New NEA Rankings of Charter School Laws Don’t Support the Creation of High-Quality Public Charter Schools for the Students that Need Them Most

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Next week, the National Education Association (NEA) will release State Charter Statutes: NEA Report Cards. This new report grades each state’s charter school law in relation to the NEA’s 13 priorities for charter school statutes.

While we agree with a small number of these priorities (such as the requirement to subject charter schools to regular audits and the requirement to subject charter school students to state assessments), most of the NEA’s priorities have very little to do with supporting the creation of high-quality public charter schools for the students that need them the most.

Instead, the NEA’s requirements are focused more on stifling the growth of these innovative public-school options and re-regulating the few charter schools that would open under their new requirements as traditional public schools.

Most tellingly, of the 13 NEA priorities the one weighted highest is: “Are charter schools only authorized by a single local public agency such as the school district?” We know from almost three decades of experience that this approach produces very few charter schools, which is clearly why the NEA has given it the most weight. In addition, teachers’ unions often play pivotal roles in electing school board members, enabling them to influence school boards to oppose charter school applications.

As an example, Virginia enacted its charter school law in 1998 and only allows districts to serve as authorizers. Twenty-one years later, there are only eight charter schools open in Virginia. The small number of charter schools there does not speak to a lack of desire for charter schools, as evidenced by the notably higher growth in charter schools in the states that allow multiple authorizing entities. Instead it has everything to do with the fact that only districts can serve as authorizers in the state.

State leaders interested in policies that actually support the creation of successful charter schools should instead consult the National Alliance’s A Model Law for Supporting the Growth of High-Quality Charter Schools, Second Edition and Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws, Tenth Edition. These resources promote charter school laws that, among other beneficial outcomes, provide flexibility to innovate, accountability for results, and equity for students.