The Biggest Changes in State Charter School Laws in 2019

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The impacts of the 2018 elections were felt in the 2019 state legislative sessions across the country. While charter school advocates saw some legislative victories, we are facing many strong headwinds in state legislative battles.

In some states, the political climate this year was fiercely hostile—and may continue to be so into 2020—and students were caught in the crossfire.

We are used to being in this fight. And we will continue to stand up for the students and families choosing charter schools. That said, here were some of the biggest changes in state charter school laws this year:

1. California Enacts New Hurdles to Operating High-Quality Charter Schools

With the election of a new governor who is lukewarm to charter schools at best, several anti-charter school provisions were enacted in California. The state further concentrated authorizing in the hands of districts and expanded the reasons that districts can use to deny charter school petitions to include the fiscal impact of the charter school on the district. The state also eliminated important staffing flexibilities that charter schools had. Charter school advocates successfully pushed back against the most extreme proposals on the table there, thus averting an even worse outcome.

2. Maine Makes Charter School Cap Permanent

In a disappointment for Maine’s families, the state legislature voted to make the current cap of 10 charter schools permanent and included district-authorized charter schools within the cap. Before, the cap was set to expire in 2022 and only included state-authorized schools. On the positive side, attempts to restrict charter school growth were defeated in Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

3. Several States Better Support Charter School Facilities Needs

On the facilities front, many states made improvements, including:

  • Arkansas appropriated $7,575,000 to its open-enrollment public charter school facilities funding aid program.
  • Florida provided $158.2 million to its charter school capital outlay fund.
  • Idaho created a credit enhancement for charter schools that will help lower interest rates on bonds for charter school facilities.
  • Illinois appropriated $34 million in capital funding to several charter schools in Chicago as part of the state’s capital bill
  • Indiana increased the Charter and Innovation School Grant from $500 per pupil to $750 per pupil. These dollars must be used primarily for facilities and transportation purposes.
  • Massachusetts increased facilities funding for charter schools from $893 per pupil to $938 per pupil.
  • Ohio allocated $30 million per year in supplemental state aid for high-performing charter schools. Schools will receive an additional $1,750 per pupil for economically disadvantaged students and $1,000 per pupil for non-disadvantaged students.
  • Tennessee doubled the state’s previous contribution to the Charter School Facilities Fund, bringing the fund to $12 million for the coming grant year.

4. Tennessee Adds Independent Commission for Appeals

In better news, Tennessee’s governor Bill Lee—a 2019 Champion for Charters—approved an independent commission to hear charter school appeals and authorize schools following a successful appeal. Allowing for non-district authorizers is important to any strong charter school law.

5. Indiana, Nevada, and Oklahoma Strengthen Accountability for Full-Time Virtual Charter Schools

Indiana, Nevada, and Oklahoma finally began to address the significant problems with their full-time virtual charter school sectors. Indiana, for example, required each authorizer of a virtual charter school to establish requirements for its virtual charter schools that include a mandatory annual onboarding process and orientation and requirements relating to tracking and monitoring student participation and attendance.

6. West Virginia Passes a Charter School Law

West Virginia enacted a charter school law—bringing the number of states without a law down to five. While the law meets many of the standards of the National Alliance’s model charter school law, it unfortunately only allows district authorizers, without even an appeal to state entity. This fatal flaw will likely prevent very many schools from opening.

 

Todd Ziebarth is the Senior Vice President, State Advocacy and Support for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Read more of the National Alliance's series of end-of-year blog posts:

 

Read the full 2019 State Legislative Session Highlights with state-by-state details.

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