Posts by Todd Ziebarth


Todd Ziebarth


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What You Need to Know About the State Charter School Laws Rankings Report

Last week, we released the sixth edition of Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws. This report evaluates each state’s charter school law against the 20 essential components from our model law, which includes items such as “No Caps,” “Performance-Based Charter Contracts,” and “ Equitable Access to Capital Funding and Facilities”.

By serving as an annual benchmark for states, this report recognizes those states that are making progress in creating a policy environment that supports high-quality public charter schools as well as those states that are failing to do so. For example, as high-performing public charter schools look to open in new states, this report lets them know the places that provide the best (and worst) set of policies related to caps, authorizers, autonomy, accountability and funding, among other issues. Also, if charter schools in a particular state feel their flexibility to innovate is being constrained, they can look to this report to see which states provide charters with maximum autonomy and push their lawmakers to adopt similar policies.

We are pleased that charter school supporters have used the rankings and recommendations to drive changes to their states’ charter school laws since 2010. As a result, there are fewer caps on the growth of charters, more non-district authorizers for schools to apply to, more flexibility for schools to innovate, stronger accountability for schools’ performance, and more funding and facilities support for schools – all of which translates to the creation of more high-quality public charter school options for the students who need them the most.

Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president for state advocacy and support for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Todd Ziebarth


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To achieve a strong charter sector, start with supportive laws

Senior VP of State Advocacy and Support Todd Ziebarth has a guest blog at Flypaper as part of their “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while other are falling behind. Here’s an excerpt of Todd’s response:

The short, but unsatisfying, answer to Mike’s question: It’s complicated.

Since we released our first rankings of state charter school laws against our model law in 2010, we’ve been asked about the relationship between a state’s ranking in our report and the results of that state’s charter schools—so much so that we’ll be releasing a new report in a couple of months that begins to tease out this relationship in each state entitled The Health of the Public Charter School Sector: A State-By-State Report. In the meantime, here are a few thoughts about this relationship.

Supportive laws are necessary but not sufficient

First, to quote directly from our model law,

It is important to note that a strong charter law is a necessary but insufficient factor in driving positive results for public charter schools. Experience with public charter schools across the country has shown that there are five primary ingredients of a successful public charter school environment in a state, as demonstrated by strong student results:

  • Supportive laws and regulations (both what is on the books and how it is implemented);
  • Quality authorizers;
  • Effective charter support organizations, such as state charter associations and resource centers;
  • Outstanding school leaders and teachers; and,
  • Engaged parents and community members. 

While it is critical to get the law right, it is equally critical to ensure these additional ingredients exist in a state’s charter sector.

Some states with supportive laws (those that show up high in our annual rankings) have implemented them well and have therefore achieved strong results. Conversely, other states with supportive laws that show up high in our rankings have implemented them inconsistently—and have therefore achieved uneven results.

To read the rest of Todd’s response, visit Flypaper



Todd Ziebarth


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Major takeaways from our 2014 rankings of state charter school laws

We recently released the fifth annual edition of Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws. This report evaluates, scores, and ranks each of the country’s 43 state charter school laws against the 20 essential components from the National Alliance model law.

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 5.12.43 PMOver the past few years, there has been significant activity in state capitols to improve public charter school laws, and 2013 was no exception. Governors and legislators from coast to coast worked to lift caps that are constraining growth, enhance quality controls to better encourage the opening of great schools, and provide additional funding to decrease the equity gap between public charter school students and their counterparts in traditional public schools. All of this work was done with one simple goal in mind: create more high-quality public charter schools to meet surging parental demand.

Given all of the state legislative activity across the country, there were several notable moves within our rankings this year. Here are the major takeaways:

  • Minnesota remained #1, but just barely.
  • Indiana moved up seven spots from #9 to #2 because it enacted legislation that strengthened charter renewal processes, created statutory guidelines for relationships between charter schools and educational service providers, and created statutory guidelines to govern the expansion of high-quality charter schools through multi-school charter contracts.
  • Mississippi moved up 29 spots from #43 to #14, the largest jump in rankings in the five years we have been producing this report. Mississippi enacted a significant overhaul of its charter school law in 2013. Under its previous charter school law, the state allowed only up to 12 chronically low-performing schools to convert to charter status; provided weak autonomy, accountability, and funding; and required applicants to apply to the state board of education. Under its new charter school law, the state allows up to 15 start-ups and conversions per year; provided strong autonomy, accountability, and operational and categorical funding; and created a new state authorizer to be the state’s sole authorizing entity.
  • Idaho moved up 12 spots from #32 to #20, the second largest jump in the 2014 rankings. Idaho enacted two major pieces of charter school legislation in 2013. The first expanded the types of entities that can serve as authorizers, created performance frameworks as part of charter contracts, and created charter renewal processes. The second provided facilities funding.
  • Nevada moved up nine spots from #22 to #13. Nevada enacted two major pieces of charter school legislation in 2013. The first created performance frameworks as part of charter contracts, strengthened the application and renewal processes, and provided for stronger authorizer accountability. The second provided facilities support.
  • States with weak or no charter laws are basing new legislation on the experiences of states with stronger laws, while states that fell in the rankings did so because other states enacted stronger laws. These changes represent progress for the movement.
  • Despite significant improvements in several states in 2013, our highest-scoring state only received 75 percent of the total points, meaning there is still much work to do to improve policies for charters, especially in the areas of operational and capital funding equity.

Look for a new annual report from us about the health of the public charter school sector in each state later this year. This report, meant to be a companion to our annual state charter school laws rankings report, will analyze the impact of charter laws by looking at growth, innovation, and quality with the public charter school sector in each state.

In the meantime, we hope that the most recent edition of the state charter school laws rankings report will be used by charter advocates to help push for laws that support the creation of high-quality public charter schools, particularly for those students most in need of a better public school option.

Todd Ziebarth is senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


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Seven Big Questions for Public Charter Schools for 2014

As we start 2014, the public charter school movement faces several big questions. Here are seven of them that we’ll be paying particularly close attention to this year:

1. Will New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina keep the schoolhouse doors open for the mostly poor and minority students being served so well by public charter schools in the city?

2. Will Kentucky become the 43rd state to enact a law allowing public charter schools?

3. Now that the majority of Detroit’s students attend charter schools, how will the charter community improve quality and more strategically engage with the larger public school system to ensure more students succeed (similar to what’s happening in New Orleans and Washington, D.C.)?

4. Will political leaders in states with the weakest charter school laws in the country, like Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, finally rally behind the bold legislative changes needed to provide more high-quality charter options to their state’s students?

5. Will more school districts follow the lead of the Houston and Aldine Independent School Districts in Texas and stop looking at charters as competitors and start looking at them as incubators for innovative, successful classroom practices that can be adopted within traditional public schools?

6. As state budgets start to modestly improve, will states finally tackle the fiscal inequities that exist between public charter school students and their counterparts in traditional public schools?

7. Will the charter school law in Washington State be upheld by the Washington Supreme Court?

Keep your eye on the Charter Blog in 2014 as we keep you updated on these and other big questions facing public charters.

Todd Ziebarth is senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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Updates to Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law Desperately Needed

In 2011, charter school supporters were optimistic that Pennsylvania was finally going to make some much-needed updates to its charter school law. Over the past three years, there have been a number of attempts to do so, but they’ve come up short each time.

While Pennsylvania lawmakers have failed to act, policymakers in other states have been making significant improvements to their charter laws. As a result, Pennsylvania’s charter school law continues to fall in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual rankings. It came in at #12 in January 2010, but fell to #19 by January 2013. With a number of states making improvements to their laws this year, Pennsylvania is sure to drop even further in our next report in January 2014.

In the most recent attempt to overhaul the state’s charter school law, a coalition of six organizations–the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter SchoolsPhiladelphia Charters for Excellence, Philadelphia’s Black Alliance for Educational OptionsStudents First PAPennCAN, and StudentsFirst–released a “Position Paper on SB 1085 Charter School Reform Legislation.” 

This paper details some important and overdue changes that these organizations are supporting in Senate Bill 1085, including allowing universities to serve as authorizers, creating an academic performance matrix to inform authorizers’ decisions during the charter renewal process, and allowing high-performing charter schools with multiple campuses to combine and operate under the governance of a single board. The paper also calls for the creation of a commission to study how charter schools should be funded in the state.

As the organizations acknowledge, SB 1085 is not perfect, and they are working to improve the bill as it makes it way through the legislative process. SB 1085 recently passed the Senate Appropriations Committee with additional amendments on a 15-11 vote. The most controversial issue is university authorizers, which isn’t surprising given the potential game-changing impact of that provision. The amended bill now moves to the full senate for a vote, either later this year or in January. We remain hopeful that the hard work of Pennsylvania’s charter school advocates will result in a bill that creates more high-quality public charter school options for the state’s students.

Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president for state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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What This Week’s Elections Mean for Charter Schools

While there were only a small number of elections and referendums at stake on Tuesday, some of them had big implications for public charter schools:

1.  Virginia will likely remain closed to charter schools. When outgoing Governor Robert McDonnell won Virginia’s gubernatorial election in 2009, charter supporters had high hopes that the state would finally enact some meaningful improvements to its weak charter school law. It didn’t. Four years later, Virginia still has one of the weakest charter school laws in the country (it’s ranked #39 out  of 43 in our most recent rankings report).

In this year’s election, of the two major party candidates, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli emerged as the lone charter school backer. Unfortunately (for the future of public charter schools in Virginia), he lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday.  Although McAuliffe’s former boss, President Bill Clinton, was an early supporter of charters, McAuliffe himself has failed to show the same kind of leadership for innovations and options in public education. It is likely that at the end of McAuliffe’s four-year term, Virginia will still have one of the nation’s weakest charter school laws.

2.  New Jersey is in a position to move forward on legislative improvements to charter school law. With Tuesday’s gubernatorial and legislative elections in New Jersey behind us, the years-long effort to improve the state’s charter school law may finally gain traction. Governor Chris Christie, a charter supporter, won by a wide margin and in his acceptance speech said that fixing the state’s broken education system is a top priority. With the Democrats remaining in control of the legislature, enacting charter legislation will require a bipartisan effort. Let’s hope that Governor Christie’s possible presidential aspirations propel him to show the country how to get things done with the opposite party.

3.  The uncertain future for New York City’s charters becomes official. Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio won on Tuesday, ushering in what is certain to be a new day for charters in the city. The question is, “how new?” Will he stick by his earlier statements and limit the expansion of charters, stop co-locating charters with other public schools in district buildings, and start charging rent to public charter schools using district school buildings? Or will he define “new” by making some improvements to the city’s innovative co-location process, keeping the city open to new charters, and ensuring public school buildings are rent-free for all public schools? Our hope is that the mayor-elect spends some serious time with the students, parents, teachers, and leaders of the city’s public charter schools so he will see firsthand the important role they’re playing in educating the city’s schoolchildren.

4. Boston will now have a mayor that supports lifting caps on the state’s highest performing charters. In a sign that shows how far the charter school movement has come, each of the two finalists for mayor in Boston supported charter schools. According to the Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Association, as State Representative, now mayor-elect Marty Walshtestified in favor of a bill that would eliminate caps on charter school growth in the state’s lowest performing districts. He also served on the Board of Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester for 17 years, and often cited his experience at Neighborhood House on the campaign trail. While Walsh’s opponent, City Councilor John Connolly, advocated for a more aggressive overhaul of the city’s school system, Walsh has a consistent track record of pushing for meaningful reform of the city’s schools, including the growth of the state’s highest performing charters. Mayor-elect Walsh’s advocating for a lift of charter school caps should provide a boost to the legislative effort to pass a bill.

5. Colorado charter schools will continue to operate under the state’s current inequitable school funding system.Colorado voters made clear on Tuesday that they don’t support raising taxes to provide more funding for public education in the state. By an overwhelming margin of 65% to 35%, they rejected Amendment 66, which would have provided $950 million in new taxes to fund State Bill 213, a significant overhaul of the state’s school finance system. Among other new education spending, Amendment 66 would have better funded charter schools that serve at-risk students and provided significant support for charter school facilities costs. All’s not lost, though. The state has until November 2017 to get the voters to approve a way to fund the overhaul. If not, SB 213 dies.

6. Columbus charter schools won’t receive local tax dollars. Columbus voters soundly rejected a local tax increase that would have funded a planned overhaul of the city’s public education system. The planned overhaul (created by a 25-member task force convened by Mayor Michael Coleman) covered a wide variety of areas, including the sharing of local tax dollars with high-performing public charter schools. Voters in Columbus defeated the tax measure 69% to 31%, meaning charters will still fail to receive local tax dollars.
Todd Ziebarth is senior vice president for state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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Is the Third Time the Charm in Wisconsin?

It was déjà vu all over again last week in Madison.

In July, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a paper showing 35 states made policy improvements between January 2010 and December 2012 that resulted in increases in their scores on the National Alliance’s annual state charter law rankings report. Only seven states have not made policy improvements; one of them is my home state of Wisconsin, whose law is currently ranked #37 (out of 43) – one of the weakest in the country.

The stalemate in Wisconsin hasn’t been for lack of trying. In 2011, a coalition of national, state, and local organizations (including the National Alliance) worked with a bipartisan group of legislators to craft legislation that would have significantly overhauled the state’s law. Then, Governor Scott Walker decided to tackle public sector collective bargaining. Not only did our Democratic supporters leave the state, they also pulled their support for our bill. Needless to say, in the midst of the battle over collective bargaining, and the ensuing recall elections, our bill stalled and died.

This year, that same coalition worked with Governor Walker to include much of what was in the 2011 bill in his budget. In the end-of-session budget negotiations, however, charters got caught in the crossfire between traditional public school supporters and voucher supporters, and most of the charter provisions were stripped out of the budget bill, with the governor and key legislators pledging that the legislature would take them up in a separate bill this fall.

That’s how I ended up back in Madison last week, testifying at a Senate Education Committee hearing on a charter school law reform bill. Unlike the 2011 bill and the governor’s budget bill this year, this proposed legislation would only make modest improvements to the state’s charter school law, such as the expansion of non-district authorizers statewide.

While these improvements are necessary, there’s much more that needs to be done. Most critically, it needs to ensure that all types of charter schools have the flexibility that is at the heart of the charter bargain, ensure that all types of authorizers hold charters accountable for results, and ensure equitable operational, categorical, transportation, and facilities funding for public charter school students.

Let’s hope the third time is the charm. Wisconsin students who need a better public school option need it to be.

Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

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Washington State Voter Analysis Shows Support Among Minority Communities

One of the most interesting aspects of last fall’s ballot box victory for public charter schools in Georgia was the overwhelming support from African-American voters at the same time that too many of their political leaders were opposing the ballot measure. We are seeing a similar dynamic in Alabama and Kentucky, where a solid majority of voters support charters according to a recent survey released by the Black Alliance for Educational Options (link to our blog on this survey here) while their political leaders more often than not oppose them.

And now comes some interesting findings from Washington State, where voters enacted a public charter school law last fall via a ballot measure (I-1240). According to an analysis that we recently completed, voting precincts more populated with Hispanic, Native American, and African-American voters supported the measure by clear margins:

  • Precincts more populated with Hispanics were 15% more supportive of I-1240. Hispanics represent 8.9% of voters in Washington State.
  • Precincts more populated with Native Americans were 13% more supportive of I-1240. Native Americans represent 1.3% of voters in Washington State.
  • Precincts more populated with African-Americans were 8% more supportive of I-1240. African-Americans represent 3.3% of voters in Washington State.

Given that Hispanic, Native American, and African-American students have been historically shortchanged by our public school system, it’s no surprise that these voters were most interested in having high-quality public school choices available to them via public charter schools. Let’s hope that the political leaders representing these precincts see these margins and decide to support public charter schools in line with the interests of their voters instead of opposing them to please more narrow special interests.

Whether they do or not, though, it’s now up to public charter schools that open in Washington State to deliver on their promise and deliver a high-quality public education to these students as they’ve done in so many other communities across the country.

Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

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Positive Momentum Continues in Mississippi and Kentucky

We continue to see positive momentum in one new charter state—Mississippi—and one hopefully-soon-to-be charter state—Kentucky.

A week and a half ago, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves made the final three appointments to the new seven-member Mississippi Public Charter Schools Authorizing Board. Governor Phil Bryant had previously appointed three members, and Interim State Superintendent Lynn House will also sit on the board. With the full board now in place, we expect Governor Bryant to call the first meeting of the board soon. The board has a full plate of work in front of it, including creating and releasing a Request for Proposals for those interested in opening charter schools by December 1.

Following up on the wildly successful inaugural event of the Kentucky Charter Schools Association on August 22, we are working with KCSA and the Black Alliance for Educational Options to present at an Interim Joint House and Senate Education Committee meeting today. For the first time ever, the Committee will discuss public charter school legislation and take testimony from our coalition. We’ll report back on the hearing later this week.

Todd Ziebarth is senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Learn More

DjournalPublic charter school authorizing board set

KET: Live Stream Interim Joint Committee on Education, September 9th at 1:00PM EST

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Mississippi Builds Up Charter School Association and Authorizer

Over the past two months, Mississippi has started taking steps to implement the overhaul of its charter law that it enacted during this year’s legislative session there (an overhaul pushed by a broad coalition of organizations, including NAPCS).

On June 25th, the newly formed Mississippi Charter Schools Association hosted a charter schools forum in Jackson. More than 70 attendees showed up to learn more about what charter schools are, what the provisions in the new law require, and how the authorization process will work in Mississippi. They also got firsthand accounts about starting and running charter schools from operators from Arkansas and Tennessee.

Then last week, Governor Phil Bryant appointed three individuals and the State Board of Education appointed the Interim State Superintendent of Education to serve on the seven-member Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves will soon appoint the remaining three members (the law requires that all appointments be made by September 1st).

Once the Board is in place, the law requires it to meet as soon as possible after September 1, 2013 and to send out a Request for Proposals before December 1, 2013.

It is great to see the work underway in Mississippi. As in other states, the Association’s and the Board’s actions will be critical to the success of the charter sector in Mississippi.

Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president of state advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Learn More:

Gulf Live: Mississippi charter school advocates form association with law going into effect

Clarion Ledger : Gov. Bryant appoints Mississippi charter school board members