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New laws press for charter school accountability

Legislative action around charter schools continues, with many states creating new provisions for funding and facilities
Students attending the charter PRIDE Prep in Spokane, Washington may need to find a new school in coming months, as the state’s Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the 2012 law allowing charter schools.
Students attending the charter PRIDE Prep in Spokane, Washington may need to find a new school in coming months, as the state’s Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the 2012 law allowing charter schools.

Recent surges in charter enrollment—and reported scandals—have led some states to pass new laws that seek more accountability from the schools, their administrators and their sponsors.

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws permitting charter schools to operate. In 2013-14, 2.57 million students enrolled in charters nationwide—up from 1.29 million in 2007-08, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Legislative action around charter schools in each of the 43 states continues, with many creating new provisions for funding and facilities as enrollment grows, says Todd Zeibarth, senior vice president for state advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Research on charter performance is mixed, however.

“Each year we’ve seen state environments become more favorable to the growth of high-quality schools,” Zeibarth says. “It’s important the laws are not just allowing as many charters as possible—we’re seeing both expansion and accountability strengthen.”

An ‘unconstitutional’ law

In September, Washington’s Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the 2012 law allowing charter schools in the state. The court found that charters do not qualify as public schools under the Washington Constitution, as they are not governed by public officials, and therefore cannot receive public funding. The law affects nine schools.

“At this stage, there’s not a big impact,” says Bill Keim, executive director of the Washington Association of School Administrators. “Only about 1,200 students out of 1 million in the state have left local school districts to go into a charter.”

Pending a change from the legislature, the nine charters will have to find alternate funding sources or close down.

A government audit later in September found that Washington’s first charter, First Place Scholars, reported incorrect information about its staff and enrollment for 2014-15, and received about $200,000 more in public money than it should have.

Increased supervision

Ohio’s state charter school director resigned in August after acknowledging that he had omitted failing test scores from the evaluations of some online charters and dropout recovery charters.

At press time, a bipartisan bill pending in the state Legislature would impose new accountability standards on Ohio charter sponsors. It would block poorly performing charters from switching sponsors, and poorly performing sponsors from sponsoring other charter locations.

It would also require charters to release more information about contracts, facility costs, attendance policies and other operational details.