In an era of heightened partisanship around charter schools, Nevada’s recently enacted package of reform bills proves that hostile politics don’t have to be part of the narrative.
Instead, Nevada is making improvements where needed and putting kids first.
Many of the bills make minor tweaks on issues like transparency, special education services, and accountability. While these are small changes, collectively, these provisions will significantly strengthen Nevada’s charter school law.
Minor Improvements, Big Impact
The bills strengthen transparency by adopting a number of best practices, such as clear reporting guidelines and templates, disaggregating annual performance data, and requiring regular site visits by authorizers. NACSA has studied and shown how top-performing authorizers embrace many of these practices. Now Nevada will ensure that all authorizers abide by these practices as well.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools identified special education services as one area for improvement in Nevada’s charter school law. Existing law is unclear about who is ultimately responsible for ensuring special education students receive services they need: the charter school, the district, or the authorizer. Under the new law, the State Public Charter School Authority (SPCSA) is the clearly designated entity. This ensures everyone knows where responsibility rests for meeting the needs of special education students.
Lastly, authorizer autonomy and charter accountability will be improved by a bill permitting variable renewal terms of between three and ten years. Under existing law, authorizers only have two options when a charter school is up for renewal: extend a six-year term or close the school. The new law gives authorizers the autonomy needed to deal with on-the-fence schools, permitting a short-term renewal, while also rewarding high-performing schools with longer renewals that create stability and free up the authorizer’s resources to focus on other schools.
Consolidation of Statewide Authorizing
Currently, Nevada has two statewide authorizers: SPCSA, an independent charter board; and the Achievement School District (ASD), which identifies and converts persistently low-performing district schools to charter schools. The SPCSA oversees 54 schools, while the ASD oversees four schools.
Under the current bill package, the ASD will be abolished in 2020 and the four charter schools under its watch transferred to the SPCSA. The elimination of the ASD is a real loss for Nevada’s reform initiative, closing an important avenue for improving education options for families. That said, the bill also strengthens the SPCSA, a proven authorizer that likely can better oversee the ASD’s portfolio of schools. Independent charter boards like the SPCSA provide many benefits as a statewide option, including expertise and capacity at scale. We believe that consolidating state authorizing into one entity is a smart development for Nevada, if implemented properly.
Implementation is the Question
These reforms look good on paper, but just how much they improve Nevada’s charter school sector comes down to implementation. For example, the SPCSA is given broad discretion in shaping several provisions, including requirements to develop a charter school growth plan and annual academic needs assessments. It is less clear what oversight responsibility the State Board of Education (SBE) has. How will SBE carry out this responsibility? Will it place the same degree of trust in the SPCSA as the legislature? Or will it use the uncertain language as a loophole to micromanage?
Reforming, Not Scapegoating
In a legislative year when other states have advanced bills with the clear intention of rolling back the charter school sector (regardless of how schools are performing for students), Nevada is taking another route. Here, legislators are focused on how the state can learn from what is working and make sure students have access to quality education options.
While much can still change depending on how these provisions are implemented, NACSA believes this direction is the right one.
Jason Zwara analyzes and develops charter authorizing policies as part of NACSA’s policy team. He tracks state and federal legislation and creates policy resources for members and advocacy partners. Have policy questions? Please reach out at [email protected]