Progress Since 2012



In 2012, NACSA began formally evaluating state charter laws and ranking them on the eight cornerstone policies in this report. That work set a baseline by which to measure yearly progress towards stronger charter school laws.

Today, these four years of data tell a story of improvement. Two years ago, in the wake of NACSA’s first public report, 14 states improved their charter laws by adopting one or more of NACSA’s recommended policies. Some key changes in the past year are noteworthy:

Michigan established a minimum threshold for charter school performance and default closure of schools falling below that threshold. It also established a simplified A-F accountability system for all Detroit schools and created an accreditation requirement for any authorizer seeking to open a new charter school in the city.

Missouri made it easier for high-performing charter schools to replicate and now requires annual reports on charter school performance.

New York’s courts affirmed the rights of authorizers to enforce a strong standard of renewal.

In Washington, a remarkable grassroots advocacy campaign restored the state’s charter school law. Washington now receives a perfect score on NACSA’s policy analysis.

While only a handful or so of states had an actual change in score, lawmakers’ attention to charter school issues in 2016 continued to be high. NACSA tracked a number of additional policies that—while not part of its current scoring methodology—impact charter school access, autonomy, and accountability. Of these issues, student equity was by far the most debated on legislative floors in 2016. Equity is a necessary precursor to meaningful access—it’s how children are assisted in overcoming early life disadvantages that would otherwise prevent access to great schools. NACSA uses the term “equity” broadly to encompass bills making changes to ensure that all students are fairly served. This includes bills addressing student discipline; lottery and enrollment processes; and protections for English language learners, students with disabilities, and other special student populations.

Legislators also paid much attention this year to the regulation of relationships between charter schools and management organizations. A network of schools under a common management operator is a relatively new structure and presents unique challenges in the areas of transparency, accountability, and the use of public funds. Authorizers play a key role in holding charter networks accountable to public systems for financial oversight and ensuring that all schools are spending tax dollars appropriately.

Finally, charter school facility and funding issues also dominated many legislative agendas. All of these challenges—equity, transparency, and funding—impact the core issues of access, autonomy, and accountability and reflect the continuing evolution of charter school policy.


Year-to-year change tells only part of the story. In this third edition of the State Policy Analysis, NACSA goes beyond its annual update to look at cumulative changes since 2012.

NACSA’s state policy agenda is part of its broader goal to improve the lives of children by improving public school options. This goal is driving NACSA’s One Million Lives (OML) initiative, launched in 2012 to engage authorizers and a broad coalition willing to close failing charter schools and open many more good ones. This goal is in sight: at the end of five years (or by the end of school year 2016-17), one million more children will be attending 3,000 high-performing charter schools than attended in 2012.

Smart policies, strong practices, and talented people are vital components of the OML initiative, and experience shows that states with NACSA’s eight recommended policies in place are better positioned to do the hard work of creating and sustaining great public schools.

Seeing progress: half of all charter states have stronger laws

During the last four years, thanks to the collaborative work of partners across the country, 23 states—just more than half of all states with a charter school law—have strengthened their laws by adopting one or more of the eight bedrock policies. These policy changes will positively impact more than one million students enrolled in charter schools in these 23 states, more than one-third of all charter students nationally. 

  • Accountability and quality improvements: Of the 23 states that adopted one or more of NACSA’s core recommended policies since 2012, 15 states have made improvements to address both authorizer quality and school accountability.
  • Strong new laws in three states: Three states that did not have charter school laws in 2012 (Alabama, Mississippi, and Washington) now do, and these laws are among the strongest in the country, setting up these developing charter sectors for success.
  • Progress in big leaps: In five states with some of the weakest charter school oversight policies in 2012 (Delaware, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee), reform coalitions have achieved significant improvements in charter laws, moving these states into the top tier of states in NACSA’s state policy analysis.

Policy change is happening where it is needed most

Policy change is complex work, influenced by social and political trends and alliances. One point can be made without qualification: policy change is happening where it is needed most. A number of the states making the most significant improvements to charter school oversight policies rank in the bottom half of states on poverty and academic achievement statistics and have large populations of historically underserved students. In these states, the need for high-quality school options is most dire. The impact of these reforms will take time, steady leadership, and a commitment to continuous improvement in order to fully manifest, but these reforms provide a solid foundation for change.

Where to focus:

  • States with the most charter students: States with the highest charter school enrollment merit special attention, since their policies impact the largest number of students. Three of these states—California, Florida, and Pennsylvania—are particularly ripe for continued involvement by NACSA and others to strengthen their state policies, since their score on NACSA’s rubric has not improved (or in California’s case, has improved only minimally) during the last four years.
  • States with the lowest policy scores: More than one million students are currently enrolled in charter schools in the bottom third of states, based on their state’s policy score. While many children still attend excellent charter schools in these states, that is generally by virtue of dedicated professionals working at a local level to achieve great things, not because of a solid foundation of policies to reinforce and support strong chartering outcomes. It’s time to change that.

As the charter school sector continues to evolve, NACSA is committed to the continual examination and adaptation of its policy approach and analysis. NACSA is dedicated to ensuring that the policies it promotes are supported by the best evidence available to support authorizers, charter schools, and, most importantly, strong student outcomes.

Cumulative State Policy Changes


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