The headline of a recent story covering the Missouri State Board of Education could, on first read, be seen as a knock on charter school authorizing. After all, when state officials threaten sanctions or even revocation of authorizing power on an authorizer, it grabs attention. But digging into the details reveals a charter school authorizer oversight system working exactly as intended.
In 2012 Missouri significantly changed its charter school authorizing structure, including requiring charter school authorizers to be evaluated every three years. In 2018, the State Board of Education, with assistance from NACSA, revised how it would evaluate charter school authorizers with an eye on strengthening authorizing practices.
June 2020 marks the first round of evaluations under this new rubric. Washington University, the first authorizer to be evaluated, received full marks. The University of Missouri College of Education (MU), the second to be evaluated, is a perfect example of how the oversight system is designed to work.
Missouri’s new authorizer evaluation rubric rates authorizers against six standards, including capacity, application process, performance contract, ongoing oversight and evaluation, fiscal oversight, and renewal and closure decision-making. Missouri Statute 160.400(17) sets forth a process for addressing shortcomings in an authorizer’s practice, with the specific goal of encouraging improvement: if the Department determines that an authorizer is “in material noncompliance” with its duties, the first steps are providing notice and an opportunity for remediation, then issuing a corrective action plan.
In this case, MU was notified of “material noncompliance” for two of the six standards. How the authorizer and the State Board responded demonstrates just how an oversight system should work.
MU informed the board that it was taking immediate corrective action on the first standard (where MU had fallen short on only 1 of 12 requirements), which would take only a few weeks to correct. The shortcomings for the second standard may take more time and work to correct, but that kind of opportunity for remediation was built in: MU has until next spring to correct the shortcoming, or the Board of Education will implement a corrective action plan that will be closely monitored.
As the state’s Assistant Education Commissioner said, “if [by then] they have solved the problems, so be it. Good for them. We all win when we are better.”
Authorizer oversight, much like charter school oversight, can feel dramatic or contentious given the high stakes involved. But when an oversight system is well designed and implemented, as Missouri’s new evaluation system has been, then the result is a win-win for all involved: authorizer practice improves, charter schools are held to high standards while having their autonomy protected, and the public is secure in knowing that students are being put first.
To learn more about NACSA’s stance on authorizer accountability and model law language, please check out our website: https://qualitycharters.org/state-policy/authorizer-accountability/