Report: Excessive Regulations Hamper Charter School Progress

Published June 20, 2015

Charter schools across the nation are increasingly subject to the same kinds of excessive regulations that have suppressed student achievement in the nation’s traditional public schools, according to a report from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

“Charter schools were created to free educators from needless and burdensome regulation,” said Michael McShane, a research fellow in education policy studies at AEI and one of the authors of the study, “The Paperwork Pile-Up: Measuring the Burden of Charter School Applications.”

“Our analysis shows that many of the regulatory problems that plague traditional public schools are seeping into charter schooling.”

The report noted charter schools began with a clear bargain in mind: Charter authorizers would give operators autonomy to run schools as they saw fit as long as those schools met predetermined performance metrics.

“The AEI report confirms what education reform advocates have observed for years,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation. “When given the chance, state education bureaucracies will find ways to suffocate innovation with red tape. One unintended consequence is that excessive application requirements favor larger charter school networks that have resources typically not available to community-based enterprises.”

The AEI study says the charter process involves balancing accountability and autonomy and that the current process tilts too heavily toward accountability, with charter authorizers requiring unnecessarily extensive, time-consuming applications.

“There is little evidence that additional paperwork requirements have improved charter school authorizing,” Stoops said. “It is much easier to successfully navigate even the most elaborate application process than to operate a successful charter school. I fear that, over time, charter schools will become more homogenized and less diverse, largely indistinguishable from the district schools in design and operation.” 

Defeating the Purpose

These greater paperwork burdens defeat the purpose of charter schools, argued Lindsey Burke, a fellow in education at The Heritage Foundation.

“The main point of charter schools is to provide students with options in addition to their assigned public school and to infuse innovation in the system,” Burke said. “As with any sector, when the paperwork or cost of entry into the market is overly burdensome, that often keeps prospective innovators and upstarts out, while advantaging larger and longer-standing institutions.

“In order to truly infuse choice and market forces into the charter sector, burdensome regulations and red tape need to be kept to a minimum so school leaders can get on with their work of educating the students that seek their model out,” Burke said.

Wasting Schools’ Resources

AEI’s report says cutting unnecessary or inappropriate requirements could shorten the average charter application by one-third, which would save applicants more than 700 hours of work and avoid wasting resources better spent on educating students.

“As with any emerging idea or movement, bureaucracies seek only to reduce failure by regulation, which inherently smothers the very innovations and accountabilities the movement was intended to create,” said Jonathan Hage, founder, chairman, president, and CEO of Charter Schools USA, Inc.

“Charter schools are not immune from this encroachment and must learn to self-regulate where needed, adapt and evolve where necessary, and coalesce and fight when they must,” Hage said. “Ultimately, only performance will protect the model from being regulated into the blob it seeks to challenge and improve.”

D. Brady Nelson is a Washington, DC-based neo-Austrian economist, writer, and speaker from Brisbane, Australia and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is a columnist with Townhall and Townhall Finance.

Image by David Wall. 

Internet Info:

Michael Q. McShane, Jenn Hatfield, and Elizabeth English, “The Paperwork Pile-Up: Measuring the Burden of Charter School Applications,” American Enterprise Institute: