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Advocacy Group Offers a Prototype for Charter School Law

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For the past few years, states have been busy writing and revising their laws on charter schools—in most cases, with an eye toward expansion. Today, a pro-charter advocacy group released a guide meant to give states some direction in this regard.

The Center for Education Reform's model charter school legislation reflects the organization's view of the features of a strong charter laws, some of which are bound to prompt disagreement.

The guidance calls for multiple, independent authorizers of charter schools, including not just local school boards, but also public charter school boards, state boards of education, mayors of cities, and boards of trustees of higher education institutions.

Many pieces of the model law will unquestionably please backers of charter schools. The guidance says that there should be no caps on charter school growth (those limits are in place in many states), and it says charters should receive funding from federal, state, and local sources "that is equal to the amount that a traditional public school would receive for that same pupil."

Other recommendations are likely to prove more controversial. For instance, the center recommends that for-profit companies, not just nonprofit organizations, be allowed to manage charter schools.

The presence of for-profits in the charter school landscape is a divisive issue, with critics of charter schools, and even some of their supporters, questioning whether those companies will look out for students' and communities' best interests.

But the center says it doesn't matter if a for-profit or a nonprofit is the education management organization as a school, as long as they're subject to strong oversight.

"If strong, independent authorizers are already in place in a state, then charter schools or their EMOs will be held responsible and accountable for their actions," the center argues, in language accompanying the model legislation. "The law should not restrict whether for-profit or nonprofit groups should be allowed, or restrict how or what they manage within charter schools."

[CLARIFICATION (Oct. 16): This item originally said that the Center for Education Reform was recommending that for-profit organizations be allowed to "operate" charter schools. The center's model legislation instead says for-profits should be able to "manage" schools by providing various educational and administrative services. This is not the same as the center's definition of an operator, which it says is the entity that opens the school and holds its charter.]

Forty one states today allow charter schools. The model legislation is not just meant for the nine holdouts, said Alison Consoletti, the center's vice president or research. The hope is that the states with laws already on the books will consider reshaping their laws to conform with the center's guidance.

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