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Shopping Around for Charter Authorizers Is a Growing Problem, Report Says

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Something called "authorizer shopping" is a growing threat to charter school quality, according to a new report from a national advocacy and research organization.

Authorizers, as you likely already know, are the groups that enter into a contract with a charter operator allowing a charter school to open. Authorizers are responsible for shutting down a charter school if it's failing academically or financially. Also known as sponsors, they can be school districts, universities, state education agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

Authorizer shopping is when a charter school switches authorizers either to avoid being closed, or to reopen after being shuttered by their original authorizer.

It's an issue that's been fairly well-documented in local media in states like Michigan and Ohio, and it's one that lawmakers most recently in Indiana and Ohio have started to tackle through crafting new policy. 

It's hard to pin down exactly how big an issue authorizer shopping is, write authors of the report prepared by Public Impact for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Although the report says authorizer shopping is a growing problem, that conclusion is based on anecdotes from news stories and interviews with authorizers, policymakers, and state charter school associations from across the country. 

Among the policy recommendations put forward in the report to stamp out authorizing shopping are:

  • Require "higher authorities," such as state boards of education or state education agencies, to approve authorizer switches;
  • Set a minimum performance level that charter schools must meet before they can transfer authorizers;
  • Bar authorizers from collecting fees for authorizing low-performing schools;
  • Require authorizers to share data with one another in cases where there's concern that a school is switching authorizers to avoid closure.

However, the report says that there are legitimate circumstances under which a charter may change their authorizer.

For the full list of policy recommendations, check out the report here: "Authorizer Shopping: Lessons From Experience and Ideas for the Future."

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