For the third year, NACSA surveyed advocacy organizations and policy partners across the country to learn more about what is on their agendas and what charter related legislation they anticipate in the coming year. This year, we expanded our survey to even more organizations, giving an even clearer picture of what is happening in different regions.
Another Challenging Year
Most respondents indicated that they anticipate another year of legislation hostile to the charter school sector. In particular, over 45 percent of respondents anticipate dealing with barriers that make charter school growth more difficult, such as a moratorium on new charter schools or a cap on the total number of charters. But advocacy groups seem up for the fight: the same percentage of respondents indicated that addressing barriers to growth is on their advocacy agenda for 2020. Over the last few years, advocates have learned from states like Nevada and California that the best defense is a good offense and are preparing early to beat back moratoriums and other barriers to growth.
For the second year in a row, funding was the most common issue on respondent’s advocacy agendas. What may be slightly different this year is that several respondents indicated their approach will be to advocate for increases and greater equity in education funding more generally, not just for improvements to charter school formulas. Whether this is a new long-term approach or a response to the political climate (namely the numerous teacher strikes for increased educational funding across the country), is hard to say and likely differs from state to state. We will be watching the success of this approach closely in 2020.
Access & Equity
Interestingly, there was an 18-percentage-point gap between the number of respondents that reported access and equity issues were on their advocacy agendas compared to the number of respondents that anticipated these issues arising in their state. We’ll dig deeper with individual organizations in the coming weeks, but this is an encouraging sign of proactive advocacy on important issues. The charter sector has been on the defensive too often in recent years so efforts to positively drive legislation are encouraging to see. Advocates also appear to realize the challenge in front of them and don’t expect results to come immediately. NACSA is leading the way in getting these issues to the forefront with our recent Transportation resource suite and additional resources in our Access and Equity series.
Compared to 2019, significantly more respondents indicated that they expected activity around the nuts-and-bolts of charter school authorizing, including application/contract standards (25 percent of responses) and renewal/closure standards (34 percent of responses). A significant number also anticipated actions to hold authorizers themselves accountable or to higher standards. We are closely watching legislation that might not make a big splash in the news, but would impact how authorizers do their day-to-day work.
Virtual Charter Schools
Finally, and not surprisingly, over a third of respondents anticipated action to address virtual charter school accountability. In 2019, virtual charter schools seemed to be the hot policy issue, and 2020 looks to be no different, with bills already pending in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma. What is surprising from the survey, however, is how few organizations have virtual charter schools on their advocacy agenda compared to how many anticipate action on this issue (an 18-percentage-point gap). It may signify how much the sector as a whole is struggling with the question of how virtual schools might fit.
NACSA will be closely watching these issues and will be blogging regularly throughout the year with trends, resources, overviews of particular legislation, and more to keep authorizers and advocacy partners informed.
Jason Zwara analyzes and develops charter authorizing policies as part of NACSA’s policy team. He is responsible for tracking state and federal charter school legislation and developing policy resources for members and advocacy partners. Have policy questions? Please reach out! Jason can be reached at [email protected]