Research & Commentary: Multiple Charter School Authorizers

Published October 22, 2012

Of the 41 states that allow charter schools, approximately 18 allow viable multiple authorizers to applicants hoping to open the schools, which are fully public but given freedom in matters such as curriculum, budget, and staffing in return for a higher likelihood of closure and tighter oversight. Most states allow local school districts to authorize charter schools, but many provide no alternative to the state’s education establishment.

Few charter schools exist in most states where those hoping to start such a school must apply to local school boards that run schools that would be forced to compete with any new charters.

Those who oppose charter schools or charter schools independent of the education establishment argue school boards represent local control and therefore should be allowed to prevent new education opportunities from arising in their districts. They also speak of the need for state oversight of taxpayer dollars and say waste and fraud would occur without centralized control.

Charter school proponents generally recommend allowing several different institutions to authorize the schools so that different groups can specialize and compete, thus increasing the number and quality of education options open to families. They note the inherent contradiction in giving school boards power over their competitors, and they argue charters offer a better version of local control because children attend them only through their family’s choice. This means the families control the school directly because their actions determine whether the school can exist at all.

For states that want the highest education quality and greatest choice within the public school system, allowing multiple charter school authorizers is a proven way of doing so.

The following documents offer more information about multiple charter school authorizers.


Authorizing Charter Schools
The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a brief overview of how charter school authorizers work, the comparative advantages and disadvantages of the various entities states allow to authorize charter schools, and components of effective authorizing policies.

Charter Public Schools Authorizer’s Primer: A Guide for Illinois School Districts
This primer introduces the basics of Illinois charter schools and charter school authorizing. It explains how districts can benefit from incorporating charters, such as by creating diverse educational portfolios that increase options available to students and families, bringing innovation into public education, and improving student outcomes. It provides step-by-step advice on how to create an effective and efficient authorizing process to help nurture successful new charter schools in local districts.

The Importance of Multiple Authorizers in Charter School Laws
The best charter school laws allow for multiple authorizers because states that do so have more and better charter schools, concludes this policy update from the Center for Education Reform. Allowing multiple authorizers is important because traditional state and local school boards often view charters as hostile competitors and reject their applications not on merit but because of politics and self-interest. The study outlines the experience of 16 states offering multiple authorizers and answers central legal and practical questions.

Multiple Charter Authorizing Options
The presence of multiple authorizers can strengthen a state’s charter school sector because this diversity promotes professionalism among authorizers and provides checks and balances in charter approval, oversight, and renewal decisions, states this policy guide from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. It compares different arrangements for multiple authorizers, lists key considerations on the topic, and presents recommendations for policymakers. These include: allow authorizers that will embrace the chartering role, ensure that authorizers have sufficient resources to do their work, and offer applicants at least two quality authorizer options in any given jurisdiction.

High-Stakes: Findings from a National Study of Life-or-Death Decisions by Charter School Authorizers
The Brookings Institution reviewed the authorization decisions of 50 randomly selected charter school authorizers to draw conclusions about how well authorizers supervise their schools. Bryan C. Hassel and Meagan Batdorff conclude states should allow multiple and non-district authorizers because quality increases with the number of decisions an authorizer makes and school boards are not likely to make many. School boards are also more likely to make decisions based on politics rather than merit. States also should ensure authorizers have the resources and capacity to do their jobs and ensure transparency of the decision-making process.

The State of Charter School Authorizing 2011
Good implementation of key practices influences whether charter school authorizers approve strong applicants and close underperforming schools, concludes this annual report from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. It includes an index of essential practices and reviews every state’s number and type of charter school authorizers and the school portfolios they hold. Fewer charter schools are being closed for poor performance, and states with multiple authorizers have more charter schools, the report notes.


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If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].