State Legislative Highlights December 2017

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Most state legislatures are not currently in session, so the last quarter of the year is usually a relatively quiet time on the state legislative front for charter schools. However, there was some notable activity in Michigan recently and there were elections held in New Jersey and Virginia in November that will likely impact charter schools in those two states.

One significant bright spot from this fall is happening in Michigan, whose legislature meets year-round. A bill that gives charter schools equal access to enhancement millage money (i.e., regional millages levied by intermediate school districts and allocated to local school districts) has passed the Senate and a House committee. It is now moving to the full House for a vote. This bill helps to equalize funding between district and charter schools, a much-needed improvement for Michigan charter schools.

New Jersey
Governor Chris Christie was term-limited so the New Jersey governor’s race started early with Democrats committed to taking back the office. On election day in November, Democrat Phil Murphy beat Republican Kim Guadagno with 56% of the vote. Governor Murphy was a vocal critic of charter schools during the campaign and has already called for a moratorium on the growth of charter schools in New Jersey. Democrats have a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature and are likely to align with the Governor’s position on charter schools.

During the 2017 legislative session, the legislature passed a bill that would have created regional charter school authorizers for low-performing districts and enhanced charter school flexibility. The governor vetoed the bill. Charter school advocates were hopeful that the 2017 gubernatorial election would result in a charter school-friendly governor that would sign a similar bill into law during the 2018 session. Unfortunately, Republican Ed Gillespie was defeated by Democrat Ralph Northam, a long-time charter school opponent. It’s unlikely that Virginia will see any legislation that creates a more supportive environment for the growth of high-quality charter schools. However, the Virginia constitution limits governors to one 4-year term, so there will be another opportunity to elect a more charter school-friendly governor in 2021.