Measuring Up: Ten Years of Charter School Law Rankings

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Graphic for Measuring Up to the Model

Ten years ago, the National Alliance released its original model charter school law, a “gold standard” law that was developed to help states create legislation to support the growth of high-quality charter schools. The following year, the National Alliance published its first annual ranking of how well each state’s charter school law measures up to that gold standard.

States are ranked based on a composite score of the 21 essential components of a strong charter school law. (Before the model law was updated in October 2016, 20 components were used.)

This week, the National Alliance released the tenth edition of that report, Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws. In light of National School Choice Week, it’s important to look back on the past ten years to fully appreciate the role charter schools have played in strengthening the public education system.

Back in 2010, when the first state rankings were released, there were only 40 states that had a charter school law on the books. In this year’s tenth edition, 43* states are included. And as more states have adopted charter school laws and existing states are expanding the number of charter schools available, more students are now attending charter schools. Over the past decade, the number of charter school students has nearly tripled to 3.2 million students attending 7,000 charter schools in 43 states, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico.

Since the first edition was released in January 2010, three states enacted brand-new legislation relatively well aligned with the model law: Alabama in 2015, Maine in 2011, and Washington in 2012 and 2016. Between 2010 and 2018, 37 states made policy improvements that resulted in increases in their scores in the report. States made the most progress in lifting caps, strengthening charter school and authorizer accountability, and making significant improvements to their facilities policies for charter schools.

In 2010, the Top 10 states were, in order:

  1. Minnesota
  2. District of Columbia
  3. California
  4. Georgia
  5. Colorado
  6. Massachusetts
  7. Utah
  8. New York
  9. Louisiana
  10. Arizona

This year, that list looks a little different, although many states have remained at or near the top over the years:

  1. Indiana, which was absent from the original Top 10, has taken first place as the nation’s strongest charter school law in the country for the fourth year in a row. Indiana’s law does not cap charter school growth, includes multiple authorizers, and provides a fair amount of autonomy and accountability. Indiana has also made notable strides in recent years to provide more equitable funding to charter schools, although some work remains to be done.
  2. Colorado
  3. Washington
  4. Minnesota
  5. Alabama
  6. Mississippi
  7. Florida
  8. Maine
  9. D.C.
  10. Nevada

Some other key findings from this year’s report: Georgia made the biggest jump in this year’s rankings, moving up 11 spots from No. 27 to No. 16. Georgia made this leap because it enacted legislation that improved the state’s policies for special education, funding, and full-time virtual charter schools. States that are enacting laws for the first time and states that are overhauling their laws are bypassing states that were previously more highly ranked, such as Arizona, Louisiana, and New York. That doesn't mean that the laws have gotten weaker in the states being bypassed. They remain strong. What it does mean, though, is that more and more states have better and better laws across the country, a good place to be if you believe that all states should have high-quality charter school laws.

A Ranking of State Charter School Laws graphic

Kat Sullivan is the director of advocacy communications at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

*Note: Kentucky is not included in this year’s report because the state has failed to enact a new funding mechanism, rendering the existing charter school law meaningless. When this is resolved, Kentucky will again be included in the report.


Read the full report or see how your state measures up!