Virginia 40th of 45 States for Charter School Friendliness

by James C. Sherlock

We have often referenced public charter schools in this space. It is worthwhile to stop and discuss their availability in Virginia.

In its eleventh annual ranking of public charter school laws in January of 2020, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) has ranked 45 states with such laws. 

Virginia. Virginia ranks 40th. 

NAPCS comments about Virginia’s laws include:

  • While Virginia’s law does not contain a cap on public charter school growth, it only allows district authorizers and provides little autonomy, insufficient accountability, and inequitable funding.” 
  • Virginia’s law needs improvement across the board. Potential starting points include expanding authorizing options, beefing up the law’s application, oversight, and renewal requirements, increasing operational autonomy, ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities, and ensuring transparency regarding educational service providers.”

Virginia currently has eight charter schools serving approximately 1,200 students. Virginia has approximately 1.25 million public school students.

So one in every 1,000 Virginia public school students goes to a public charter.

If Virginia legislators ever care to improve access to charter schools, NACPS offers a model law.

Indiana. Number 1-ranked Indiana has 96 charter schools serving 38,800 students.  Indiana has approximately 1.05 million public school students.

In human terms, this means that the parents of almost 38,000 more children in Indiana than in Virginia have their kids in public charter schools they have chosen for them over a standard public school option.  

The State of Indiana Charter School Board provides the following information.

Charter schools, like traditional district schools, were established by the Indiana legislature to deliver a public education to Indiana students in grades K-12. Charter schools receive basic tuition support from the state but do not have the authority to levy local taxes. In Indiana, funding follows the student. This means that, if a student chooses to enroll in a charter school, the charter school will receive state funding on a per-pupil basis in order to provide an education for that student. Similarly, if a student chooses instead to enroll in a traditional district school, the district school will receive state funding associated with that student. In this manner, the school that is providing an education to a student is the school that receives the state funding associated with that student.

Charter schools in Indiana can be authorized by one of the following: (1) a governing body, (2) a state educational institution that offers a four year baccalaureate degree, (3) the executive of a consolidated city, (4) the Indiana Charter School Board, or (5) a nonprofit college or university that provides a four year educational program for which it awards a baccalaureate or more advanced degree. 

Unlike many states, Indiana’s legislation does not place a limit on the number of charter schools that can open in the State.

In May 2011, House Enrolled Act 1002 was passed by the Indiana legislature and signed into law by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Among other provisions, HEA 1002 established the Indiana Charter School Board, a new charter school authorizer established for the purpose of sponsoring charter schools around the state. 

The purpose of the board is to (1) review a proposal to establish a charter school; (2) make a decision on the proposal as required; (3) monitor charter schools sponsored by the charter board; and (4) publish guidelines concerning the review process. The Indiana Charter School Board (“ICSB”) was established as an independent state agency.

The ICSB seeks to grow the supply of high-performing public charter schools throughout the state, so that families have multiple options from which to select when deciding what schools best meet the needs of their children. Our focus is upon expanding quality options, so that students who enroll in charter schools receive a rigorous education that prepares them for college and careers. Each school authorized by the ICSB is subject to a transparent and outcomes-oriented accountability system. 

A school’s performance is assessed annually and summarized in a Performance Dashboard. In addition, the ICSB publishes an Annual Report analyzing the performance of all schools we authorize. The Performance Dashboards and Annual Report are posted on the ICSB website every January.

New York. Eighteenth-ranked New York has 281 public charter schools with approximately 141,000 students and 50,000 on the waiting list in New York City alone.

NAPCS comments include:

  • New York’s law provides multiple authorizers and a fair amount of autonomy and accountability, but it has a cap on public charter schools that allows for limited growth and provides inequitable funding.
  • Potential areas for improvement include lifting the cap on public charter schools and ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities.