Blog: The Educated Reporter

Charter Schools: How Does Your State Law Rate?

Students at the University of Chicago Charter School's Carter G. Woodson Campus. (Flickr/Lucy Gray)

Minnesota ranked at the top of an advocacy group’s list of states with the most flexible charter school laws, with Maryland coming in last in the nation.

Earlier this week, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released its latest ranking of school choice laws across the country. States were ranked based on a variety of factors including how difficult it is for charters to get up and running, whether states allow multiple authorizers — which typically means organizers have more opportunities to win approval — and whether there is a cap on the total number of charter schools allowed to operate.

For a second consecutive year, Minnesota took top billing. But that doesn’t mean the Gopher State should be celebrating just yet. If the report had used a letter-grade system, Minnesota would have earned a B- or C+, said Nina Rees, the president and chief executive of the alliance. 

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, and plenty of room for improvement, ” Rees told EWA.

Some researchers question the methodology and usefulness of ranking states based on the perceived strengths or weaknesses of charter school laws. (You can read the National Education Policy Center’s report here .) At the same time, charter schools are seen by many advocates as an important tool for states seeking to improve opportunities and options for students. 

With the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act slated for a renewal vote late next month, lawmakers are debating whether more federal dollars should be allocated for school choice. One crucial element is whether the money should be awarded as block grants specifically for charters or as part of a larger competitive process. 

Rees said she was pleased that an ESEA reauthorization bill proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) calls for $300 million in grants for charters (up from the $250 million currently allocated), and for making it easier for charter networks with successful track records to open additional campuses. “Hopefully both Republicans and Democrats will recognize the need for additional funding to help replicate and expand high-performing charter schools,” Rees said.

But it’s also worth noting that concerns have been raised about the large number of nonprofit charters that have turned over daily operations to private companies. From Marian Wang’s reporting for Pro Publica last month:

In the charter-school sector, this arrangement is known as a “sweeps” contract because nearly all of a school’s public dollars – anywhere from 95 to 100 percent – is “swept” into a charter-management company.

The contracts are an example of how the charter schools sometimes cede control of public dollars to private companies that have no legal obligation to act in the best interests of the schools or taxpayers. When the agreement is with a for-profit firm like National Heritage Academies, it’s also a chance for such firms to turn taxpayer money into tidy profits.

EWA will be discussing charters and choice at our upcoming seminar in Denver. Travel scholarships are available for the reporters-only event. For more on these issues, including the latest research and news coverage of School Choice Week, EWA’s Topics Page is a smart place to start. 





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