Focus on charter schools: Charter school laws

23 Jan

This blog wholeheartedly supports charters, but more important, this blog supports school choice.  One of the principles of this blog is that all children have a right to a good basic education. There are a variety of ways that each child will receive that good basic education and the choice should be left to the parents or guardians. The only caveat should be that if the education option is failing to educate that child, there should be other alternatives to choose from. Charters are governed by state law which authorizes them and sets the parameters for operation. One of the reasons many support charters is it is at least theoretically possible for failing schools to be closed. There are going to be good education options of all types and there will be failures of public school, private schools, and homeschools. Just as success is not attributed to all choices in a category, the fact that a public school or charter school is a failure does not mean that ALL public schools or ALL charter schools are failure. People, use a little discernment. Many are so caught up in their particular political agenda that they lose sight of the goal, which is that all children have a right to a good basic education.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has issued the report, Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws, 2012

2011 has been a significant year for charter school policy across the country.

At long last, Maine enacted a charter school law, becoming the 42nd jurisdiction that allows this innovative public school option.

Ten states lifted their caps on charter school growth (either partially or entirely). Most notably, North Carolina eliminated its cap of 100 charter schools, Michigan phased out its cap on the number of charter schools that can be approved by public universities, and Indiana and Wisconsin removed their limits on virtual charter school enrollment.

Seven states strengthened their authorizing environments. Most significantly, four states created new statewide charter boards (Illinois, Indiana, Maine, and Nevada), while New Mexico and Rhode Island passed major quality control measures setting the stage for the future growth of high-quality public charter schools in these states.

Ten states improved their support for charter school funding and facilities. Of particular note, Indiana enacted legislation that creates a charter school facilities assistance program to make grants and loans to charter schools, appropriates $17 million to this program, and requires school districts to make vacant space available to public charter schools to lease for $1 a year or to buy for $1. Also, Texas enacted a law that allows state-authorized charter schools that have an investment grade rating and meet certain financial criteria to apply to have their bonds guaranteed by the Permanent School Fund.

As of this writing, there were bills with major charter school improvements pending in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In addition, we expect to see big pushes for strong legislation in several other states in 2012.

See, Report: Quality of Charter School Laws Improves Nationwide          

The Center for Education Reform has a good synopsis of what makes a strong charter school law.

Charter School Law

Before you can have charter schools, you must have a state law. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia have enacted charter school laws. (The nine states that do not have charter school laws are Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.) Maine passed their first charter school law in the summer of 2011.

As is the case with most education laws, charter schools are born at the state level. Typically a group of concerned lawmakers drafts a bill that allows the creation of any number of charter schools throughout a state. The content of the charter law plays a large role in the relative success or failure of the charter schools that open within that state. CER has identified a number of factors that can work together to create an environment that promotes the growth and expansion of charter schools. Some of them are identified below.

  • Number of Schools & Applications: The best charter laws do not limit the number of charter schools that can operate throughout the state. They do not place restrictions on the brand new schools either. A poorly written law would only allow conversion schools to operate but this hinders parents’ ability to choose from among numerous public schools. These laws should also allow many different types of groups to apply to open schools.
  • Multiple Charter Authorizers: States that permit a number of entities to authorize charter schools, or provide applicants with a binding appeals process, encourage more activity than those that vest authorizing power in a single entity, particularly if that entity is the local school board. The goal is to give parents the most options and having multiple sponsors helps reach this goal. For more information on why multiple authorizers are important, please go here.
  • Waivers & Legal Autonomy: A good charter law is one that automatically exempts charter schools from most of the school district’s laws and regulations. Of course no charter school is exempt from the most fundamental laws concerning civil rights. These waivers
  • Full Funding & Fiscal Autonomy: A charter school needs have control of its own finances to run efficiently. Only the charter school’s operators know the best way to spend funds and the charter law should reflect this need. Similarly charter schools, as public schools, are entitled to receive the same amount of funds as all other conventional public schools. Many states and districts withhold money from individual charter schools due to fees and “administrative costs” but the best laws provide full funding for all public schools.

Home Page for Charter School Law Data:

So, what does this all mean? No one method will educate all children. If the goal is to give all children a good basic education, then all options must be on the table. Otherwise, the supposed adults are protecting their jobs and their pensions.


Why Charter Schools

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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