“If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us about education, it’s that our parents need choice.”
That quote, from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’s Condition of the State address, sums up what people are thinking across the country. While legislators figure out how to respond to the various aspects of the pandemic (from public health to the economy to education), the pandemic has amplified the necessity and urgency of providing all parents with high-quality education options.
In fact, Reynolds is pushing one of the broadest bills in the country related to school options (SF 159). We’ve been working with partners in Iowa to overhaul the state’s weak charter school law (currently ranked 41st out of 45). The bill also creates a new scholarship program to provide state funding to help students attend private schools and allows students to transfer out of a school in a district that has a voluntary diversity plan. SF 159 recently passed out of the Senate and now sits in the House.
In New Mexico, we’re working with other education advocates to enact a bill for a new revolving loan fund administered by the New Mexico Finance Authority (SB 318). The bill will also help ensure that available district facilities are offered to charter schools—a big challenge in many states.
The National Alliance is also working with a coalition of partners in South Dakota to get a bill enacted that would allow for four community-based schools focused on Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota language and culture (SB 68). The bill saw some literal ups and downs during the legislative session before being voted down in the Senate earlier this month. But our coalition won’t give up easily and we plan to continue pushing, with an eye toward getting a bill enacted in 2022.
Beyond our own work, charter school legislation is on the agenda in for a number of states this year:
- In Florida, a bill has been introduced to allow state universities and Florida College System institutions to serve as authorizers in certain circumstances (SB 1028).
- In Missouri, a bill has been introduced to provide more equitable funding to the state’s charter school students (HB 137). A different bill (SB 55) addresses a wide array of educational options, including major provisions to expand the number of communities in the state where charter school founding groups can apply to multiple authorizers.
- In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine’s proposed budget would increase a pot of funds for high-performing charter schools from $30 million to $54 million.
- In Washington State, HB 1195 would extend the timeframe for establishing the state’s first 40 charter schools from 2021 to 2026.
Not all of the news is encouraging, though. Most notable, despite record-setting support for school choice, a bill in Rhode Island would impose a moratorium on charter schools through the 2023-24 school year (SB 13). Most troubling, the bill would prevent six schools from opening or expanding that were recently authorized by the state. SB 13 passed out of the Senate and is now in the House. There will likely be similar pushes in other states this year as well.
While it is still early in the state legislative cycle, it is encouraging to see increased momentum in a growing number of states to enact legislation supporting the growth of high-quality public charter schools. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to play strong defense in states like Rhode Island—we do—but we also have many opportunities to create more supportive policy environments for public charter schools.
Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.