Charter school laws vary from state to state—with some more flawed than others—but NSBA can help school boards by asking Congress to avoid legislation that encourages states to adopt more bad policies.
So NSBA is arguing against legislation that might encourage states to lift their caps on charter schools or expand the entities that can authorize new charter schools, said NSBA legislative analyst Katherine Shek, who spoke Monday on a panel about charter schools at NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference.
That doesn’t mean that NSBA opposes charter schools as a matter of policy, she added. Instead, NSBA’s message to Congress is that the school board should be the sole authorizing body for charter schools, charter funding should not be at the expense of the traditional community schools, and charter schools should be held to the same accountability standards as other schools.
This message is important to present because some members of Congress don’t fully understand the influence of bad policy—or how they can inadvertently encourage such policy at the state level, Shek said.
In its Race to the Top grant program, for example, a number of states lifted their caps on charters to improve their chances of winning grant money—“basically encouraging states to have a more charter-friendly policy without considering other factors,” she said.
What’s more, as it works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the House’s latest legislative proposal would give federal grant priority to states that supported multiple charter authorizers.
“So we’re having a conversation with members of Congress … there has been some evidence that multiple authorizers [in states] were associated with weaker student performance.”
Local school boards can help their advocacy efforts regarding charter schools by pointing out the fallacy of many myths that are circulated during legislative deliberations, said fellow panelist Jim Hull, senior policy analyst for NSBA’s Center for Public Education.
There is a misperception that school boards oppose charter schools and are quick to deny charter applications, he said. That’s not true. In fact, he added, the data reveals that school boards are not adverse to approving new charters—and they take their duties very seriously.
“They spend a lot of time and energy being authorizers,” Hull said.
Nor are all school boards guilty of claims that they impede charter school organizers in acquiring adequate facilities for their schools, he said. Many state laws require school district assistance, and data indicates that it’s very common for school boards to provide charter schools with district facilities or financial support for acquiring facilities.
“There is no evidence that districts are an impediment to the expansion of charter schools.”
Finally, panelist David Stone, a board member in Baltimore, Md., shared his school district’s experience with charters.
His school board has embraced charters as one of many strategies for providing improved services to students—and many district-run schools now mirror some of the independent traits of charters.
“We strongly believe resources should be in the schools, with schools having autonomy and decision-making over its resources … and our central office is there to provide guidance and support and oversight,” he said. “In fact, we try to make every school [like] a charter school.”
But, to the clear envy of the audience, he acknowledged his school system has a distinct advantage over many school boards: Under Maryland law, the school board is the sole authorizing body of charters.