Annual National Rankings Finds Many States Strengthening Charter School Laws
According to MarketWatch, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) released its fourth annual rankings of state charter school laws. The report, and the organization’s model charter school law, is designed to support the creation of high-quality public school options. "We're pleased to see states build upon the legislative gains they've made over the past several years, particularly in the areas of strengthening quality and accountability," said NAPCS president and CEO Nina Rees. "Many states are amending their laws to lift caps, strengthen authorizing environments, and improve support for funding and facilities. All of these changes set the stage for the growth of high-quality public charter schools in these states." Minnesota was ranked first, followed by Maine, Washington, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, California, New York, Indiana and New Mexico. The states with the five weakest laws include Mississippi, Maryland, Kansas, Alaska and Virginia. Eight states do not have charter school laws.
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Washington, Louisiana Note States' Charter School Law Rankings
In related stories, the Seattle Weekly noted that Washington state was ranked third out 43 in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ (NAPCS) annual rankings of charter school laws. Anne Martens, a spokesperson for the local chapter of Stand for Children, attributed the high ranking to Washington’s statewide charter-school commission, which along with local school boards, will have the power to authorize and monitor new schools. The Advocate noted that Louisiana was ranked sixth, a jump up from 13th place. “Louisiana overhauled its law in several areas, resulting in a large jump in the ranks,” said Todd Ziebarth, NAPCS vice president for state advocacy and support.
Sources: Seattle Weekly, Advocate
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Florida, Wisconsin Recognize National School Choice Week
According to State Impact, 672 events will be held in Florida alone to celebrate National School Choice Week, including rallies, roundtable discussions, festivals, and school fairs. Governor Rick Scott signed a proclamation officially recognizing this week as Florida School Choice Week. According to WEAU, the Wisconsin School Choice organization is promoting National School Choice Week in order to make it easier for students to get access to alternative learning opportunities such as public charter schools. Wisconsin’s Chetek-Weyerhaeuser district offers a middle school public charter program called the Red Cedar Environmental Institute, where students work on independent projects which incorporate all their core subjects. “The whole idea behind having charter schools is about innovation. It’s about giving small schools the opportunity to try new things and if they work then we use those things in the rest of education,” said Red Cedar Environmental Institute teacher Mike Steiner.
Sources: State Impact, WEAU
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Texas Charter Schools Say Their Smaller Share of State Aid is Unconstitutional
According to the Austin American-Statesman, a lawyer for the Texas Charter Schools Association testified Monday in an ongoing school finance trial, arguing that the lack of state money for facilities hampers public charter schools’ constitutional duty to serve students educationally. Because charters can’t levy property taxes to pay for facilities, they must cover their facility costs out of state funding that would otherwise go towards educating children, or from private money. Mark DiBella, vice president of operations at Yes Prep Public Schools in Houston, testified that private philanthropy accounted for 10 percent of the charter system’s $66 million budget last year. Without that money, “I don’t know that we would even be around now,” he said. Yes Prep achieved 100 percent passing rates on the state standardized tests in the 2011-12 school year. State District Judge John Dietz has said he plans to rule in the landmark case next Monday.
Source: Austin American-Statesman
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Letter: Maine Charter School Panel Merits Kudos for its High Standards
In a letter to the editor of the Portland Press Herald , Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, commends the Maine Charter School Commission for approving only one of five recent proposals for new charter schools. “Those who start a charter school are entrusted with millions of public dollars and with the education, health and safety of other people's children. Such responsibilities should only be given to those who clearly demonstrate the capacity to fulfill them.” Richmond writes that his organization is “greatly concerned that Gov. Le-Page has condemned the commission for upholding high standards. As a nation, we can only improve educational opportunities for children if we are creating better schools. We cannot create more good schools by opening more failing schools. Fortunately, the Maine Charter School Commission realizes this basic fact and is doing its best to provide only good new schools for Maine's children.”
Source: Portland Press Herald
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Proposed Maine Bills Would Limit or Prohibit Virtual Charter Schools
According to the Morning Sentinel , several Maine state lawmakers are proposing bills to stall or prohibit virtual public charter schools. Senate President Justin Alfond’s measure would place a moratorium on full-time and for-profit virtual charter schools, which he said would give the state charter schools commission some time “to take a long look at how the state of Maine wants to implement full-time virtual schools." Rep. Bruce MacDonald’s bill would prohibit for-profit virtual schools and require they be run by the state or by existing school districts. "To have these statutes seems to be overkill and unnecessary because there's no evidence that the charter commission isn't doing its work properly or being thoughtful about it," said Peter Mills, board secretary of the proposed Maine Virtual Academy board. Earlier this month, the state charter school commission rejected applications by two virtual charter schools. Governor Paul LePage responded by calling for the commission’s members to resign.
Source: Morning Sentinel
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Pennsylvania Rejects Applications for Eight Cyber Charter Schools
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette , all eight statewide cyber charter school applications have been rejected, State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis announced Monday. Tomalis citied deficiencies in each application, saying in a statement: "The proposals submitted by the applicants lack adequate evidence and sufficient information of how prospective students would be offered quality academic programs. In addition, the financial plans presented call into question each applicant's ability to maintain a long-term, viable educational program for the benefit of Pennsylvania students." Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said he didn't know details of the applications but thinks the department is trying to set "fair and consistent high quality standards for applicants." More than 30,000 students were enrolled in Pennsylvania cyber charter schools last school year.
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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Indiana Bill Would Shorten Window for Charters to Buy District Buildings
According to Indiana News Center , a bill that would shorten the window during which school districts must offer unused properties to public charter schools was passed by the Indiana House, 98-0. Under current law, public school corporations give charter schools a 48-month window to purchase a vacant or unused building. This legislation shortens the window to 24 months. “Charter schools often exist in more urban areas,” said Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, the bill’s co-author. “Rural schools have a harder time selling their unused buildings, so this legislation helps speed up that process.” The bill now moves to the state Senate.
Source: Indiana News Center
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Philadelphia’s Renaissance Charters Bring Families Back to Neighborhood Schools
According to the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, most of Philadelphia’s 17 Renaissance charter schools are succeeding at bringing families back to their neighborhood schools. Young Scholars Frederick Douglass Elementary School, for example, went from enrolling 58 percent of the neighborhood’s students in 2009-10 to 90 percent currently. "We've focused on trying to build trust with our families by delivering on our promises," said Lars Beck, CEO of Scholar Academies, which has turned around the school. Douglass's test scores have also gone up in both reading and math. The schools operated by ASPIRA of PA, Mastery Charter, and Scholar Academies all appear on-track to meet or exceed their targets for serving neighborhood students. Only Universal Companies is lagging behind its targets. "This is an initiative the District has undertaken that works," said Philadelphia School District Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn. Three more traditional public schools are expected to be designated for conversion to Renaissance charters sometime next month.
Source: Philadelphia Public School Notebook