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Report: 2012 Brought Political Victories, New Laws for Charters

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The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has released their fourth annual report ranking states against the organization's model charter law. The survey found the top five states with the highest rankings were Minnesota, Maine, Washington, Colorado, and Florida.

Overall, 2012 will be remembered by charter advocates for having brought political victories, in some cases after years of setbacks, said Nina Rees, the president and chief executive officer of NAPCS, a nonprofit charter school advocacy organization.

"The track record of enacting [charter school] initiatives through the ballot box hasn't been very positive, so the fact that we were able to do so in Georgia and enact a law in Washington state after four attempts that failed before makes 2012 an historic one," she said.

Voters' support for charter schools during this year's election could indicate an increased familiarity with charters, said Rees. In addition, three states (Hawaii, Idaho, and Missouri) lifted caps on charter school growth, and ten states strengthened charters' authorizing environments by expanding the types of entities that can authorize charter schools or by passing quality control measures meant to allow high-quality charter schools to grow. Connecticut, Hawaii, and Utah also improved funding for the operations and facilities of charter schools, the report said.

Each state with a charter school law (42 states plus the District of Columbia) was ranked in the report based on its comparison with the alliance's model charter school law, which includes 20 essential components, such as what types of public charters are allowed in the state; whether there are transparent charter application, review, and decision-making processes; and whether there is equitable funding for charter school's operations and facilities. The weight that each component is given towards states' overall score is reviewed before each survey and changes to those weights are made on a regular basis by the alliance.

The 20 components typically fall into two key categories: quality control and autonomy. The report found that Maine, Washington, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and New Mexico strengthened quality-control measures around charter schools. The District of Columbia and Oklahoma were notable in their strengthening of charter school autonomy in those regions.

States that experienced drops in their overall ranking were Rhode Island (which fell from 26th to 35th), Arkansas (17th to 25th), and Utah (12th to 20th). However, Rees pointed out that these dips were not a result of changing laws in those states but rather a result of other states increasing the strength of their charter school laws and thereby increasing their own scores in the overall ranking and knocking the other states down several notches.

In next year's report, researchers hope to include more information about how states are implementing their charter school laws, said Rees.

"Right now states are graded simply based on how your law is written and how it compares to our model law," she said. "It doesn't take into account how you're implementing the law." New questions and data on the quality of charter schools—such as the percentage of charter students that are proficient on state tests vs. proficiency rates at traditional public schools, attendance rates for charter school students vs. traditional public school students, and graduation rates for charter school students vs. traditional public school students—will be taken into account in the 2014 version of the alliance's report.

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