The Problem with Authorizer Shopping
The public charter school movement is premised on the exchange of increased autonomy for increased accountability. Individual schools are given more flexibility in their actions, and then must meet agreed-upon benchmarks of quality. If a school fails to fulfill the terms of its charter or achieve its stated goals, it can be closed.
However, charter schools that are identified for closure do not always shut their doors. Even as charter school authorizers have become more adept at evaluating school performance and enforcing accountability, some schools have tried to avoid closure altogether. One way that schools evade closure is through authorizer shopping: when a struggling school transfers to a new authorizer to avoid accountability. Experience shows that authorizer shopping is a threat to a state’s overall charter school quality if even one authorizer is willing and able to accept failing schools.
Frequently Asked Questions
- A school can let its current contract expire or be formally non-renewed or revoked and pursue a successive new school contract with a new authorizer. In this scenario, the failed charter school’s existing contract is terminated, but a new charter contract from the new authorizer enables the school to remain open.
- A school can transfer to a new authorizer during its charter term. This happens as it becomes clear, through regular school-level performance reports or other authorizer action, that the school will likely fail to uphold the terms of its charter, and its authorizer will revoke or not renew its contract. The new authorizer assumes responsibility for the school during the remainder of its charter term and is responsible for the subsequent renewal, which will likely be granted, despite evidence of failed performance.
- Limit the conditions for transferring authorizers. States can require a third-party approval for transfer (such as from the Department of Education) or prohibit or impose conditions on the transfer of chronically low-performing schools.
- Make closure the default action for chronically low-performing schools. Default closure laws ensure that chronically low-performing charter schools are closed, absent extenuating circumstances identified by their authorizer. In addition, laws should ensure that schools closed for performance remain closed and prohibit authorizers from authorizing schools that have been closed.
- Identify an entity to handle exceptions. Extenuating circumstances can arise and state policy should identify which entity can determine if a legitimate exception needs to be made.
- Adopt standards for charter school authorizing, such as NACSA’s Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing, to create universal expectations for authorizer practices.
- Evaluate authorizers on how well they meet those expectations for authorizer practice.
- Require authorizers to publicly report on the academic, fiscal, and operational health of schools in their portfolios.
- Set clear expectations for how and when the state will hold authorizers accountable for both the performance of schools in their portfolios and for authorizer actions.
- Empower the state to act if an authorizer fails to meet those expectations for portfolio or authorizer performance, including sanctions on or closing the authorizer, if need be.
- Fund authorizers in a way that minimizes incentives to approve or renew low-performing schools.
NACSA Policy Recommendations
To prevent authorizer shopping NACSA recommends that states focus on enacting policies that hold both schools and authorizers accountable to high standards. States should enact policies that:
- Regulate the transfer of charter schools from one authorizer to another;
- Prevent charter schools that are closed by one authorizer from securing a new authorizer;
- Strengthen the authorizing laws that hold authorizers accountable for their actions. This starts with clearly defined standards and expectations for authorizers and includes regular authorizer reporting, evaluation, and, when necessary, sanctioning of failing authorizers.