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Charter Advocacy Organization Calls for Independent Authorizers

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A charter school advocacy organization has laid out its case for state lawmakers to pass policies that support using independent authorizers of those schools, an approach that it says is the best one for bringing both accountability and autonomy to the sector.

The report, written by Alison Consoletti, the vice president of research for the Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based pro-charter advocacy group, pushes for state policies that create charter authorizing entities independent of state or local education agencies.

"States that have definitively independent and preferably multiple authorizers afford schools a high degree of autonomy with accountability and consequently nurture high quantities of high quality schools," she writes.

The analysis criticizes charter school authorizers in Idaho, Maine, and New Mexico, which the center says have become mired in politics, slowing down the charter school approval process. Maine and Washington's charter school commissions, which are tied to state and/or local education agencies, "offer no evidence of success, have been subject to more political oversight and bureaucratic interference than any other chartering institutions, and have shunned many charter applications," the report says. (Although Washington state only recently passed laws to allow charter schools there, and no charter schools have yet been open in the state, the legislation around authorization suggests the process could become bogged down, according to the report.)

Other states, such as New York, Michigan, and Indiana are listed under the "best-practice model authorizers" for those having policies which allow universities to authorize charter schools independently of state or local education agencies.

While the CER report applauds states that pass laws allowing for multiple, independent charter authorizers, pointing to the significant growth of charters in those states as evidence of those laws' success. The report says that states with multiple charter authorizers have three and a half times more charter schools than states that restrict authorization to local school boards. (Others, of course, would almost surely argue that the performance and quality of approved charters is a better indication of their success than the sheer number of open charter schools.)

The CER report acknowledges that some states that allow multiple, independent authorizers have encountered challenges, drawing accusations about a lack of credible authorizing, but insists that by tweaking the process, those states have done "remarkably better."

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