There is a real link between good education policy and improved outcomes. This theory shines through in a recent Chalkbeat article that discusses the growth of public charter schools in Indiana after the state strengthened its law in 2011.
Some background first: the 2011 policy improvements for charters in Indiana date, in part, to when the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released its first state charter school law rankings report in January 2010. This report assesses the strength of each state’s charter law as compared to our model law and found that Indiana ranked a paltry 29 out of 40 (which is the number states with charter laws at that time). This low ranking was quite a surprise in a state where policy makers believed they had a high-quality law. The Indiana Public Charter Schools Association (IPCSA) seized upon this dissonance by working with the National Alliance to build legislative support and coalition partners to draft a bill that would significantly improve charter policy in Indiana.
Around the same time, Gov. Mitch Daniels made charter schools a legislative priority for the 2011 Indiana General Assembly and Speaker of the House Brian Bosma authored a bill with all the proposals from IPCSA and the National Alliance that session. Specifically, HB 1002-11 created a new statewide authorizer and a system of authorizer accountability, increased oversight of schools, and provided more access to facilities.
After HB 1002-11 passed, it propelled Indiana to the number 2 position in the National Alliance state rankings in 2012. More importantly, it had a significant effect on the state’s charter school movement.
Let’s look at some recent numbers as evidence. The article points out that when HB 1002-11 passed there were 49 public charter schools operating in Indiana. Fast forward to today: 14 schools were approved and are slated to open this fall, which means the number of charter schools operating in 2015 could be 86, a 75 percent increase since the bill passed in 2011.
Also important to note, at the time when new schools were opening, authorizers redoubled their focus on accountability. Seven schools sponsored by Ball State University and five schools sponsored by the Mayor of Indianapolis that were open when the law passed in 2011 are no longer in operation.
It is doubtful that either of these results – the growth of new schools and the closure of low performing charters – would have occurred without the complete overhaul of the law in 2011, making a strong argument for the impact of policy on results.
The work continues in Indiana, though. Just this year, the National Alliance worked with partners there to address two shortfalls of the 2011 law. First, HB 1636 closed a loophole that allowed some failing schools to jump to another authorizer before being closed. Second, HB 1001 provided facilities funding and a sizable facilities loan program allocated on a per-pupil basis tied to the charter school’s performance.
If the trend of good policy translating to strong performance continues in Indiana, look for a movement that has its best days ahead.