Eliminating number limits, strengthening authorizers, and equalizing funding and facilities for charter schools caused several states to shift to the top of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual ranking in 2012. The NAPCS judges states on laws that support charter growth and hold them accountable without stifling them.
On a scale of one to 200, the average state score was 107, a seven-point increase from 2011.
“Having school choice opportunities is a core to our reforms,” said Stephen Bowen, Maine’s education commissioner. “That means charter schools and more choices among public schools, too. The buildings and experiences have to be flexible to the needs of the kids, not the other way around. We’re going to let families, not street addresses, determine what the best learning environment is for students.”
Sixteen states had considerably improved rankings, 22 held the same placement as last year, and four were rated less effective compared to 2011.
Maine, Minnesota, Florida, New Mexico, and Massachusetts held the top five spots, while Iowa, Kansas, Alaska, Maryland, and Mississippi made up the bottom five. Nine states were not included, as they have yet to allow charter schools.
The annual report is meant to recognize strong charter school legislation throughout the country and guide states looking to improve or implement such laws, said Stephanie Grisham, an NAPCS spokesman.
Removing Limits to Growth
The NAPCS considers 20 factors when ranking states, including public charter school variety, no caps on new schools, the existence of multiple authorizers, strong accountability systems, and fiscally and legally autonomous schools.
Ten states either eliminated or raised caps placed on charter schools in 2011, the report said.
“There was a lot of movement last year in terms of caps,” said Alison Consoletti, vice president of research at the Center for Education Reform (CER). “In general, there tends not to be a lot of movement. States tend to move up maybe two or three spots, but there’s never a huge gain unless they really overhaul their law.”
In Michigan, a law that limited charter schools to university authorizers was lifted, and virtual charter school enrollment in Indiana and Wisconsin was made less restrictive. Legislation in North Carolina removed a 100-school cap. Illinois, Indiana, and Nevada also strengthened charter authorization by creating statewide boards to do so.
Indiana showed the biggest improvement, moving from a 2011 ranking of 25 to the sixth spot this year. New Mexico also showed considerable improvement, moving from 20th to fourth place.
Top State: Maine
Maine jumped to the top of the rankings this year after enacting a new law to allow statewide charter boards as outlined in NAPCS model legislation. It went from no law in 2011 to the highest-ranking law this year. Maine is also currently the only state that requires performance-based charter contracts.
“We’re glad that charter school organizations have recognized us for focusing on the importance of quality authorizing practices,” Bowen said.
Consoletti emphasized the importance of how a law works “on the ground.”
“Maine is a good example of something that looks good on paper, but until it’s really implemented, it’s really hard to say,” Consoletti said. “Once this law is in the hands of a local school board, once the funding is a reality, that’s when you really see if what you wrote is really working.”
Stability and Independence Key
CER, which has been publishing a charter law ranking for nearly 15 years, considers financial stability and independence key qualities to successful charter school growth within a state.
“We’ve refined our scoring to focus on four important criteria that enable a charter school to open, run independently, make sure they have proper finances and autonomy,” Consoletti said. “We’re also looking at not just how the law is written but how it’s implemented in the state.”
Increased grants, loans, and guaranteed bonds for charter schools marked ten states’ legislation. Indiana passed a law appropriating $17 million toward the state’s charter school facilities program.
Further Improvement Expected
The NAPCS noted strong laws pending in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The Center for Education Reform also expects improvement in the year ahead.
“There will be some more movement this year,” Consoletti said. “Both Indiana and Illinois added an independent authorizer and charter boards or something similar. Giving applicants somewhere to go aside from the school board is very important.”
Grisham said Kentucky and West Virginia are likely to pass strong laws in 2012.
“As states are watching the more established states, they’re able to watch the lessons learned and what is working, what’s not, and strengthen their laws,” Grisham said. “There is a lot of demand. We’re hoping for more passage of laws as people start to understand more about what charter school are and what they do.”
Charter Laws by the Numbers
- Best five states for charter school laws: Maine, Minnesota, Florida, New Mexico, Massachusetts.
- Worst five states for charter school laws: Iowa, Kansas, Alaska, Maryland, Mississippi.
- The nine states with no charter school laws: Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia.
- States creating new statewide charter boards in 2011: Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Nevada.
- States that have no caps on charter schools: Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wyoming
Image by Jay Mase.