What is a “Strong” Charter School Law?

Every year the billionaire-funded National Alliance for Charter Schools (NAPCS) produces a glossy report ranking state charter school laws. This year’s 72-page report is titled: Measuring up to the model, a ranking of state public charter school laws, twelfth annual edition.

The main goal of the report is to rank state charter school laws in terms of how “strong” or “weak” they are. This is supposed to signal to privatizers and neoliberals which states are most conducive to privatizing public schools and which are the least conducive to privatizing public schools.

When the report refers to a state’s charter school law as being “strong” what it means is that the door is wide open in that state to unfettered privatization of public schools. In other words, a state with a “strong” charter school law enables and empowers privatizers and neoliberals to create more privately-operated segregated charter schools than a state with a “weak” charter school law. States with “strong” charter school laws, for example, have less charter school accountability and fewer laws, rules, and regulations upholding public standards for non-profit and for-profit charter schools. Being able to dodge teacher unions and being exempt from collective bargaining agreements is also considered a feature of a state with “strong” charter school laws. States with “strong” charter school laws also tend to have more “charter school authorizers,” which means that it is easier to start a charter school in that state because if one authorizer rejects a charter school application, the applicant can always “hop” down the road to another charter school authorizer and see if they will authorize the school’s charter, which they usually do. This reveals the arbitrary and chaotic nature of charter school authorizing. Further, in states with “strong” charter school laws segregated charter schools can operate with a large degree of impunity and not be held accountable for a range of widely-reported unethical practices.

“For the sixth year in a row,” Indiana, according to this latest NAPCS report, is number one in the nation because it has the “strongest” charter school laws in the country. This is terrible news for public schools and the public interest but great news for privatizers and neoliberals. What makes Indiana particularly attractive to privatizers and neoliberals is that it allows an infinite number of deregulated charter schools, multiple charter school authorizers, and almost no rules or regulations for charter schools to uphold. Indiana has also taken steps to funnel even more public school funds into the hands of the private interests that own-operate segregated charter schools.

The NAPCS states that Maryland “has the nation’s weakest charter school law, ranking No. 45 (out of 45).” In other words, Maryland is the least attractive state to privatizers and neoliberals because it limits the number of charter school authorizers, upholds some rules and standards, and limits the amount of public funds that can be seized by private owners-operators of segregated charter schools. The report considers Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, and Kansas to be insufficiently friendly to owners of capital as well.

The issue at stake here is not whether charter school laws are “strong” or “weak” but rather: why are privately-operated charter schools permitted to exist in the first place? A related question is: why are private businesses like charter schools allowed to access public funds, assets, and resources? Charter schools are not public entities in the proper sense of the word. They are not state agencies like public schools. They are not political subdivisions of the state. They differ legally from public schools. They are contract schools that represent the outsourcing of public education to the private sector. Why are they legally permitted to siphon billions of public dollars that belong to public schools?

Currently, 45 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam have laws enabling the creation of charter schools. At this time, about 3.2 million students are enrolled in roughly 7,200 deregulated non-profit and for-profit charter schools. Privately-operated charter schools are notorious for consistently enrolling far fewer special needs students, homeless students, and English Language learners than public schools. It should also be noted that every 1-2 days a news report documents fraud, corruption, and arrests in the charter school sector.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.