This week the Democratic Party is set to adopt its 2020 party platform at its virtual convention. NACSA commends the platform for its strong support of public education, with calls to increase Title I funding and fully fund IDEA obligations for the first time in history. These are admirable positions that ensure equitable access to education.
You cannot have great charter schools without great authorizing. Unfortunately, authorizing quality varies across the country. NACSA exists to strengthen authorizing, and we believe that while this platform highlights some of the issues that exist within the sector, it also demonstrates four fundamental misunderstandings of the robust oversight that charter school authorizing provides and the tools authorizers rely on to do their jobs.
Charter Schools Need More Guardrails and Accountability
Authorizing is the powerful guardrail that ensures every charter school is held accountable. Authorizers regularly monitor charter school operations, examine charter school performance, and report to the public on their results. Generally, they decide if a charter school has earned the right to remain open every five years. Through all of this, charter schools take the same state assessments and are scored in the same way as other public schools. Annual assessments are critical for charter school accountability and should not be curtailed – we cannot go back to a day when unconscionable achievement and opportunity gaps were not addressed. Authorizers should continue to have high standards and also expand how they measure and assess school quality, including more than just test scores, to paint a more holistic view of school excellence.
Charter Schools Must Follow the Same Federal Laws and Transparency Practices as Traditional Public Schools
The idea that charter schools do not already follow these federal laws is a myth. An authorizer’s most important responsibility is to uphold student and public interests, which includes civil rights protections, racial equity, admissions practices, disciplinary procedures, and school finances. Authorizers review each school’s policies and practices annually to ensure they are following the letter and spirit of these laws, which can also require schools to fix something wrong immediately or risk being shut down.
More Oversight Is Needed to Ensure Charter Schools Are Good Stewards of Federal Education Funds
Authorizers review annual financial audits of their charter schools, measure charter schools against strict financial performance frameworks, and require schools to account for all public dollars received and spent—federal, state, and local. This is in addition to the oversight that charter school governing boards, SEAs, and the US Department of Education provide.
Federal Funding for Charter Schools Should Be Conditioned by a School District’s Review of Whether the Charter School Will Systematically Underserve the Neediest Students
School review should be done by an expert in charter school oversight—a charter school authorizer. All public schools, charter schools included, must serve all students. Period. No public school should be allowed to open or remain open if it systematically denies access to any student population.
NACSA endorses the platform’s emphasis that all students deserve access to a quality public education. However, it falls flat when it comes to charter school oversight, charter schools, and annual testing. We look forward to working with the party to acknowledge the important role that charter school authorizers play in education, and the power charter schools have to provide educational options that meet the unique needs of every child.