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New Rankings Are Out on Charter School Laws. How Do States Use Them?

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A national group updated its criteria for ranking states' charter school laws, but Indiana kept its top spot for the second year and Maryland stayed at the bottom.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools last week released its eighth annual rankings of state public charter schools by matching how closely the laws in 43 states and the District of Columbia align with the group's model charter school law.

For the first time since its creation in 2009, the model law was revised in October on several factors, including flexibility, accountability and equity. The group added a specific category for accountability of full-time virtual charter schools, given recent performance and accountability problems in that sector. See Education Week's investigation into the cyber charter industry.

Todd Ziebarth, the alliance's senior vice president, said the group wanted to revise the model law to reflect "lessons in the field of what's working and not working."

"We just thought we should keep the model law fresh, current and up to date," Ziebarth told Education Week.

The new model law also emphasizes the need to provide more equitable support to charter schools, including facilities, as well as more flexibility to the renewal process for high-performing schools. See a one-page summary of the new model law.

Ziebarth said policymakers and legislators have turned to the model law, along with the rankings, to create new charter laws or alter existing ones.

One example is Washington state, which placed fourth in its first year in the rankings since the law was re-established. Washington's charter law passed in 2012, but it was struck down by the courts in 2015 before being resurrected in the state legislature last year.

Maggie Meyers, communications director for the Washington State Charter Schools Association, said state policymakers had the benefit of looking at practices in other states, including the alliance's model law, when drafting Washington's law.

"It's obviously a reflection of the care that went into the drafting of the law," Meyers said to Education Week. "Things like the model law have really set us up for success here in Washington."

Ziebarth said other states, too, have used the model law to make improvements. Indiana ranked near the bottom when the first rankings came out, but the state made changes that elevated its standing. States that have started charter laws since 2011 are well aligned with the model law, he said.

Kentucky this month became the latest state the enact a charter law after the rankings were made.

"We've been encouraged by policymakers who have used it as a tool to improve their laws," Ziebarth said. "We play a supportive role in helping them advance legislation."

Other highlights of the rankings: 

  • Maryland ranked as the "weakest" charter school law at No. 44 because it allows only school districts to authorize charters. Maryland's law also "provides little autonomy, insufficient accountability, and inequitable funding to charter schools," according to the alliance.
  • Other bottom ranking states are: Wyoming at No. 40, Iowa at No. 41, Alaska at No. 42 and Kansas at No. 43.
  • The top 10 includes a mix of older and new charter laws. Six are more "mature" laws, while four are newer states to begin charter schools.
  • The alliance places an emphasis on states that have no caps on the number of charter schools operating in the state. Twenty states have no caps.

 Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

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