Top of the Charts: Indiana Leads Rankings of State Charter School Laws for 3rd Consecutive Year

State capitol building in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana (Photo credit: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Indiana offers the most hospitable legal environment for charter schools, according to a new study by a charter advocacy group.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released its ninth annual state-by-state evaluation of charter school law, “Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws,” Tuesday.

Coming in at No. 2 is Colorado, up from No. 5 last year, after the state passed new legislation in 2017 that makes charter funding more equitable. Rounding out the top five are Washington (3), Minnesota (4), and Alabama (5).

Kentucky, ranked for the first time because of new charter school laws passed last year, landed at No. 10, though parts of the state’s charter framework have yet to be finalized and no charter schools have opened in the state yet.

The report ranks states that have charter school laws and offers recommendations for each. Here are four essential takeaways from the study.

1 Methodology

The organization scored laws from 44 states and D.C. by comparing them to its model charter law, updated in 2016, that defines the components the Alliance believes should be in state charter policy to foster growth and success in the sector. For example, in the model law, states allow for multiple authorizers, but an authorizer cannot have schools added to its portfolio if its current schools are not meeting standards. Additionally, the model law does not cap charter growth within a state. States earn higher rankings based on their similarity to the model law.

2 Indiana’s continuing improvement

Indiana’s charter law earned the top score in the nation for the third year in a row because the state does not cap charter growth, includes multiple authorizers, and provides both accountability and autonomy, according to the study. The Alliance notes in the report that Indiana’s score increased by a few points over last year’s because the state improved its policies regarding special education. However, room for improvement remains — the report recommends that Indiana leaders close the spending gap between charter and traditional district schools and strengthen accountability measures for virtual charter programs.

3 Back of the pack

Maryland, which had 49 charter schools in 2016–17, has the weakest charter laws, according to the report, because it accepts only district authorizers and does not allow for sufficient autonomy or accountability. Maryland law needs improvements “across the board,” according to the report. Kansas (44), Alaska (43), Wyoming (42), and Iowa (41) were also in the bottom five and need significant improvements, according to the Alliance.

4 Movement within the rankings

Washington, D.C., jumped 10 spots to land at No. 8, but the report notes that the increase was in part due to a change in methodology. States that lost ground, such as Arizona, Louisiana, and New York, didn’t necessarily weaken their laws but rather were passed by states that added laws or strengthened existing ones.

In a statement released by Northeast Charter Schools Network, which advocates in New York and Connecticut, its director, Andrea Rogers, said the law in New York needs improvement.

“The New York charter law includes some crucial facilities funding, but major shortcomings deny funding to two categories of schools: it enforces age discrimination against older New York City charter schools and ignores entirely charters in the rest of the state,” she said.

Disclosure: The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, Walton Family Foundation, and the William E. Simon Foundation support both The 74 and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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