Authorizing by the Numbers

Authorizing By the Numbers

We spend plenty of time talking about the why and how of our work, as we seek to ensure more high-quality, innovative, and equitable educational opportunities for children. But every few years, it’s critical that we also talk about the who. Who is doing the work of charter school authorizing today, how is that changing, and why does that matter?

We’re pleased to present Authorizing by the Numbers, a comprehensive study of the numbers and types of authorizers, the size of their portfolios, and how authorizing has changed from 2016 to 2020.

Thank you to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools for their partnership with data collection.

LEGEND

Types of Authorizers

NEG: Non-Educational Government Entity
NFP: Nonprofit Organization
SEA: State Education Agency
HEI: Higher Education Institution
ICB: Independent Chartering Board
LEA: Local Education Agency


Fewer authorizers oversee more charter schools, and the data suggests that’s generally a good thing.

There were nearly 70 net fewer authorizers in 2020 compared to 2016, but remaining authorizers oversee a growing charter school sector. It’s also notable that there are some additional Independent Charter Board (ICB) and State Education Agency (SEA) authorizers, as those types of authorizers have grown their portfolios of schools more rapidly than other authorizer types.

Where is Charter School Growth Coming From?

This figure shows the change in schools overseen by authorizing type in 2016 and 2020. It shows that while nearly types of authorizers are overseeing more charter schools in 2020 com - pared to 2016 – showing broad growth – some authorizing types are overseeing significantly more schools: state education agency (SEA) authorizers, for example, oversaw 1,378 schools in 2016, and that number had risen to 1,668 schools overseen in 2020 which is nearly a 300-school net increase.

Number of Authorizers Over Time

This figure shows the number of authorizers by year from 2011 to 2020.

Rate of Authorizors to Schools Overseen by Type in 2016-2020

This figure shows the ratio of charter schools per authorizer overall and by type in 2016 and 2020. It shows, for example, that the aggregate ratio of schools per authorizer has increased, from 6.69 charter schools for every authorizer in 2016 to about 8 charter schools for every authorizer in 2020.


Authorizers exiting the profession oversaw few charter schools: 95% of authorizers exiting oversaw three or fewer schools, including more than three-quarters that oversaw only one school. Exiting authorizers also seem to be disproportionately confined to just a few multi-authorizer states, including places that implemented state policies designed to evaluate and strengthen authorizing, like Ohio and Minnesota.

Number of Schools Overseen When Exiting (2016-2020)

This figure shows the cumulative proportion of authorizers by number of schools overseen when authorizers exited the profession between 2016 and 2020. It shows, for example, that 77 percent of authorizers exiting the profession oversaw only 1 school, and 99 percent of authorizers exiting the profession oversaw 5 or fewer schools.

Changes in Authorizing (2016-2020)

This chart shows the proportion of authorizers by state in 2016, and the proportion of exiting and new authorizers by state between 2016 and 2020. The 2016 proportion of authorizers is provided as a benchmark to evaluate the magnitude of exiting and new authorizers: all other things being equal, one might expect the 2016 proportion to roughly match the proportion of exiting and new authorizers. In some instances that is not the case. For example, while the state of Ohio was home to 6 percent of all authorizers in the country in 2016, the state accounted for 26 percent of all exiting authorizers and zero percent of all new authorizers between 2016 and 2020.

Changes in Authorizing (2016-2020) Continued

This chart shows the proportion of authorizers by state in 2016, and the proportion of exiting and new authorizers by state between 2016 and 2020. The 2016 proportion of authorizers is provided as a benchmark to evaluate the magnitude of exiting and new authorizers: all other things being equal, one might expect the 2016 proportion to roughly match the proportion of exiting and new authorizers. In some instances that is not the case. For example, while the state of Ohio was home to 6 percent of all authorizers in the country in 2016, the state accounted for 26 percent of all exiting authorizers and zero percent of all new authorizers between 2016 and 2020.


There is churn among school district authorizers.

The vast majority of institutions leaving and entering authorizing are school district authorizers overseeing few charter schools.

Changes in Authorizing: New & Exiting Authorizers by Type

This figure shows the number of exiting and new authorizers by type between 2016 and 2020. It shows, for example, that 148 local education agency (LEA) authorizers exited authorizing and 88 new LEA authorizers entered the field between 2016 and 2020.


While school districts remain the biggest group of authorizers, the data also shows that they do not oversee the majority of our nation’s charter schools: only 48% of all charters were overseen by districts in 2020, down from 52% in 2016.

Number of Authorizers by Type

This figure shows the number of authorizers by type in 2016 and 2020. It shows, for example, that there were 47 higher education institution (HEI) authorizers in 2016, and that number dropped to 39 in 2020.

Proportion of Schools Overseen by Type

This figure shows the proportion of charter schools overseen by authorizing type in 2016 and 2020. It shows, for example, that state education agency (SEA) authorizers oversaw 20 percent of all charter schools in 2016, and that proportion increased to 22 percent in 2020.


As high-quality charter schooling expands, innovative thinking about who authorizes could be key to expanding quality opportunities for students.

NACSA will continue to support policies that enable potential charter schools to have access to more than one quality authorizer within a state, along with policies and practices ensuring that multiple authorizers do not dilute quality. Interesting ideas like specialized authorizing focused on new ways of organizing teaching and learning, not only can provide high-quality, innovative, and equitable educational opportunities, but may also lead to a more diverse, thriving profession resulting in stronger student outcomes.

New Opportunities for Authorizing

NACSA continues to work towards expanding who authorizes. One way to do that is expanding access to the types of authorizers available in each state. Here are the types allowable by state today. In 2022 Florida created the Charter School Review Commission within the Department of Education to review and approve applications for charter schools overseen by district school boards. The Commission can review and approve charter school applications, but the district where the school is located will be the authorizer.


THE IMPACT OF THIS RESEARCH

Over the coming months, we will explore these and other key themes more deeply to extract key learnings for authorizing, policymaking, and other school oversight approaches. Be on the lookout for additional data, perspectives, webinars, and more.

We’ll also discuss the impact of this research at our upcoming leadership conference, NACSACon 2022: Excellence from Communities. If you haven’t already registered, it isn’t too late! Come and be part of some fascinating and inspiring conversations as we build the future of authorizing.

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