Indiana, Colorado Ranked at Top for Charter School Laws
Potential for growth and a high degree of autonomy helped place Indiana and Colorado at the top of a new ranking of states’ charter school laws.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) released Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws, Ninth Edition, its 2018 state-by-state ranking of public charter school laws, in January. It is the second year the organization has measured states’ laws against its updated model law.
“For the second year in a row, the 2018 rankings measure each state’s charter school law against the National Alliance’s updated model charter school law, New Model Law for Supporting the Growth of High-Quality Public Charter Schools: Second Edition, released in October 2016,” NAPCS stated in a press release. “The Ninth Edition of Measuring Up to the Model ranks public charter school laws in 44 states and the District of Columbia. Each law receives a score based on 21 essential metrics, flexibility, accountability, and equity.”
Indiana was rated number one in the nation. The report found the allowance of unlimited charter school growth, multiple authorizers, and high-quality autonomy and accountability practices in Indiana make the state’s law the nation’s strongest. Colorado took second place, “in part because of legislation that the state enacted in 2017 that will provide charter schools with equitable access to a local funding stream that most districts had refused to share with charter schools,” the report said.
PublicSchoolOptions.org criticized the rankings in an email, stating, “Some states [NAPCS] ranks in the top 10 are abysmal at actually providing public charter school options for students and families.”
Identifying Best Practices
Todd Ziebarth, NAPCS senior vice president for state advocacy and support, says NACPS developed its model law after much study.
“Right after we were created, we were doing a lot of work with state partners, charter association partners, regarding policies, accountability, funding caps, authorizing, ... and we kept getting the question of who was doing this best and are there replicable models out there,” Ziebarth said.
The NAPCS then assembled a working group of charter school law pioneers from the 15 years they’d been on the market, to reflect on what worked.
“We put together a model charter school law in 2009 and released it, and the purpose of that was twofold,” Ziebarth said. “One, at the time there were still 10 or 11 states that didn’t have charter school laws, so we wanted to give them a foundation from which to work as they crafted their own laws. We also wanted to have some best practices in the area—even if a state has a charter school law on the books, if they needed to improve accountability, facilities, flexibility—a model law to provide some best practices and support and options as they dig into improvement issues.”
Laws, Then Implementation
The rankings measure states against the model law. A separate report considers the implementation of those laws and factors for growth, innovation, and quality, which Ziebarth says isn’t easy information to collect.
“That has been a lot more challenging to do, getting good data and information across states and across years,” Ziebarth said.
Calls Model ‘Nonsense’
Tillie Elvrum, board president of PublicSchoolOptions.org, criticizes the rankings for concentrating on state laws.
“What should always matter most is if a charter law actually produces charter schools and that the law empowers students and families with new opportunities and choices,” Elvrum said. “The idea of ranking charter laws based on a one-size-fits-all ‘model’ law instead of on how effective a charter law is at actually creating charter options for families is nonsense. A football team might look great on paper, the right players at the right positions, but if they fail to actually win games, how good are they?”
Explaining the Rankings
Ziebarth says the rankings reflect states’ foundations for long-term success.
“There have been five states that have come on with charter schools since we started the law review,” Ziebarth said. “We were deeply involved in all of those places, including Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama, so of course they stack up well because they used the model law. We feel like in those places they’re really setting a long foundation for success. But they do not move fast on education reform. These are risk-averse places. It took them 25 years to pass a charter law; they’re going to move cautiously.”
States have very different education systems, starting with differing constitutional frameworks and diverse funding models, and the very idea there is a one-size-fits-all best way to write a charter law for every state is completely at odds with the concept behind charter laws, Elvrum says.
“The rankings are based on a model that places far more value and trust in educational bureaucrats than the parents themselves and the schools they want to choose,” Elvrum said. “A prerequisite to be a high-ranking law should be how the law has worked to empower families with choices.
“Any law that fails to create widespread new educational opportunities for students and families, and fails to fundamentally empower and trust parents with decisions about their children, should never be given a high ranking, especially by organizations that are supposed to be supporting charter schools and the families who need options,” Elvrum said.
Ashley Bateman (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws, Ninth Edition,” January 29, 2018: https://www.heartland.org/news-opinion/news/measuring-up-to-the-model