Once again, Indiana leads the way in state charter school laws

via TheJournal.com // by Dian Schaffhauser

An advocate for public charter schools has released its annual ranking of state school laws. Its big finding: Those states with new or overhauled laws regulating public charters are “bypassing” states that were previously ranked higher in multiple areas, including accountability, flexibility and funding equity.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said the latest round of school laws affecting charters are coming closer to what it considers a “gold standard,” its own “model public charter school law,” which the organization published in 2016.

The Alliance’s index examines 21 categories of what it calls “essential components of strong public charter school law.” These include whether the state puts caps on the number of charters it will allow, who may authorize the schools, how those authorizers and the schools are funded, how enrollment lottery procedures are handled, what special education responsibilities are, whether collective bargaining is required or exempted and how exempt the schools are from other state or district laws regulating public education. Each of the 21 areas is given a weighting between one and four points, and each state’s law on charters is rated. The total score determines where in the ranking a state appears.

Indiana showed up first on the list, as it has for the previous three years as well. As a report on the findings noted, “Indiana’s law does not cap charter school growth, includes multiple authorizers and provides a fair amount of autonomy and accountability.” At the same time, there’s still work “to be done” in Indiana, particularly in filling the funding gap that the Alliance said the state has created between charter school students and their counterparts in district public schools. Another area that needs attention, the report pointed out, was in “strengthening accountability for full-time virtual charter schools.”

At the bottom of the list is Maryland, which requires only district authorizers to charter new schools and offers “insufficient accountability and inequitable funding” for charters.

Georgia made the biggest leap in this year’s rankings, moving up 11 spots from No. 27 to No. 16. The rise was credited to new regulations that address state policies on special education, funding and full-time virtual charter schools. Georgia’s charter school law doesn’t cap school growth for charters; lets multiple authorizers charter school applicants; and has “made notable strides” to provide “more equitable funding” to charter schools.

New York experienced the largest drop in the rankings, due to an existing cap on the creation of new charter schools, which leaves “precious little room for growth.”

In many cases, states with new or overhauled laws are bypassing those states that were previously ranked higher, not because the existing leaders have weakened their regs, the Alliance suggested, but because charter school laws “are getting better across the board.”

“As the report shows, many states are improving the quality of their charter school laws,” said National Alliance President and CEO, Nina Rees, in a statement. “At the same time, we recognize that until every state has a high-quality law — and every student who wants to attend a charter school is able to — our work is not done.”

The complete report is openly available on the Alliance’s website.