Legislature Supports More Accountability and Transparency for Charter Schools
By Pat Hickey, Executive Director Charter School Association of Nevada
Nevada has taken a smarter bipartisan approach to public charter schools than other states, such as California, that have fallen under the pressure of political forces and blamed charter school education for public school issues, such as a shortage of funding. The Legislature this year considered a moratorium (A.B. 462) on new charter schools until 2021, but legislators across party lines decided to strengthen what’s working effectively in Nevada and to make changes to ensure that more schools meet high standards instead.
This moratorium on public charter growth, proposed by just one of Nevada’s two teacher’s unions, was a bad idea that was soundly rejected by Nevadans in general, and a clear majority of those in the Legislature during the 2019 Session. After dropping the idea of stopping or capping public charter growth, A.B. 462 was amended to require the State Authorizer for charter schools, the State Public Charter School Authority (SPCSA), to submit a growth management plan, conduct academic and demographic needs assessments for new high quality school options, and better communicate plans to local school districts about new public charter school applications.
Why does this matter? More than 50,000 students currently attend 80-plus charter schools in Nevada. Charter school enrollment accounts for more than 10% of all K-12 students in the state. The SPCSA not only holds charter schools accountable, but also monitors them and closes charter schools that fail to meet high standards. This is a significant reason why 44% of charter schools in Nevada are 4- or 5-star schools compared with 30% of traditional public schools.
The reforms passed in the Legislature this year increased both accountability and flexibility at charter schools. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that offer high-quality innovative instruction to meet the diverse needs of students. The Legislature clarified responsibility of the SPCSA by ensuring that all students, including the increasing numbers of special-education students and English language learners in the state, receive the services they need. To accomplish this, charter school authorizers will be responsible for conducting regular site visits, but also for extending charter contracts for between three and 10 years, depending on the quality of the school.
The Legislature also addressed challenges in online charter schools, giving the SPCSA the responsibility of monitoring online schools within a framework specifically created for online providers, including that students complete online assignments.
Legislators made the right decision by not curtailing charter schools through a moratorium this year. Looking ahead, Legislative members should ensure that the reforms they pass promote quality among charter schools and do not limit access to charter school education or inhibit its growth. They should also not support any movement toward future moratoriums, but strongly focus on providing additional oversight necessary to ensure that online charter schools deliver the education that they say they will.
The Legislature should also consider providing more funding to help charter schools, which receive no funding for facilities or transportation in the state. This funding would allow charter schools to be more on par with district-run schools and support a more equal education for charter school students. State legislators and families concur that as the population in the Silver State increases, the charter school sector should increase right beside it.
Because of this ever-increasing demand by students and teachers for tuition-free public school options, A.B. 462 garnered overwhelming bipartisan support in the Legislature, and is something the charter community in Nevada embraces.