Charter Schools in the States - A Series of Briefs


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Scientific Flask

Charter schools are publicly funded, privately managed and semi-autonomous schools of choice. They do not charge tuition. They must hold to the same academic accountability measures as traditional schools. They receive public funding similarly to traditional schools. However, they have more freedom
over their budgets, staffing, curricula and other operations. In exchange for this freedom, they must deliver academic results and there must be enough community demand for them to remain open.

The number of charter schools has continued to grow since the first charter law was passed in Minnesota in 1991. Some have delivered great academic results, but others have closed because they did not deliver onpromised results.

Because state laws enable and govern charter schools, state legislatures are important to ensuring their quality.

This series provides information about charter schools and state policy topics, including finance, authorization, limits to expansion, teaching, facilities and student achievement.

Teaching in Charter Schools

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Effective teaching is the key to successful student achievement. State legislators who hope to boost student success by providing more school choice through creation of charter schools also will want to consider whether state charter school policies ensure effective teaching in those schools.

This brief discusses the following topics related to teaching in charter schools:

  • Licensure
  • Turnover
  • Compensation
  • Collective Bargaining
  • State policies that support effective charter school teaching
  • State policy questions to consider

Student Achievement in Charter Schools

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Since the first charter schools opened in the 1990s, policymakers, parents and researchers have wanted to know whether student success or failure in charters differs from traditional schools. The question is fundamental to evaluating the charter school experiment. Twenty years after the charter school movement began, the answer to this question remains unclear.

This brief explores what has been learned from recent research on student achievement in charter schools, how that achievement compares to traditional public schools, and what policies states are considering to evaluate student achievement in charter schools.

This brief discusses the following topics related to student achievement in charter schools:

  • Recent research comparing charters to traditional schools
  • The State Role in Student Achievement
  • State policy questions to consider

Charter School Facilities

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Research shows a significant relationship between the condition of school facilities and student performance. Public schools of all kinds find it difficult to provide adequate learning facilities with their limited budgets. Charter schools in particular, however, struggle to provide school facilities that match the quality of traditional public schools.

As charter schools take their place as an established component of public education systems state legislatures will face questions about the kind of facilities to which charter schools have access. Included in this discussion are policy options for states to consider to ensure adequate funding for charter school facilities, and the inequities that exist between traditional and charter school facilities due to charter schools’ inability to secure such funding.

This brief discusses the following topics related to charter school facilities:

  • Differences between charters and traditional school facilities
  • Sources of charter school facility funding
  • State policy questions to consider

Charter School Caps

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Charter school caps limit the number of charter schools that can be opened or the number of students that can be enrolled in charter schools in a state. Whether to cap is a fundamental decision facing all states that have or are considering charter schools legislation. Since the first charter school laws were passed in 1991, whether to have caps and what those caps should be have been important policy questions.

This brief discusses the following topics related to charter school caps:

  • Overview of existing caps in the states
  • History of charter school caps
  • Why do states have caps?
  • State policy questions to consider

Authorizing Charter Schools

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After two decades of experience with charter schools, state legislators want to ensure these schools are effective. According to the Center for Reinventing Education, recent legislation deals more with expansion and quality than early charter school legislation did. The process of authorizing charter schools addresses both the number of schools to be allowed and the quality of the schools. Thus, the topic of authorizing is relevant and important to current debates. Authorizing is the process of approving an application for a charter, negotiating a contract, overseeing a school and deciding whether to close a school at the end of its charter or renew its contract. State laws dictate which entities have authorizing powers and the roles they play in holding charter schools accountable for effectiveness.

Rigorous authorizing is critical to ensuring high-quality charter schools. State legislators pass laws about charter school operations and are publicly accountable for ensuring quality. The authorizers, however, directly hold charters accountable for results. Authorizers not only allow promising applicants to open schools, but also close ineffective schools.

When charter laws were first enacted, school districts were the main authorizers. Later, states allowed other types of organizations to become authorizers in order to allow growth of charter schools, create competition and ensure quality authorizing. Quantity alone, however, did not have the intended effect on quality. Now, stakeholders are focusing on quality in legislation and practices. This brief covers what authorizers do, identifies who authorizers are, discusses state authorizing policies and offers policy questions for consideration.

This brief discusses the following topics related to the authorizing of charter schools:

  • What do authorizers do?
  • Who are authorizers?
  • Components of effective
    authorizing policies
  • State policy questions to consider

Charter School Finance

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Charter schools are growing rapidly nationwide. Since the first charter school law passed in Minnesota in 1991, forty states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing the publicly funded, privately managed and semi-autonomous schools of choice. Charter schools now educate more than 3 percent of all public school students, and the proportion of students enrolled continues to increase at more than 10 percent a year, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. As with traditional public schools, funding for charter schools varies significantly across states and districts. The central question in most debates about charter school funding is the level of funding. Some claim it is unfair that charters receive less funding per pupil than traditional public schools, while others argue that the different nature of charter schools justify lower funding. (Funding for charter school facilities is addressed in a separate NCSL brief.)

This brief discusses the following topics related to charter school expenditures and revenues:

  • How charter schools are funded
  • Types of charter funding
  • Tradeoffs between the different types of funding
  • Charter school and traditional school funding differences
  • State policy questions to consider