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NEVADA CHARTER SCHOOLS NEED STRONGER CONTROLS

By Brian Rippet, President, Nevada State Education Association

Since its founding over 100 years ago, the Nevada State Education Association and its members have been working to ensure a quality public education for every Nevada student. While this work is ongoing, new threats to our mission continue to arise. One of these threats is the coopting of charter schools from promising centers of innovation into tools that hurt traditional public school students and divide the communities they serve. While, charter schools originated as a way for public school educators to have the freedom to act upon the dream “if I ran the school ...”, that dream is dead, and the promises are broken.

Over the last 22 years, charter schools have grown dramatically. But rather than fostering innovation, they are spreading class and racial segregation throughout Nevada. Instead of adding value to traditional public schools, they are siphoning scarce resources our public school students need. Large numbers of charters are privately managed, unaccountable, and opaque with respect to their operations and performance. This lack of transparency allows low performing charters to continue to operate while their students suffer. The explosive growth of charters has been driven by a massive investment of venture capital alongside a deliberate and well-funded effort to ensure that charters are exempt from the basic safeguards and standards that apply to public schools.

In Nevada, most charters are nominally non-profit but are still managed or operated by for-profit entities. This outside management is inherently conflicted regarding what is best for students. Profits and management fees can only be extracted by depriving students of the resources they need to succeed. There is no guarantee that these charters are serving in the best interest of the children of Nevada.

Most importantly, the growth of charters has undermined local public schools and communities. This expense has come without producing any overall increase in student learning and growth. Public schools outperform charter schools while educating every student who comes through the door. This includes without prejudice English learners, students in poverty, and students with learning disabilities. While charters are officially prohibited from discriminating, these schools serve far fewer students with disabilities and tend to cluster in communities with fewer English learners and at-risk students. This cherry picking of students is a key factor in the re-segregation of our schools.

The few safeguards Nevada had in place for charter students have been blatantly ignored without penalty. Early this year, we learned the controls we thought governed Nevada’s state public charter schools were not being followed. Site visits are a basic component of delivering oversight and accountability for any regulator. The State Public Charter School Authority went years without following the Charter Performance Framework, including not conducting site visits until earlier 2019. 

With the sponsorship of late Assemblymember Tyrone Thompson, NSEA introduced AB462 this past legislative session to put a moratorium on new charter schools in Nevada. This would have given our state the time and space to implement appropriate controls and accountability of Nevada charter schools. Unfortunately, what began as a moratorium was fiercely opposed by the charter lobby and was watered down into a 5-year growth management plan for charter schools. This growth plan requires charter sponsors to work with school districts to prepare an evaluation of the academic needs of students in the area to address the issue of cherry-picking students and reemphasizes the need for stronger accountability measures like site evaluations. Given the issues charter schools continue to cause in our communities, NSEA believes that the legislature should have asserted stronger controls, including joining 21 other states in capping charter school expansion. Meanwhile, our elected officials should continue working to improve traditional public schools, providing the supports necessary so that every Nevada student can get a quality education from their neighborhood public school.

The members of NSEA believe in the power of traditional public schools to make good on the broken promises made by charter schools.