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National Report Card Reveals States Must Strengthen Education Policies to Meet Growing Demand
“With the length of the average charter school waiting list increasing to nearly 300 students, there absolutely needs to be a sense of urgency around creating strong charter school laws that will accelerate the pace of growth to meet demand,” said Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, Washington, DC. “Not only are there hundreds of thousands of students on charter school wait lists, but the U.S. Census predicts the largest influx of school-aged children over the next 20 years at over 11 million. State lawmakers must be thinking outside the box to create a portfolio of new educational opportunities to meet this demographic reality.”
“While it is true the charter school sector in the United States has grown at a steady, linear pace since the first charter school law was passed in 1991, we know the highest charter school and enrollment growth is in jurisdictions with strong charter school laws,” said Alison Consoletti Zgainer, executive vice president of the Center for Education Reform and lead author of the rankings. Strong charter laws feature independent, multiple authorizers, few limits on expansion, equitable funding, and high levels of school autonomy.
“These critical flexibilities and equitable resources must be codified in law, otherwise they fall prey to the whims of politicians. We are seeing this play out right now in New York City under Mayor Bill de Blasio, and have seen it before in Washington, D.C. and in Oakland, California,” said Kerwin.
Among the nation’s 43 charter school laws, there are 5 As, 9 Bs, and 18 Cs, with the remaining 11 states earning Ds and Fs. Three states improved letter grades, with Mississippi jumping from an “F” last year to a “C” in 2014, Arizona going up from a “B” to an “A,” and Wisconsin moving up from a “C” to a “B.” Mississippi had the largest advance in score because of new legislation that increases schools’ autonomy.
“But even the highest-achieving states in CER’s annual rankings still have a long way to go in meeting parental demand and allowing highly accountable charter school options to flourish, as they are ten or more points away from a perfect score,” said Zgainer.
“As the nation celebrates twenty-plus years of charter schools, history suggests state laws need to be modeled after success, not theory,” Kerwin added. “There should be no excuses from elected officials now that we have powerful evidence of what works.”
Since 1996, the Center has studied and evaluated charter school laws based on their construction and implementation, and whether or not they yield the intended result of the charter school policy, which is to ensure the creation of numerous quality learning opportunities for children.
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Editor's Note: Eight states -- including West Virginia -- lack laws to authorize charter schools. Here is the progress report from CER about the eight:
"In 2012, Washington became the 43rd (including DC) state to authorize a charter school law. While the law is average on paper (lack of independent authorizer, cap on number of schools and enrollment, and some operational restrictions), the real test comes when the first charter school applies and opens in the Evergreen State. Only then will we know if funding truly does follow the child and if charter schools have enough autonomy to create a high-quality education for the children of Washington.
"Every year, the remaining charter-less states try to introduce legislation, and we have seen Alabama and Kentucky try and fail to pass legislation that would create a charter school law. Even if one of these bills passes, what is proposed won’t be strong and won’t produce strong charter schools.
"Charter laws need to be enacted in eight remaining states, but they need to be the right type of law – one that holds charter schools accountable to independent authorizers, funds them 100 percent as conventional schools, and gives them the operational freedom to be true innovators in education.
"States without a charter school law: Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota Vermont, West Virginia."