The Prichard Committee’s Position on Charter School Authorizing is Shortsighted
I have long been a fan of The Prichard Committee‘s education reform advocacy work in Kentucky. The organization has a rich history of pushing boundaries and challenging both policymakers and the public to consider uncomfortable but needed reform in education. But the Committee’s recent Statement on Charter Schools in Kentucky regarding charter school authorizing is incredibly shortsighted.
As one of the principles for considering charter schools in Kentucky, the Committee has taken the following stance:
- Authorization of charter schools should be by local boards of education following rules established by the state Board of Education that define processes for creation, conversion, renewal, revocation, closure and dissolution. Training of local boards, provided by the Department of Education, on charter school regulations, procedures and oversight should be required prior to any authorization. Authorization of charter schools should be allowable only in circumstances of persistently low-achieving schools and/or significant achievement gaps.
Such a stance is particularly problematic for advocates of high quality charter schools in Kentucky, first and foremost because we know from experience nationally that such an arrangement is not likely to lead to the creation of high quality charter schools in Kentucky. Iowa did something similar to what the Prichard Committee has called for and passed charter school legislation in 2002 which requires that charter schools be approved by local boards of education. The result is that there are only three charter schools in Iowa after 13 years. The position that only local school districts may serve as charter school authorizers in Kentucky, just as in Iowa, is nearly the same as taking the position that there should be no charter schools in Kentucky. As evidence, you are likely to find support for the Prichard Committee’s Statement from opponents of charter school legislation in the Kentucky.
Over the last 25 years, we have learned that state charter school laws can be written in ways that guarantee that there will be few if any charter schools in a state. Opponents of charter school legislation work hard to incorporate those types of provisions into charter schools laws wherever possible. Mississippi’s first charter school law is a prime example. Under Mississippi’s former charter school law, the State Board of Education was the sole authorizer for charter schools in the state, and only a local school district could apply to convert one of its persistently low performing schools to a charter school.Even if granted the charter, the operation of a Mississippi charter school would have remained with the local school district. The result was that no charter schools were authorized in Mississippi. In 2013, Mississippi revamped its law, allowing for the creation of start-up and conversation charter schools that may be authorized by local boards of education, or a newly created Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. As a result, charter schools with promise are now being authorized in Mississippi.
Both the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), national organizations with records for advocating for strong charter school laws and high quality charter schools, have taken the position that state legislation should allow for multiple authorizers for charter schools. In measuring how state’s laws stack up to their model charter school legislation, the National Alliance scores states on the extent to which state laws “allow two or more authorizing options (e.g., school districts and a state charter schools commission) for each applicant with direct application to each authorizer.”
NACSA’s position on charter school authorizers is below:
- NACSA encourages states to establish an alternative authorizer that meets NACSA’s Principles & Standards and which provides all charter school applicants with at least two authorizer options in every jurisdiction. Ideally, the alternative authorizer would be an ICB [independent charter board] and would have the ability to take applications directly, not just upon denial by the local school district. Regardless of the type, all authorizers should be required to implement strong practices in keeping with NACSA’s Principles & Standards, or similarly rigorous state standards for authorizers.
The Prichard Committee’s desire to limit charter school authorizing to local boards of education is out of line with what we have learned nationally about the establishment of high quality charter schools, and with the recommendations of respected charter school policy organizations. Further, the superintendents of Kentucky’s two largest school districts have made it clear that they do not want charter schools in Kentucky. With that understanding, taking the position that charter schools may only be authorized by local boards of education is nearly the same as the Prichard Committee saying that there should be no charter schools in Kentucky. If the Committee’s position is to support local boards of education in their opposition to charter schools in Kentucky, then they should simply say so. If that’s their position, they should make that position clear to the people of Kentucky, and not hide it behind a facade of moderate support for the establishment of charter schools.