The Center for Education Reform (CER)

The The 15th Edition of Charter School Laws Across the States: Rankings & Scorecard is here, providing a definitive snapshot on whether or not states have taken meaningful action in expanding charter schools since the first charter law passed in 1991. Experience in seeing how policies have played out over the last 20 years puts the Center in a unique position that allows us to rank states based not only on the language of the law, but how that policy plays out on the ground. This year, less than half of state charter laws received above-average grades, and even those earning top spots are far from perfect. Strong charter laws feature independent, multiple authorizers, few limits on expansion, equitable funding, and high levels of school autonomy. Elected officials need to step up to the plate and fashion laws after success, not theory, now that we know what works. Without strong laws, schools fall prey to the whims of politicians, as we are seeing right now in New York City with Mayor Bill de Blasio, and that’s not something we can afford as a nation when the average charter school wait list has increased to nearly 300 students, and the U.S. Census predicts an influx of 11 million school-aged children in the coming future.

CEILING REACHED. The legislative deadline to lift the cap on the number of charter schools that can be created in Massachusetts is fast approaching, and parents are making their voices heard in support of having more choices. Over 4,000 letters from parents and community members have been sent to Bay State lawmakers and members of the media, rightfully demanding access to the best education possible for their children. And if the 4,000 letters aren’t enough to show demand, consider the fact that there are over 13,600 applicants for 2,200 charter spots, as sizable districts are now closing in on the current limit! Ranking 25th out of the nation’s 43 charter school laws, Massachusetts needs to do much more to create a friendly environment for charter schools, but removing arbitrary limits on the number of permitted schools would represent a positive first step.

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES. A bit further south, Tennessee finds itself at a tipping point this week where state lawmakers will decide whether choice and accountability will be allowed to meet increasing demand. With positive developments on Governor Haslam’s voucher proposal underway and improvements to the charter school law expecting a vote this week, Tennessee is poised to bring about much-needed change. Who could forget the battles over Great Hearts Academies last year, when the Nashville School Board refused to authorize the charter even after the state board demanded its approval on appeal. The local school board still said no, clearly violating the law, the state withheld funds and the Nashville School Board still wouldn’t budge. Hopefully, with the passage of SB 830 this kind of behavior will be a thing of the past coupled with efforts to repeal language preventing public-private partnerships. Currently, Tennessee’s charter school law suffers when ranked in comparison with other states due in large part to its emphasis on local control. And while lawmakers are taking a renewed focus towards charter schools, more safeguards need to be in place to protect against the whims of state and local entities.

YES, CHARTERS ARE ACHIEVING. A recent study revealed charter high school students have a seven to 11 percent higher graduation rate than their traditional school peers, and were more likely to enroll in college and finish at least two years of education after high school. This study is just one of many in a body of research highlighting the positive effects charter schools have on providing a foundation for student achievement. With so many states with below-average charter school laws on the books, it begs the question why lawmakers aren’t doing more to encourage quality schools. After over two decades, legislators now have access to blueprints of chartering best practices, so parents can have access to schools that serve their child in a way that fits their needs. Charter growth and enrollment is highest in states with strong laws, emphasizing the need for legislators to recognize just how integral they are to allowing for the same type of student success to finally arrive to their own state.


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