National Alliance Releases 12th Annual Ranking of State Charter School Laws; Little Change, Despite Sharp Spike in Charter School Enrollment

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released its annual ranking of state charter school laws, Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws, Twelfth Edition. This report analyzes how well each state’s charter school law compares to our “model law.” States are ranked by their composite score, which is based on 21 critical benchmarks like accountability, authorization, flexibility, performance-based contracts, and funding equity. 

While there was relatively little movement in the order of state rankings this year, the team at the National Alliance noticed an interesting trend related to the pandemic. Over the past year, the nation saw a sharp increase in charter school enrollment marked by heightened parent demand for different educational options for their children. Charter school sectors in certain states were particularly well positioned to meet the increased demand. 

“We originally created the ‘model law’ ranking to measure the relative strength of each state’s charter school law against a gold standard,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “That remains important, but the ranking process also allows us to see emerging trends. 2020 was an unusual year for PreK-12 education overall, so when looking at the enrollment patterns for charter schools in many states our report painted a clear picture of how certain components of charter laws either helped or suppressed their ability to meet the needs of families.” 

The states where we saw the greatest year-over-year charter school enrollment growth – New York, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Idaho – had three key model law components in place: a variety of charter school models, non-district authorizers, and autonomous governing boards. Charter schools in these states were especially able to flex and be nimble, meeting the increased demand. Conversely, Pennsylvania was the only state in the bottom 11 of our model law ranking that showed significant growth during 2020. Much of that growth was specifically in full-time virtual charter schools in the state. 

“In the months ahead, the National Alliance will be watching to see whether any new changes from states will impact critical measures of a strong charter school law, such as the ability to have or maintain non-district authorizers,” said Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president of state advocacy, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “This year’s state charter school law rankings report shows that only having district authorizers clearly suppresses the growth of charter schools, making it more difficult to meet increased parent demand at a time when they need it most.”   

Many families who never considered any school other than the district school their children were zoned to attend were open to other options when instruction was essentially halted for kids across the country. The spike in charter school enrollment last year continues into 2021 and may indicate a long-term shift in enrollment patterns.  

For the sixth year in a row, Indiana has the nation’s strongest charter school law, ranking No. 1 out of 45. Indiana’s law does not cap charter school growth, includes multiple authorizers, and provides a fair amount of autonomy and accountability. Although the coronavirus pandemic has made the work more challenging than ever, Indiana has made notable strides in recent years to provide more equitable funding to charter schools and their students. There is still work to do, but we applaud their strong law. 

Other notable takeaways from this year include:  

  • The Top 10 charter school laws in the nation include a mixture of states with more mature charter sectors including Indiana (No. 1), Colorado (No. 2), Minnesota (No. 4), Florida (No. 7), Louisiana (No. 8), and the District of Columbia (No. 10); and states with newer sectors like Washington (No. 3), Alabama (No. 5), Mississippi (No. 6), and Maine (No. 9).
  • Many states with mature sectors continue to strengthen their laws based on what’s working or not. Also, states with newer laws rely heavily on lessons learned so they don’t repeat mistakes of the states that came before them. 
  • Maryland has the nation’s weakest law. While its law does not include a cap on charter schools, it only allows district authorizers, which effectively accomplishes the same goal. Maryland’s charter school law also provides little autonomy, insufficient accountability, and inequitable funding to charter schools.  

Click here to read the full report: Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws, Twelfth Edition.