The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) recently released an update to its model charter school law, a set of policy recommendations for states without a charter school law, or one in need of improvement. First published in 2009, the 2016 version proposes a number of new policies and approaches to legislating charters in light of seven-plus years of evidence and growth. You can read the model law here.
The model law offers an opportunity to reflect on New York’s existing charter school law, its strengths and areas in need of improvement.
New York is ahead of the curve on many of the basic recommendations of organization and governance that the new model law makes. For example, it is recommended that charter schools be organized as non-profit organizations, which all New York charter schools already must do. Additionally, the model law recommends permitting enrollment preferences for high-needs and at-risk students, which New York does to some degree. Charters can give enrollment preferences for students such as those eligible for free or reduced price lunch, English language learners or students with disabilities.
New York also has multiple authorizers, something we have been thankful for over the years.
Some Work Needed
New York is actually cited as the basis of a model law recommendation regarding facility policy. Unfortunately, the state’s facilities aid law – which grants charter schools space at no cost in a district building or funding to support a private placement -- currently extends to only some New York City charter schools, and none outside of NYC. This is a major deficiency in what was otherwise a great policy. It has created a system of “haves” and “have-nots” within the charter community based on school age and location. Charters are equally as important in all areas of the state; and within NYC, it defies reason that many of the time-tested community charters are left with no extra aid.
New York would make great strides by extending this existing provision statewide.
Room for Improvement
While New York could make a significant improvement simply by expanding the current facilities policy, there are many other facility-related solutions that could, and should, be implemented to help charter schools overcome one of their biggest hurdles. Potential policies outlined in the model law include giving charter schools a right of first refusal to lease or buy unused school facilities, giving them access to statewide building aid or financing programs, and including charters in bonding and tax levy requests.
Since building costs are often the biggest challenge for schools, and the most significant roadblock to new charter schools opening despite increasing demand, implementing policies or programs to lessen those burdens would go a long way.
New York could also make considerable improvements to per-pupil funding. The model law recognizes that in many states, including New York, a lack of information about the funding gap between charter schools and their host district is a significant hurdle to even considering the issue. Therefore, the model law recommends requiring the state education department to annually report a comparison of per-pupil revenues for each charter, compared to the per-pupil revenues for each district from which the school draws enrollment.
In addition to publishing the model law to promote strong charter school laws, NAPCS also uses the model law as a rubric for grading existing laws. While New York typically ranks quite high (in 2015, New York placed 7th of 43 states with charter school laws), the new model law is a reminder that there is continued room for improvement, particularly in funding equity.