National charter alliance unveils model charter school law

In June 2009, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) released A New Model Law For Supporting The Growth of High-Quality Public Charter Schools. The model charter law does what a good "model" document should: strike the balance between articulating a basic set of principles or guidelines (a "floor," so to speak) while remaining flexible enough to be applicable and relevant across multiple states. Indeed, the authors state that their intent was to provide the tools to strengthen existing charter school laws (40 states and the District of Columbia) and set forth a foundation for new charter school laws in jurisdictions that don't currently have them (10 states).

The model law covers student enrollment; authorizers (known in Ohio as "sponsors"); the charter application process; accountability; operations and autonomy; and funding and facilities. An important area not covered is conflict of interest. Additionally, one aspect of the model law that seems too prescriptive is a provision giving enrollment preference, limited to 10 percent of students, to children of the school's founders, governing board members, and full-time employees. Although well-intended (the rationale is that these individuals devote much time and effort to the school), a charter school is a public school and should be open to all students equally.

Ohio policymakers should take note of the following components of the model law when considering improvements to the state's charter policies:

  1. All charters - even those affiliated with school districts - should have an independent governing board (so that there are two formal parties to a charter contract which, presumably, would set forth clear accountability standards for the particular charter school).
  2. Authorizer funding should be periodically reviewed to determine whether the funding to authorizers is adequate. Fordham would further suggest that authorizer fees not be paid by schools themselves but rather paid directly from the state. There is an inherent conflict of interest when authorizers are tasked with holding schools accountable yet depend on those same schools for funding.

The model law is an important read for all legislators, policymakers, and interested parties who care about charter school quality. The report can be found here.

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