Major takeaways from our 2014 rankings of state charter school laws

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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.