Measuring Up



82 out of 240

Rank: 41 out of 44

Year Charter School Law Was Enacted: 2002
Estimated Number of Charter Schools in 2016-17: 3
Estimated Number of Charter School Students in 2016-17: 400

While Iowa’s law does not cap charter public school growth, it allows only local school district authorizers and provides little autonomy, insufficient accountability, and inequitable funding to charter schools.

Iowa’s law needs improvement across the board. Potential starting points include expanding authorizing options, beefing up the law in relation to the model law’s four quality-control components (Components 6 through 9), increasing operational autonomy, ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities, ensuring transparency regarding educational service providers, and strengthening accountability for full-time virtual charter schools.

Do Iowa's laws align to the model law?

Model Law Component


Iowa's Charter Law


1. No Caps

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Iowa law does not place any caps on charter school growth.


1A. No numeric or geographic limits are placed on the number of charter schools or students.

1B. If caps exist, there is room for growth.


2. A Variety of Charter Public Schools Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Iowa law allows applications for converting an existing building into a charter school or creating a new building for a charter school (which is interpreted as a new start-up).


2A. New startups.

2B. Public school conversions.

3. Multiple Authorizers Available

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Iowa law requires charter applicants to first be approved by the local school board and then by the state board of education. Those denied at the local level may appeal to the state board, which can overturn the local school board’s decision. There are three charter schools open in the state.


3A. The state allows two or more authorizing options (e.g., school districts and a state charter schools commission) for each applicant with direct application to each authorizer.

4. Authorizer & Overall Program Accountability System Required

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Iowa law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for authorizer and overall program accountability. Iowa law requires the state board of education to annually submit a comprehensive report, with findings and recommendations, to the senate and house standing committees on education.


4A. Registration process for school boards to affirm their interest in authorizing.

4B. Application process for other eligible authorizing entities (except a state charter schools commission).


4C. Authorizer submission of annual report.

4D. The ability for the state to conduct a review of an authorizer’s performance.

4E. The ability for the state to sanction an authorizer for poor performance, including suspending an authorizer’s authority to approve new schools.

4F. Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

5. Adequate Authorizer Funding

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Iowa law does not include any of the model law's provisions for adequate authorizer funding.


5A. A uniform statewide formula that guarantees annual authorizer funding that is not subject to annual legislative appropriations.

5B. Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.

5C. Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.

5D. Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

6. Transparent Charter Application, Review, and Decisionmaking Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

There is no detail in statute regarding the application content for submission to the local school board, but once approved by a local board, statute contains a listing of items that must be included within the application to the state board of education. The law contains elements specific to conversions but does not contain elements specific to educational service providers and replications.

While the law does not contain application approval criteria, Iowa regulations require each local school board to develop and adopt application requirements, procedures, and criteria, as well as weights for the criteria to determine whether an application is approved or denied at that level. They also include a detailed review process at the state department of education level, including a point system for ranking applications.

Iowa law requires all decisions to be made by the boards in public meetings, but there are no regulatory requirements to place reasons for denial in writing.


6A. Application elements for all schools.

6B. Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.

6C. Additional application elements specific to using educational service providers.

6D. Additional application elements specific to replications.

6E. Requirement for thorough evaluation of each application, including an in-person interview and a public meeting.

6F. Application approval criteria.

6G. All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

7. Performance-Based Charter Contracts Required

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Instead of requiring that a charter contract be created as a separate document from the application, Iowa law indicates that the charter school application constitutes a contract agreement between the local school board and the state board of education. Such applications must detail the operations of the school, but are not required to contain details regarding the role and responsibility of the authorizer (other than the provision of school facilities and the support services the school district will provide).

Regulations further add that an approved application must be part of the contract for the operation of the charter school and that the terms of the contract must also outline the reasons for revocation or nonrenewal of the school.

Iowa law requires the application/contact to include performance goals and objectives by which the school’s student achievement will be judged, the measures to be used to assess progress, and the current baseline status with respect to the goals. Iowa law requires the terms of the contracts to be for four years.


7A. With such contracts being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.

7B. With such contracts defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.

7C. With such contracts defining academic, financial, and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.

7D. With such contracts providing an initial term of five operating years.

8. Comprehensive Charter School Monitoring and Data Collection Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Iowa law requires charter schools to submit a report at least annually to the local school board, advisory council, and state board of education containing the information required by those entities (with such reports being public).

Iowa law requires charter schools to be subject to the same financial audits as a school district.

Regulations require that the state department of education must periodically review charter schools to ensure continuing compliance with the school’s contract and that it may schedule mandatory meetings with such schools at the department’s sole discretion.

Statute and regulation only require authorizer notification of any problems as part of revocation processes (not to give schools opportunities to remedy such problems).


8A. Required annual school performance reports.

8B. Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., generally accepted accounting principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).

8C. Authorizer authority to conduct oversight activities.

8D. Authorizer notification to its schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.

8E. Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.

8F. Authorizer may not request duplicative data submission from its charter schools and may not use performance framework to create cumbersome reporting requirements.

9. Clear Processes for Renewal, Nonrenewal, and Revocation Decisions

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

In reference to renewal criteria, regulations simply state that in the absence of revoking the charter, it must be renewed at the time of renewal as part of a public hearing on the issue.

Iowa law allows a charter school to be renewed for up to four years.

Iowa law specifies that either the local or state board may revoke a charter for material violations or for not meeting the performance goals and objectives identified in the contract. It requires a local school board considering revocation or nonrenewal to provide timely notification to the advisory council, parents, and teachers, although written reasons are not required by statute. Iowa law permits appeal of any such action to the state board.

If the state board is considering revocation, Iowa law requires it to state the grounds for such action in writing and allow for an informal hearing.

Iowa law contains some details for student placement following revocation. In addition, it requires the charter application to contain a plan of operation to be implemented if the charter school is revoked or fails to renew its contract.


9A. Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.

9B. Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.

9C. Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.

9D. Ability to have a differentiated process for renewal of high-performing charter schools.

9E. Authorizers must use clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.

9F. Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract.

9G. Requirement that authorizers close chronically low-performing charter schools unless exceptional circumstances exist.

9H. Authorizers must have the authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.

9I. Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or nonrenewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.

9J. Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).

9K. All charter renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions must be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for nonrenewals and revocations in writing.

9L. Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.

9M. Any transfer of charter contracts from one authorizer to another are only allowed if they are approved by the state.

10. Transparency Regarding Educational Service Providers (ESPs) Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Iowa law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for educational service providers. Iowa law indicates that a charter school may enter into contracts.


10A. All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and nonprofit) are allowed to operate all or parts of schools.

10B. The charter application requires (1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, and (2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.

10C. A performance contract is required between the independent charter school board and the ESP, with such contract approved by the school’s authorizer.

10D. School governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any ESP, individuals compensated by an ESP are prohibited from serving as voting members on such boards, and existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.

10E. Provides that charter school governing boards must have access to ESP records necessary to oversee the ESP contract.

10F. An ESP must annually provide information to its charter school governing board on how that ESP spends public funding it receives when the ESP is performing a public function under applicable state law.

10G. Requires that similar criminal history record checks and fingerprinting requirements applicable to other public schools shall also be mandatory for on-site employees of ESPs who regularly come into contact with students.

11. Fiscally and Legally Autonomous Schools with Independent Charter Public School Boards

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Iowa law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for fiscally and legally autonomous schools with independent charter school boards.

Iowa law provides that charter schools may enter into contracts for public construction bidding.

Iowa law requires charter schools to remain a legal part of the local school district, with the charter schools having only an advisory council.


11A. Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds; incur debt; and pledge, assign, or encumber assets as collateral).

11B. Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).

11C. Independent school governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

12. Clear Student Enrollment and Lottery Procedures

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Iowa law requires charter schools to enroll all eligible resident students unless the number of applications exceeds capacity, and then students must be accepted by lot. It also allows charter schools to enroll eligible nonresident students.

Iowa law requires charter schools to give priority to the siblings of students enrolled in the school, but not to previously enrolled students within conversions and prior year students within chartered schools.

The law requires charter schools to meet all applicable federal, state, and local laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, ancestry, or disability; a charter school to be subject to any court-ordered desegregation plan in effect for the school district at the time the charter school application is approved; a charter school to not discriminate in its student admissions policies or practices on the basis of intellectual or athletic ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, or status as a person with a disability.


12A. Open enrollment to any student in the state.

12B. Anti-discrimination provisions regarding admissions.

12C. Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions and for prior-year students within charter schools.

12D. Lottery requirements.

13. Automatic Exemptions from Many State and District Laws and Regulations

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

By statute, a charter school is automatically exempt from most laws, but a charter school must place within its application the specific statutes, administrative rules, and school board policies with which it does not intend to comply.

Iowa law requires all charter school teachers to be certified.


13A. Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.

13B. Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

14. Automatic Collective Bargaining Exemption

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Iowa law requires charter schools to be part of their district’s collective bargaining agreements.


14A. Charter schools authorized by nonlocal board authorizers are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.


14B. Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

15. Multischool Charter Contracts and/or Multicharter Contract Boards Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Iowa law is silent regarding these arrangements.


15A. An independent charter school board may oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

15B. An independent charter school board may hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

16. Extracurricular and Interscholastic Activities Eligibility and Access

weight = 1 | Possible total = 4

Iowa law is silent about charter eligibility and access.


16A. Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all extracurricular and interscholastic activities available to noncharter public school students and employees.

16B. Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extracurricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at noncharter public schools.

17. Clear Provisions Regarding Special Education Responsibilities

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Iowa law requires charter schools to remain part of the district LEA, so the school district is responsible for special education services. It also requires the funding to flow to the district (part of which also flows through to the Area Education Agency, which has the responsibility for providing special education services and technical assistance).


17A. Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.

17B. Clarity regarding the flow of federal, state, and local special education funds to the designated LEA.

17C. Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).

17D. Clarity that charter schools have access to all regional and state services and supports available to traditional districts.

18. Equitable Operational Funding and Equal Access to All State and Federal Categorical Funding

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Iowa law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for equitable operational and categorical funding, and there is no evidence of the amount of funds charter schools receive versus districts.

Iowa law provides that a charter school receives its funding from the school district that authorized it. There are no specifics in statute as to what the charter schools are to receive, leaving all details to be worked out with the local school board as part of the charter.

Iowa law requires charter schools to comply with the same provisions for transportation as all public schools and receive funding for it as per all public schools. Also, it requires a charter application to include the means, costs, and plan for providing transportation for students attending the charter school.


18A. Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.

18B. Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.

18C. Funding for transportation similar to school districts.

18D. Annual report offering district and charter public school funding comparisons and including annual recommendations to the legislature for any needed equity enhancements.

19. Equitable Access to Capital Funding and Facilities

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Iowa law does not include any of the model law's provisions for equitable access to capital funding and facilities.


Facilities Funding

19A. A per-pupil facilities allowance that annually reflects actual average district capital costs.

19B. A state grant program for charter school facilities.

19C. Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to noncharter public schools.

Access to Public Space

19D. A requirement for districts to provide school district space or funding to charter schools if the majority of that school’s students reside in that district.

19E. Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.

Access to Financing Tools

19F. A state loan program for charter school facilities.

19G. Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allowing charter schools to have their own bonding authority.

19H. Pledging the moral obligation of the state to help charter schools obtain more favorable bond financing terms.

19I. The creation and funding of a state charter school debt reserve fund.

19J. The inclusion of charter schools in school district bonding and mill levy requests.

19K. A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for charter school facilities.


19L. Charter schools allowed to contract at or below fair market value with a school district, a college or university, or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entity for the use of facility for a school building.

19M. Certain entities allowed to provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.

19N. Charter school facilities exempt from ad valorem taxes and other assessment fees not applicable to other public schools.

20. Access to Relevant Employee Retirement Systems

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Iowa law requires participation in the relevant employee retirement systems.


20A. Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.

20B. Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).

21. Full-Time Virtual Charter School Provisions (if such schools allowed by state)

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Iowa law does not contain any of the model law’s provisions for full-time virtual charter schools.


21A. An authorizing structure whereby full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from more than one district may be approved only by an authorizer with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority, full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from one school district may be authorized by that school district, and a cap is placed on the total amount of funding that an authorizer may withhold from a full-time virtual charter school.

21B. Legally permissible criteria and processes for enrollment based on the existence of supports needed for student success.

21C. Enrollment level provisions that establish maximum enrollment levels for each year of a charter contract, with any increases in enrollment from one year to the next based on whether the school meets its performance requirements.

21D. Accountability provisions that include virtual-specific goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, and attrition.

21E. Funding levels per student based on costs proposed and justified by the operators.

21F. Performance-based funding whereby full-time virtual charter schools are funded via a performance-based funding system based on meeting the accountability performance provisions.