Independent Chartering Boards (ICBs)—sometimes known as state charter commissions or statewide alternate authorizers—authorize statewide. ICB members, usually appointed by elected officials, oversee authorizing work, including the hiring of staff. Although an ICB may share some resources with the state’s department of education, it is a distinct entity. NACSA recommends that states consider ICBs as part of their authorizing landscape, given their benefits, depending on state-specific context.
- ICBs provide expertise, scale, and capacity. ICBs specialize in authorizing. Because it is their only function, boards and staff can and should focus solely on becoming outstanding authorizers. Additionally, with statewide jurisdiction, ICBs tend to have large portfolios and thus employ professional, dedicated authorizing staff.
- ICBs can help ensure that charter schools have access to at least one high-quality authorizer. In some states, having only one type of authorizer can be too limiting, while having too many authorizers undercuts quality. A mix, with a small number of authorizers in any single place—including one independent statewide authorizer, such as an ICB—can promote high-quality in the charter school sector.
While there are many benefits of ICBs, they are, of course, challenges:
- There may be real or perceived distance from local communities. Board members appointed by statewide officials may be seen as more distant to local voters. In areas where local control is especially valued, it may be difficult to justify the benefits of an ICB. This may also be the case if the state’s constitution requires local control.
- Community buy-in may be limited due to ICB composition. This distance from communities—whether real or perceived—can be particularly challenging if ICB members and staff do not reflect the diversity of students in the state, or if they don’t spend a sufficient amount of time with stakeholders in various communities.
Given that community-centeredness is essential to good authorizing, these challenges are especially important to solve. Some ICBs have tried to address this by including appointees from the largest chartering communities or by choosing appointees with expertise in community engagement.
ICBs must be able to respond to the needs of local communities. That is why a recent bill in the Virginia legislature caught our attention. The bill would have, potentially, resulted in more charter schools in the state by creating a unique authorizing structure beyond just local school districts via “regional charter school divisions.” In practice, these divisions would have operated similar to ICBs with one key difference: instead of being statewide, they would be more localized and support no more than three school district areas. Members would have been appointed by the State Board of Education and local school districts.
While the bill didn’t make it out of committee, the concept of regional ICBs is one that we believe could have staying power. These regional authorizers could help address the challenges of community buy-in and local accountability by ensuring that individuals who are part of and deeply familiar with a community are privileged with the power to authorize. If additional policymakers decide to pursue this new idea of regional ICBs, there are some considerations NACSA encourages:
- Exercise caution in who and how board members are appointed so communities can be confident they are fairly represented. It may be wise to have potential member candidates apply for the role so their knowledge and commitment can be assessed. Make purposeful efforts to ensure that appointees reflect the diversity of the community they would serve.
- Require all members of any authorizer board to participate in authorizing trainings based on national best practices so all understand their roles and the principles and standards that should govern authorizing practices.