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Charter Schools Haven't Broken Into The Preschool Market, Here's Why

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Despite steady growth nationally, charter schools have yet to really break into the preschool market.

One major reason: Out-of-sync state charter and pre-K policies, according to a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning think tank.

The report analyzes the 35 states, plus the District of Columbia, that offer both charter school and state-funded pre-K programs.

In the vast majority of those states, charter schools face significant barriers to developing and running a state pre-K program.

Among them:

  • In nine states, charter or pre-K law doesn't allow charter schools to offer preschool;
  • In 22 states, pre-K per pupil funding is much lower than what charters receive for K-12 students;
  • In 10 states, charter schools can not automatically enroll pre-K students in their kindergarten programs;
  • In nine states, it's at the discretion of regular school districts whether they want to share pre-K funds with charter schools—many don't.

Based on those and other factors, the report breaks down how "hospitable" each state is toward charter preschool programs.

Charter school preschool policies by state.PNG

The report argues these policies are preventing a powerful synergy between the two types of programs—both often leveraged to help low-income kids get ahead—from being realized.

Bellwether Education Partners' Sara Mead (a noted pre-K expert) and Ashley LiBetti Mitchell wrote the report for the Fordham Institute, with funding from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the Joyce Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. Both the Walton and Joyce foundations provide some grant funding for Education Week, but the paper retains full editorial control of its content.

To see a state-by-state analysis of charter pre-K policies as well as recommendations for authorizers and state and federal policymakers, check out the full report here.


Graphic from 'Pre-K and Charter Schools: Where State Policies Create Barriers to Collaboration' by Sara Mead and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel.

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