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Newswire: June 4, 2013

Vol. 15, No. 22

LOOKING BACK TO MOVE FORWARD. CER President Jeanne Allen is in Boston, MA today for a look at authorizing in The Bay State, sponsored by the Pioneer Institute. Cara Stillings Candal just authored a fantastic paper for Pioneer on the history of the charter movement in Massachusetts and how the authorizing process has gone from broad to narrow over its course, despite great student achievement. While the state has been a strong authorizer over the years, proven by the high-quality schools they’ve authorized, there are concerns that they are constraining the independence and innovation of charters by focusing on replication, inputs not outputs, and adding unnecessary regulations. In addition to removing the cap, the paper recommends what CER has been advocating for years: multiple authorizers to allow for increased innovation in Massachusetts and “maintain(ing) the rigor and integrity of the charter authorization process.”

SPEAKING OF MULTIPLE AUTHORIZERS. It’s becoming all too clear that Massachusetts isn’t the only state whose charter movement is experiencing problems with a single authorizer model. While local NC boards can authorize with state board approval, and the state board alone can approve Dept. of Ed managed charter applications, there is still much work to be done. A proposal pending in the state senate and passed by the NC house creating the NC Public Charter School Board isn’t the answer though, and thankfully, it’s unlikely the senate will act on this. The reality is that the potential for improving authorizing in the Tarheel State already exists because current law permits the establishment of university authorizers, if approved by the state board. The university as authorizer model is a clear winner in NY, MI and elsewhere, and states looking to improve should follow.

WELCOMED NEWS. Tennessee’s failed proposal to establish a “statewide authorizer” that would have created a charter commission tied to the State Department of Education is welcomed news for the very reasons mentioned in this Newswire. The proposed commission would be no less bureaucratic than authorizers that already exist, local districts and the Achievement School District (ASD), which was created to help areas of the state with persistently failing schools. Barriers to charter school growth would continue to be an issue and overtime, the Dept. of Ed would begin to look at this new division as a burden and drain on their system.

DON’T FIX WHAT AIN’T BROKE. Washington, DC’s Public Charter School Board has been a model of excellence. The independent DCPCSB has been the sole authorizer in the District since the school board initially gave up its very deficient oversight in 2007, and because the DC charter board is truly independent, it has been able to focus relentlessly on chartering well and strong stewardship. Some have come to question whether this is changing. Staff and board attitudes toward new innovations and new actors in DC have been negative, and the DCPCSB is reportedly becoming more bureaucratic in its ways. The fact that DC Mayor Vincent Gray and Chancellor Kaya Henderson now want DCPS to get back into the authorizing business again might be a good competitive kick to the DC Public Charter School Board. Chancellor Henderson wants to be able to “create schools free of bureaucratic rules and regulations that she said hamper traditional schools.” She actually already has that authority, and it is important to note that nationwide, school districts are responsible for most of the 15% of closed charters. But if the council really wants to extend the Chancellor additional authority, it should also extend authority to approve charter schools to reputable universities with experience and knowledge of the community. The School Reform Act empowers the city council to approve the inclusion of other entities. The University of the District of Columbia and Howard University are two natural fits that could follow in the successful footsteps of New York and Michigan higher education institutions, to name just two.

A BAD CHOICE. A pending proposal in New Jersey is also a bad idea because it calls for local voter approval of charters, imposes more bureaucracy in the name of increased standards, and creates a new nine-member charter school review board. It is the antithesis of sound charter school policy, and is another attempt by opponents to squash the modest charter movement that New Jersey has developed over the past 18 years. Introduced by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), who unapologetically has never been a fan of charter schools, the bill caters to the cries of the Garden State’s establishment who believe any choice not made by centralized districts is a bad choice.

DOOMED TO FAIL. Why so many bad proposals out there that are doomed to fail? Clearly, policymakers didn’t get the memo and haven’t seen CER’s The Essential Guide to Charter School Lawmaking: Model Legislation for States Grounded in Experience and Practice.

As legislatures begin to wind down for a summer break, it is time to look at what real experience can provide. States with truly independent and multiple authorizers have demonstrated that both high quality and a high quantity of charter schools are possible. In most cases, universities have proven to be the best authorizers, combining existing higher education entities with an infrastructure that is accustomed to public and legislative scrutiny while creating new innovations in K-12 education. They stand as a blueprint for all states to follow.