered a qualifying event for purposes of EDC 8482.8 subdivision (d), ensuring that ASES programs will still receive credit. The obligation for a program grantee to submit a request for pupil attendance credits is waived. Program grantees shall be credited with the average annual attendance that the grantee would have received if it had been able to operate its entire program during the period of time the school was closed.

On April 23, 2020, Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-56-20 that extends the deadlines for local educational agencies to submit their Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs). The deadline for completing the LCAP has been extended to December 15, 2020, as long as LEAs meet specified conditions. LEAs must create a written report to the community that explains the changes in program offerings that the LEA has made in response to the COVID-19 emergency, how the LEA is meeting the needs of unduplicated pupils, how they are delivering high-quality distance learning, providing school meals, and how the LEA is arranging for supervision of students during ordinary school hours.  The executive order also waives required physical education minutes and annual physical fitness testing that requires on-site instruction. The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here and the CDE has posted some FAQs about the order. Guidance on the LCAP written report can be found here

In the interest of good governance and transparency, we recommend that your school’s board discuss with legal counsel a resolution that addresses what “school closure” means for your school. The resolution could provide authority to an appropriate school officer (Eg, Board President or CEO) to act as needed during the closure period, propose a new school-year calendar, and address any other changes necessary to allow the school to function during the closure period. You also might consider consulting your bylaws and your legal counsel to proactively address the potential loss of quorum due to illness or incapacity to ensure that the school can continue to function during the pandemic.

SB 117 specifically provides $100 million in one-time Proposition 98 General Fund to LEAs on the basis of ADA for classroom-based education programs, with a minimum of $250 per schoolsite. These funds my be used for purchasing personal protective equipment or for supplies and labor costs of cleaning schoolsites. The State Superintendent will allocate these funds soon. Currently there is no financial assistance for non-classroom based programs or for items to support distance learning. We will continue to advocate for such assistance and will keep you updated.

We also encourage you to determine whether a grant under the FEMA Public Assistance Program would be appropriate.  The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) has information and training on the Request for Public Assistance (RPA) application process and federal procurement rules on their COVID-19 recovery web page.   FEMA has extended the due date for submittal of the RPA to 30 days after the incident period for the disaster event closes, however, Cal OES is advising organizations to submit sooner rather than later, so as not to wait until the last minute.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress on March 27 includes several provisions to support small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, including 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.  Included is a new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) which authorizes up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to support small businesses in retaining workers and making payroll, mortgage, lease, and utility payments in the midst of this crisis.  Loan proceeds used to cover these costs in the 8-week period after the loan is made will be forgiven if employee and compensation levels are maintained, with certain limitations outlined in the application and information sheet.   As 501(c)(3) organizations, charter schools which employ fewer than 500 staff and require the loan to support ongoing operations may be eligible to apply.  The program is administered through the U.S. Small Business Administration and opened April 3.  As there is a funding cap and loans will be made on a first-come, first-served basis, organizations are encouraged to apply as soon as possible through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured institution that is participating. 

On May 13, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury Department) provided additional guidance about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).  It announced a new safe harbor for borrowers. The SBA provided in Question 46 of its FAQ that it determined the safe harbor is appropriate because “borrowers with loans below this threshold are generally less likely to have had access to adequate sources of liquidity in the current economic environment than borrowers that obtained larger loans.”   We encourage borrowers to review the updated guidance on the safe harbor.  If you have any questions about how this new guidance affects your school, we encourage you to discuss the updated PPP guidance with your attorney and back office support provider. 

On March 17, 2020, Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-29-20 addressing various directives and accommodations relating to COVID-19.  Included among those is the waiver of any express or implied requirement for the physical presence of board members, the clerk or other personnel of the local body, or of the public as a condition of participation in or quorum for a public meeting.  Local bodies must still give advance notice of, and post the agenda for, each public meeting according to the timeframes prescribed by the Brown Act and give notice of the means by which members of the public may observe the meeting and offer public comment. This publicly accessible location may be through phone or the internet, but the agenda should provide the phone number or link to access.  The full text of the order can be found here, see paragraph 3. For additional guidance on complying with the Brown Act, view the slides from CCSA and Procopio’s recent webinar here

Essential Services, Meals, and Childcare

Pursuant to the Executive Order N-26-20 signed by Governor Newsom on March 13, 2020, charter schools, school districts and county offices of education will receive funding to provide school meals for their students in non-congregate settings during a school closure in response to COVID-19.  Despite the order of the California State Public Health Officer and Director of the California Department of Public Health for all individuals living in the State of California to stay home or at their place of residence, school and childcare staff were except as needed to maintain continuity of critical government services, including provision of school meals.

Through the National School Lunch Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and California Department of Education (CDE), a charter school or its food service provider currently approved to operate either a Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO) can provide school meals to students during a school closure.  An existing charter school or food service provider that typically operates a SFSP or SSO program can be approved by CDE Nutrition Services Division to open a COVID-19 SSO or SFSP site within 24 hours to 36 hours of its request.  Even if a charter school or food service provider does not currently participate in the SFSP or SSO, it is our understanding that either may request and be approved to serve meals during a school closure under either program.  More information about how to and the information required to submit a request to serve meals to students can be found at the CDE COVID-19 Meal Service web page.

The provision of school meals during a school closure must promote social distancing, including by implementing non-congregate meal systems, for the safety of students and staff.  Non-congregate meal systems can vary based on community need and it is recommended that meals be taken away from the site and consumed elsewhere.  If meals are consumed on site, the distribution and eating areas need to be created with social distancing protocols.  Charter schools or food service providers that are operating SSP or SFSP during COVID-19 can also request approval to offer children shelf-stable meals for multiple days.  More information about non-congregate meal systems or social distancing protocols can be found at the CDE COVID-19 Meal Service web page.

It is critical that charter schools or food service providers take steps to ensure that school meals are available to all students, especially disadvantaged students.  In order to ensure that parents, guardians, and students are aware of the availability of meals, charter schools and foods service providers should communicate in multiple languages the availability of meals as widely as possible.

The Governor has asked all LEAs, including charter schools, to consider providing meals, however, we understand that in some communities, existing services will suffice.

Charter schools that have physically closed should continue to provide essential services for children and families in their communities, to the extent they are able. The Governor’s Guidance on this topic provides more detailed information, such as schools should consider their families’ needs for supervision during ordinary school hours, and whether families have other options, how facilities can be used within social distancing requirements. The Executive Orders and Guidance are silent on whether schools may charge for care beyond regular school hours. We suggest you consider how neighboring schools and districts are handling that issue and keep in mind the spirit of the service you are providing.

Staff and Credentialing

We recommend that schools continue to pay all your employees and contractors throughout the normal school year.  Executive Order N-26-20 states that emergency funding is contingent upon schools continuing to pay their employees.  SB 117 states that the hold harmless apportionment is intended to ensure that employees and contractors get paid as if the school had not been closed due to COVID-19. 

Assuming a school “closed” and is accepting funding through Executive Order N-26-20, we recommend generally that the school continue to pay all its employees and contractors throughout what would have been the normal school year.  The order states that emergency funding is protected to help schools continuing to pay their employees.  SB 117 further states that the hold harmless apportionment is intended to ensure that employees and contractors get paid as if the school had not been closed due to COVID-19.

Except where prohibited by a collective bargaining or employment agreement, schools often have discretion to revise or add to an employee’s responsibilities without amending their job description or agreement.

Regardless of their duties, employees may be eligible for paid leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act or Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. More information on these leave laws is available here. The California Department of Industrial Relations has also posted information about California Paid Sick Leave and related laws here. Note than an employee seeking paid leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act cannot be required to first use accrued paid time off or vacation time.

For more specific guidance on your school's situation, we strongly suggest you contact your school's legal counsel.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has suspended state testing requirements for teacher candidates impacted by the coronavirus pandemic in an executive order issued May 29. The order allows eligible teacher candidates to earn preliminary credentials without taking either the California Teaching Performance Assessment or the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment. 

Schools in the midst of hiring for the 2020-2021 school year should utilize remote recruiting efforts to the greatest extent possible, including collecting applications electronically and conducting interviews via teleconference. During the hiring and offer process, schools should be transparent about any anticipated impacts of COVID-19 school closures during the 2019-2020 school year.
With respect to fingerprint and TB screening, CCSA is seeking guidance on current best practices and will update this response once more information is available. In the meantime, we recommend hiring or assigning work to individuals who already have TB and fingerprint screening whenever possible. In some regions, it may be possible for schools to partner with large community organizations that have the capacity to conduct fingerprint screening in-house. Individuals may also be able to work with their healthcare providers to obtain a TB risk assessment analysis.

On March 18, 2020, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act ("Act"). For California public agencies, including charter schools, the Act includes two paid leave provisions for employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act ("EFMLEA"), effective on April 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020, allows employees to take up to 12 workweeks of FMLA leave to care for their minor child whose school or childcare is closed, or whose child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19.

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (“EPSLA”) allows employees to take up to 2 weeks or 80 hours-of paid sick leave (prorated for part-time employees) for certain reasons related to COVID-19.

For more detailed information on these new leave, see the U.S. Department of Labor website. We also encourage you to consult your school’s legal counsel with questions on how these provisions apply to your school.

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) expressly requires covered employers to post notice of its requirements in conspicuous places for all workers to see. The Family Medical Leave Act, of which the EFMLEA is a part, also requires employers to post general notice about the FMLA. The U.S. Department of Labor is required to provide a model notice for covered employers to use within seven days of enactment (i.e. March 25, 2020). We are monitoring the DOL website for this guidance and will update this answer with a link that guidance, once available.

Executive Order N-26-20 does not include any specific notice requirements for employees. However, schools may wish to communicate with employees about remote work arrangements and staff resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given that many school employees are not reporting to the school site during COVID-19 related closures, we would suggest distributing this information through the same methods that the school regularly uses to communicate with its employees, such as email or online work platforms. We encourage you to consult with their legal counsel to develop language unique to your school’s needs.

We suggest schools consider developing a Remote Work Policy or Agreement. While we encourage you to work with legal counsel in developing a policy that is tailored to your school, you may wish to consider addressing the following in your remote work policy: maintaining availability during normal business hours; adherence to school policies; maintaining safe conditions and habits in a home office environment; timekeeping and meal/rest periods; reimbursement of expenses associated with remote work (i.e. internet and cell phone usage); and accountability for and supervision over work assignments.

Instruction and Students

The California Department of Education (CDE) recently issued guidance on this topic.  The guidance offers issues to consider when deciding whether to issue letter grades, pass/fail grades, and key considerations in determining what is “gradable” work in distance learning.

Pursuant to the Executive Order N-26-20 (Executive Order) signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on March 13, 2020, a charter school, school district or county office of education temporarily closing in response to COVID-19 will continue to receive full funding to continue delivering high-quality educational opportunities to students to the extent feasible through, among other options, distance learning and/or independent study.  Under the Executive Order, the California Department of Education (CDE) and the Health and Human Services Agency were directed to issue guidance “[e]nsuring students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education consistent with their individualized education program and meeting other procedural requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] and California law.”  On March 17, 2020, CDE issued initial guidance on considerations for serving students with disabilities through distance learning strategies.  On March 20, 2020, CDE issued Special Education Guidance for COVID-19.

Based on the March 20th guidance, CDE recommended that local education agencies (LEAs), including charter schools, “should do their best in adhering to IDEA requirements, including federally mandated timelines, to the maximum extent possible. LEAs are encouraged to consider ways to use distance technology to meet these obligations. However, the CDE acknowledges the complex, unprecedented challenges LEAs are experiencing from the threat of COVID-19. As such, the CDE is committed to a reasonable approach to compliance monitoring that accounts for the exceptional circumstances facing the state.”  At of this writing, the federal government has not waived the requirements under IDEA. Based on the complexities of special education laws and obligations, CCSA encourages charter schools to encourage their special education staffs and providers to review the CDE guidance, and engage with their school districts, Special Education Local Plan Areas, and legal counsel to identify best practices and procedures for serving their special education students during this uncertain period.

CCSA has provided a framework for delivering special education services and accompanying resources on our Special Education Distance Learning web page. 

While schools should continue to address the immediate needs of students and families with a variety of short-term solutions, school leaders should also be working with their teams to create long-term plans for distance learning

There is no perfect answer or model. Each school is differently situated and getting remote instruction and resources to students will look different for each school. On March 17, 2020, the CDE guidance shared a continuum of options and we recommend leaders collaborate with others rather than create resources from scratch. CCSA has provided guiding questions for planning and sample distance learning plans on our Distance Learning web page.

According to the English Language Proficiency Assessments of California website, the Initial ELPAC assessment will not be suspended. However, no testing is expected while schools are shut down. Once schools return, the expectation will be that students identified as requiring the Initial ELPAC will be tested. Senate Bill 117 extended the timeline to conduct the Initial ELPAC by 45 days. The expectation is that LEAs will continue to assess new students whose primary language is not English when they return this year or next school year.

The Charter Schools Act requires a “public random drawing” but allows some flexibility on how to implement that. We suggest you consider live-streaming your lottery and/or posting in on your website; including only the staff members who are necessary to conducting it, and following social distancing requirements. Additionally, we recommend you review the terms of your charter to determine whether you should inform your authorizer of any changes you might make to the process given the stay at home order.

Under the Governor’s Executive Order, classroom-based schools do not need material revisions for distance learning due to heath crises, natural disasters, etc. The school’s implementation of distance learning would not trigger the school to be categorized as a non-classroom based school. It is unclear if those provisions would apply in 2020-21.

CCSA is working on some guidance on school restart. Keep an eye out for this resource soon.

Facilities and Prop. 39

Proposition 39 (2000) regulations provide that district allocated space must be available for the charter school’s entire school year regardless of the district’s schedule.  We advise you to review your school’s Facilities Use Agreement to determine whether your sharing arrangements specify something different.  If your district is prohibiting access, we suggest you let your CCSA Local Advocate know and also consult your attorney for specific advice.

In general, Prop. 39 applicants should carefully weigh any request by the school district to extend a Prop. 39 deadline. An extension will likely push back the date that the school has its location confirmed to closer to the start of school, which can raise all sorts of issues. However, during these unprecedented times, there can be legitimate reasons for an extension and an extension request warrants additional consideration as long as the extension will not unduly impact your school’s need to have its facility confirmed sufficiently in advance the new school year. If you do receive such a request, we recommend that you consult with your attorney to ensure that your individual circumstances are considered. Some factors to consider are ways to make up time, like, for example, shortening your response time to the offer, if that works for you. In addition, it is critical that you have a clear understanding when your response to the final offer is due to ensure that you meet that deadline.

Authorizing

On March 18, 2020 Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-30-20 which waives state testing for the 2019-20 school year, based on approval of a federal waiver. Based on statements from the U.S. Department of Education, the waiver is expected to be granted. Any significant gap in instruction will skew the state testing results and have an impact on the state and federal accountability for years. We have been in contact with the Governor’s Office specifically about the potential impact of a state testing suspension on charter renewal decisions beginning July 1, 2020.

In the meantime, charter schools and authorizers should anticipate the need to rely on internal assessment data for renewal purposes. In addition, in the past, some charter schools with terms shorter than 5 years have been granted material revisions to extend the charter term for the full five years permitted by Education Code 47605. This may be an option for some schools, depending on the circumstances.

We recommend that you consult with your CCSA Regional Advocate and legal counsel to begin planning for renewal.

New Schools

At this moment, there is no clarity on what the 2021 budget will look like and CCSA cannot confirm whether there will be deferrals, cuts, etc. However, the economic impact of the COVID crisis is severe. At this time, the key trigger for more specific information will be around May 15th when the governor releases his May revision. We will provide a lot more detailed information at that time, and some form of a budget will be approved by June 15th. The budget approved on June 15th will be revised again in August based on new revenue, so even that will change.

Legislation has a deadline to pass the budget by June 15th; however, the legislators are on recess until May 3rd and possibly later. The May budget revision is based on April tax receipts; however, tax filing deadlines have been delayed until July 15th. The baseline budget in July may keep the current year fund levels going but cuts are also possible.

The state’s General Reserve Fund is $17 Billion and will help overall state budget. The impact on Prop. 98 is unclear; however, there is a separate Prop. 98 reserve that has specific triggers but only has a few hundred million dollars in it right now. Additionally, absent any change in the law through the budget, the advance apportionment for Prop. 98 stays in place based on the budget being approved in July. There may be cuts in July and cash flow will have to be adjusted accordingly.

CCSA is working closely with the Governor’s office so the Governor stays aware of existing and new charter schools’ needs. Please see the latest Fiscal Alert, that addresses preparation for the 2020-2021 during this time of uncertainty. 

There may be policy relief in Budget Trailers by July. The request could be relief on statutory timelines, accountability and AB1505 changes.

Charter schools are eligible for advanced apportionments and, absent any changes through the budget, new schools can access the funds. However, it is possible some state payments may be deferred.

The charter school revolving loan (overseen by the CA School Finance Authority) is an option for schools that are approved. PCSGP may have an extended term. We have every reason to believe that the Federal DOE should be accommodating. Charter schools should work with the CDE directly on those issues.

The federal Public Charter Schools Grant Program administered through the CDE is the only public cash available for schools that are not open.

Deferrals were used in the last recession to level out state cash flow. It is uncertain whether deferrals will be needed again, but they are possible.

New schools have access to the advance apportionment based on projected enrollment.

The Executive Order hold harmless is valid through the end of this school year; the legislature and the governor would need to look at an extension if distance learning is required through the Fall.

For schools that are not yet approved, they may want to add a provision that they may initiate distance learning without a material revision in the case of an emergency. For schools already approved they may consider adding this as a material revision, in case the Governor’s Order is not extended.

A distance learning plan is recommended for times of crisis that would allow for alternative learning. CCSA recommends that schools open up conversations with their authorizers. There are clear compliance mandates in the Executive Order, but there is some variability as to what degree the distance learning plans need to be explained, and how long it may apply.

If a school wants to delay opening, the school should be communicating with their authorizer now, as it is best if an agreement can be worked out locally.

CCSA is considering requesting delayed openings without penalty or a material revision for schools scheduled to open in 2020. But there is no certainty this will be accepted and there could also be implications for some grants like PCSGP. Schools would need to work with the CDE in those situations.

  • Schools can work with online marketing vendors such as Schola Solutions.
  • Schools can find an Enrollment Marketing 101 slide deck by Charter Impact
  • Schools can create extended marketing videos to add to their digital media and websites.
  • Schools can offer online open houses and virtual tours.
  • Schools can offer distance learning now for families to experience
  • Schools can offer an early return date for the new school year based on state and local policy and guidelines.

Questions?

If you have any questions regarding COVID-19 and the charter school community, please reach out to info@ccsa.org so we may better support you.