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It's That Time of Year: State Lawmakers Propose School Choice Bills

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State lawmakers are revving up for their respective legislative sessions, and a few school choice-related bills have popped up this week.

Here's a sampling of what's come across my radar so far:

A bill drafted by assembly Republicans in Wisconsin has gotten far and away the most attention over the last two days. The proposed legislation would require the state to shut down failing district schools and turn them into charters, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It would also create an A-F grading system for all private schools that accept public money through tuition voucher programs as well as district and charter schools.

Proposed legislation in Kentucky, one of only eight remaining states without charter schools, would allow for charters to open up, but as a pilot program in one county. The program, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader, would ultimately be aimed at districts with 'unconscionable' achievement gaps.

Meanwhile, a South Florida lawmaker has filed a bill that would create a new requirement for charter school applicants: they would have to prove that the school they want to open fills a need unmet by local district schools, among other things. Details can be found at the Sun-Sentinel

Finally, in Wyoming, legislation being promoted by a Republican state representative would take authorizing authority away from school districts and give it to a single, statewide agency, the Wyoming Community College Commission. According to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, the bill would also allocate funding for the authorizing work, which usually includes reviewing applications, granting charters, overseeing schools, and making closure decisions. 

If the bill were to become law, Wyoming would join a small but growing group of states turning toward statewide authorizers to manage their charter schools. I wrote in-depth on the reasoning behind some types of statewide boards last August:

"The strength of an independent statewide board, according to proponents, comes from two defining qualities: focus and scope. Its only job is to charter and oversee schools, and, because of that narrow focus and its statewide scope, the board can develop the best, most-equitable way to do that job quickly.

'When you think of a normal-size school district, maybe they'll have one charter school in their area; they will never have enough of them to develop chartering expertise,' said NACSA President Greg A. Richmond. 'All the other entities that authorize exist to do something else. School boards, universities do other things, and chartering is just stuck onto it.' "

This is likely just the first cohort of school choice-related bills we'll see this year. As my colleague, Andrew Ujifusa, recently wrote, school choice is one of a handful of education-related issues that is poised to dominate policy debates in state legislatures. 

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