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Fordham Institute Recommends New Charter Governance Laws

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A new brief released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, outlines suggestions for changes in how charter schools are governed. Written by the director of the Program on Parental Choice, Adam Emerson pinpoints three areas where charter school governance could improve.

The first area of improvement affects the ability of high-performing charter schools to grow and replicate. In order to do so effectively, those networks should not be required to create a full-fledged governing board for each individual school site, argues Emerson, adding this can be a barrier to replication. Only 10 out of the 43 states that allow charter schools currently let high-performing charter school networks operate multiple sites under the oversight of one board. While caution must be taken to prevent mediocre or low-performing charter networks from adding additional schools, laws should be passed to allow charter school networks that meet certain performance criteria to replicate without having a full governing board for each school site, he says.

Emerson notes three examples of where this is happening. For instance, Aspire Public Schools operate roughly 40 charter schools in California, which are overseen by one board based in Oakland. KIPP has organized its schools into "pods" which oversee a group of schools in a city or region. And the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools operates 22 middle and high schools in California under the governance of two boards—a 26-member "upper board" and a "lower board" made up of 5 members at each school site.

He also points to Rocketship Education, which did not expand to New York until the "one school, one board" law was changed, as an example of how such laws are preventing high-quality charter networks from growing.

The second area of improvement for charter school governance is making sure that the boards that oversee the schools aren't beholden to the charter management organizations (which tend to be nonprofit entities) or education management organizations (which tend to be for-profit entities). Laws must ensure that the CMOs and EMOs are subordinate to the findings of the board, and not the other way around, says Emerson.

Lastly, as it stands, many of the virtual charter schools serve students across the state while being governed by a board in a local school district. Emerson argues that if a virtual charter school provider is serving students throughout a state, it should be overseen by a statewide authorizer, not a local district.

The brief is part of a multiyear look into the governance of K-12 schools, in partnership with the Center for American Progress.

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