Iowa

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Iowa

2002
Year Charter School Law Was Enacted
3
Estimated Number of Charter Schools in 2016-17
400
Estimated Number of Charter School Students in 2016-17
91
out of
240
Total Score

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While Iowa’s law does not cap charter public school growth, it allows only local school district authorizers and provides little autonomy, insufficient accountability, and inequitable funding to charter schools.

Iowa’s law needs improvement across the board. Potential starting points include expanding authorizing options, beefing up the law in relation to the model law’s four quality-control components (Components 6 through 9), increasing operational autonomy, ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities, ensuring transparency regarding educational service providers, and strengthening accountability for full-time virtual charter schools.

Component Scores

Are there caps on the growth of charter schools in this state?

Iowa law does not place any caps on charter school growth.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
1A
No numeric or geographic limits are placed on the number of charter public schools or students.
N/A
1B
If caps exist, there is room for growth.

Are a variety of charter schools allowed?

Iowa law allows applications for converting an existing building into a charter school or creating a new building for a charter school (which is interpreted as a new start-up).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
2A
New startups.
Yes
2B
Public school conversions.

Are non-district authorizers available to which charter applicants may directly apply?

Iowa law requires charter applicants to first be approved by the local school board and then by the state board of education. Those denied at the local level may appeal to the state board, which can overturn the local school board’s decision.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
3A
The state allows an applicant anywhere in the state to apply directly to a non-district authorizer(s).

Is an authorizer and overall program accountability system required?

Iowa law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for authorizer and overall program accountability. Iowa law requires the state board of education to annually submit a comprehensive report, with findings and recommendations, to the senate and house standing committees on education.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
4A
Registration process for school boards to affirm their interest in authorizing.
N/A
4B
Application process for other eligible authorizing entities (except a state charter schools commission).
No
4C
Authorizer submission of annual report.
No
4D
The ability for the state to conduct a review of an authorizer’s performance.
No
4E
The ability for the state to sanction an authorizer for poor performance, including suspending an authorizer’s authority to approve new schools.
Yes
4F
Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

Is there adequate authorizer funding?

Iowa law does not include any of the model law's provisions for adequate authorizer funding.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
5A
A uniform statewide formula that guarantees annual authorizer funding that is not subject to annual legislative appropriations.
No
5B
Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.
No
5C
Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.
No
5D
Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

Are there transparent charter application, review, and decisionmaking processes?

There is no detail in statute regarding the application content for submission to the local school board, but once approved by a local board, statute contains a listing of items that must be included within the application to the state board of education. The law contains elements specific to conversions but does not contain elements specific to educational service providers and replications.
While the law does not contain application approval criteria, Iowa regulations require each local school board to develop and adopt application requirements, procedures, and criteria, as well as weights for the criteria to determine whether an application is approved or denied at that level. They also include a detailed review process at the state department of education level, including a point system for ranking applications.

Iowa law requires all decisions to be made by the boards in public meetings, but there are no regulatory requirements to place reasons for denial in writing.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
6A
Application elements for all schools.
Yes
6B
Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.
No
6C
Additional application elements specific to using educational service providers.
No
6D
Additional application elements specific to replications.
No
6E
Requirement for thorough evaluation of each application, including an in-person interview and a public meeting.
No
6F
Application approval criteria.
Some
6G
All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

Are performance-based charter contracts required?

Instead of requiring that a charter contract be created as a separate document from the application, Iowa law indicates that the charter school application constitutes a contract agreement between the local school board and the state board of education. Such applications must detail the operations of the school, but are not required to contain details regarding the role and responsibility of the authorizer (other than the provision of school facilities and the support services the school district will provide).
Regulations further add that an approved application must be part of the contract for the operation of the charter school and that the terms of the contract must also outline the reasons for revocation or nonrenewal of the school.

Iowa law requires the application/contact to include performance goals and objectives by which the school’s student achievement will be judged, the measures to be used to assess progress, and the current baseline status with respect to the goals. Iowa law requires the terms of the contracts to be for four years.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
7A
Being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.
Some
7B
Defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.
Yes
7C
Defining academic, financial, and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.
No
7D
Providing an initial term of five operating years.

Are there comprehensive charter school monitoring and data collection processes?

Iowa law requires charter schools to submit a report at least annually to the local school board, advisory council, and state board of education containing the information required by those entities (with such reports being public). Iowa law requires charter schools to be subject to the same financial audits as a school district.

Regulations require that the state department of education must periodically review charter schools to ensure continuing compliance with the school’s contract and that it may schedule mandatory meetings with such schools at the department’s sole discretion.

Statute and regulation only require authorizer notification of any problems as part of revocation processes (not to give schools opportunities to remedy such problems).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
8A
Required annual school performance reports.
Yes
8B
Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., generally accepted accounting principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).
Some
8C
Authorizer authority to conduct oversight activities.
No
8D
Authorizer notification to its schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.
No
8E
Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.
No
8F
Authorizer may not request duplicative data submission from its charter schools and may not use performance framework to create cumbersome reporting requirements.

Are there clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions?

In reference to renewal criteria, regulations simply state that in the absence of revoking the charter, it must be renewed at the time of renewal as part of a public hearing on the issue.
Iowa law allows a charter school to be renewed for up to four years.

Iowa law specifies that either the local or state board may revoke a charter for material violations or for not meeting the performance goals and objectives identified in the contract. It requires a local school board considering revocation or nonrenewal to provide timely notification to the advisory council, parents, and teachers, although written reasons are not required by statute. Iowa law permits appeal of any such action to the state board.

If the state board is considering revocation, Iowa law requires it to state the grounds for such action in writing and allow for an informal hearing.

Iowa law contains some details for student placement following revocation. In addition, it requires the charter application to contain a plan of operation to be implemented if the charter school is revoked or fails to renew its contract.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
9A
Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.
No
9B
Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.
No
9C
Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.
No
9D
Ability to have a differentiated process for renewal of high-performing charter schools.
Yes
9E
Authorizers must use clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.
No
9F
Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract.
No
9G
Requirement that authorizers close chronically low-performing charter schools unless exceptional circumstances exist.
Yes
9H
Authorizers must have the authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.
Yes
9I
Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or nonrenewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.
Yes
9J
Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).
Yes
9K
All charter renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions must be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for nonrenewals and revocations in writing.
Some
9L
Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.
No
9M
Any transfer of charter contracts from one authorizer to another are only allowed if they are approved by the state.

Is there transparency regarding educational service providers?

Iowa law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for educational service providers. Iowa law indicates that a charter school may enter into contracts.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
10A
All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and nonprofit) are allowed to operate all or parts of schools.
No
10B
The charter application requires (1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, and (2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.
No
10C
A performance contract is required between the independent charter school board and the ESP, with such contract approved by the school’s authorizer.
No
10D
School governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any ESP, individuals compensated by an ESP are prohibited from serving as voting members on such boards, and existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.
No
10E
Provides that charter school governing boards must have access to ESP records necessary to oversee the ESP contract.
No
10F
An ESP must annually provide information to its charter school governing board on how that ESP spends public funding it receives when the ESP is performing a public function under applicable state law.
No
10G
Requires that similar criminal history record checks and fingerprinting requirements applicable to other public schools shall also be mandatory for on-site employees of ESPs who regularly come into contact with students.

Are the schools fiscally and legally autonomous with independent charter school boards?

Iowa law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for fiscally and legally autonomous schools with independent public charter school boards.
Iowa law provides that charter schools may enter into contracts for public construction bidding.

Iowa law requires charter schools to remain a legal part of the local school district, with the charter schools having only an advisory council.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
11A
Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds; incur debt; and pledge, assign, or encumber assets as collateral).
Some
11B
Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).
No
11C
Independent school governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

Are there clear student enrollment and lottery procedures?

Iowa law requires charter schools to enroll all eligible resident students unless the number of applications exceeds capacity, and then students must be accepted by lot. It also allows charter schools to enroll eligible nonresident students.Iowa law requires charter schools to give priority to the siblings of students enrolled in the school, but not to previously enrolled students within conversions and prior year students within chartered schools.
The law requires charter schools to meet all applicable federal, state, and local laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, ancestry, or disability, requires a charter school to be subject to any court-ordered desegregation plan in effect for the school district at the time the charter school application is approved, and requires a charter school to not discriminate in its student admissions policies or practices on the basis of intellectual or athletic ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, or status as a person with a disability.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
12A
Open enrollment to any student in the state.
Yes
12B
Anti-discrimination provisions regarding admissions.
No
12C
Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions and for prior-year students within charter schools.
Yes
12D
Lottery requirements.

Is there automatic exemption from many state and district laws and regulations?

By statute, a charter school is automatically exempt from most laws, but a charter school must place within its application the specific statutes, administrative rules, and school board policies with which it does not intend to comply.
Iowa law requires all charter school teachers to be certified.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
13A
Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.
No
13B
Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

Is there an automatic collective bargaining exemption?

Iowa law requires charter schools to be part of their district’s collective bargaining agreements.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
N/A
14A
Charter schools authorized by nonlocal board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.
No
14B
Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

Are multischool charter contracts and/or multicharter contract boards allowed?

Iowa law is silent regarding these arrangements.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
15A
Oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.
No
15B
Hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

Is there eligibility and access to extracurricular and interscholastic activities?

Iowa law is silent about charter eligibility and access.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
16A
Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all extracurricular and interscholastic activities available to noncharter public school students and employees.
No
16B
Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extracurricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at noncharter public schools.

Is there clear identification of special education responsibilities?

Iowa law requires charter schools to remain part of the district LEA, so the school district is responsible for special education services. It also requires the funding to flow to the district (part of which also flows through to the Area Education Agency, which has the responsibility for providing special education services and technical assistance).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
17A
Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.
Yes
17B
Clarity regarding the flow of federal, state, and local special education funds to the designated LEA.
No
17C
Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).
Yes
17D
Clarity that charter schools have access to all regional and state services and supports available to traditional districts.

Is there equitable operational funding and equal access to all state and federal categorical funding?

Iowa law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for equitable operational and categorical funding, and there is no evidence of the amount of funds charters receive versus districts.
Iowa law provides that a charter school receives its funding from the school district that authorized it. There are no specifics in statute as to what the charter schools are to receive, leaving all details to be worked out with the local school board as part of the charter.

Iowa law requires charter schools to comply with the same provisions for transportation as all public schools and receive funding for it as per all public schools. Also, it requires a charter application to include the means, costs, and plan for providing transportation for students attending the charter school.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
18A
Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.
No
18B
Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.
Yes
18C
Funding for transportation similar to school districts.
No
18D
Annual report offering district and charter school funding comparisons and including annual recommendations to the legislature for any needed equity enhancements.

Is there equitable access to capital funding and facilities?

Iowa law does not include any of the model law's provisions for equitable access to capital funding and facilities.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Facilities Funding
No
19A
A per-pupil facilities allowance that annually reflects actual average district capital costs.
No
19B
A state grant program for charter school facilities.
No
19C
Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to noncharter public schools.
Access to Public Space
No
19D
A requirement for districts to provide school district space or funding to charter schools if the majority of that schools’ students reside in that district.
No
19E
Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.
Access to Financing Tools
No
19F
A state loan program for charter school facilities.
No
19G
Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allowing charter schools to have their own bonding authority
No
19H
Pledging the moral obligation of the state to help charter schools obtain more favorable bond financing terms.
No
19I
The creation and funding of a state charter school debt reserve fund.
No
19J
The inclusion of charter schools in school district bonding and mill levy requests.
No
19K
A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for charter school facilities.
Other
No
19L
Charter schools allowed to contract at or below fair market value with a school district, a college or university, or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entity for the use of facility for a school building.
No
19M
Certain entities allowed to provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.
No
19N
Charter school facilities exempt from ad valorem taxes and other assessment fees not applicable to other public schools.

Is there access to relevant employee retirement systems?

Iowa law requires participation in the relevant employee retirement systems.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
20A
Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.
No
20B
Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).

Are there provisions for full-time virtual charter schools?

Iowa law does not contain any of the model law’s provisions for full-time virtual charter schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
21A
An authorizing structure whereby full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from more than one district may be approved only by an authorizer with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority, full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from one school district may be authorized by that school district, and a cap is placed on the total amount of funding that an authorizer may withhold from a full-time virtual charter school.
No
21B
Legally permissible criteria and processes for enrollment based on the existence of supports needed for student success.
No
21C
Enrollment level provisions that establish maximum enrollment levels for each year of a charter contract, with any increases in enrollment from one year to the next based on whether the school meets its performance requirements.
No
21D
Accountability provisions that include virtual-specific goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, and attrition.
No
21E
Funding levels per student based on costs proposed and justified by the operators.
No
21F
Performance-based funding whereby full-time virtual charter schools are funded via a performance-based funding system based on meeting the accountability performance provisions.