As state legislative sessions get underway across the country, we are already starting to see charter school bills—both good and bad—get introduced in several states. Notwithstanding the significant strides that states made in 2023 in improving their charter school laws (and in 2021 and 2022, for that matter), we anticipate a flurry of activity this year on bills related to facilities, funding, and authorizing, among other issues.
In fact, we have already seen one state—New Jersey—enact groundbreaking charter school facilities legislation. On January 17, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law legislation establishing the Public Charter and Renaissance School Facilities Loan Program in the Economic Development Authority for public charter and renaissance schools in Schools Development Authority (SDA) districts. According to the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association, the bill is the first-ever funding framework for New Jersey’s public charter schools since their inception 26 years ago and will allow schools located in SDA districts to make critical upgrades to charter school facilities, start new charter school construction projects, or perform major renovation and rehabilitation projects.
Elsewhere, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’s budget proposal calls for investing $5 million to create the Charter School Start-up Grant program to support new or high-performing existing charter schools and allow vacant or underutilized public school district facilities to be available for lease or purchase by other educational entities including nonpublic or charter schools. These proposals are especially timely, as the Iowa State Board of Education recently approved eight new charter schools for the Hawkeye State.
In Louisiana, there is a renewed sense of hope about what might be possible in Baton Rouge with a new, pro-charter school governor (Jeff Landry) replacing a long-time opponent (Jon Bel Edwards). In this new political context, some advocates will be pushing to create a revolving loan fund for charter schools.
Charter school advocates in Washington State are pushing legislation that will help provide enrichment funding to charter school students on the same basis and using the same formula by which all other public school students receive such funding. This legislation was recently heard in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, where a number of charter school supporters provided powerful testimony in support of the legislation.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has advocated for $5 million in seed money to help charter schools with startup costs. Last year, the state created a fund for newly authorized schools that face startup costs such as acquiring or renovating property but did not provide funding for it.
In Wyoming, legislation has been introduced that will repeal the requirement that charter schools operate successfully for three years to receive reimbursement for leasing expenses and require districts to make available space open to charter schools.
In Alaska, legislation is moving through the House that will create a new statewide authorizer appointed by the pro-charter school governor (Mike Dunleavy) and increase per-pupil funding for charter school students to 100% of what district students receive.
There have already been a few bills introduced in Missouri that would allow non-district entities to authorize schools in districts where currently only school boards can serve as authorizers, including in St. Louis County, St. Charles County, and Columbia.
In Idaho, a bill has been introduced that provides additional flexibilities for schools, rewards successful charter schools by allowing them to earn contracts of up to 12 years, reduces and tightens the language in code to streamline the efforts of both the Idaho Public Charter School Commission and individual public charter schools, and creates a special category of “pilot charter schools” that are granted three-year terms to test an innovative or novel model.
Lastly, there is talk of a potential constitutional amendment in Kentucky to allow public funds to flow to private schools and public charter schools in response to adverse court decisions in 2022 when the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down a private school choice law and in 2023 when a district court judge ruled against the state’s charter school law (that decision is being appealed by charter school supporters). A constitutional amendment would have to be passed by three-fifths of the members in each chamber of the legislature and would then have to be passed by a majority of votes in November.
Stay tuned to this space for updates on these and other important charter school bills this session.
Todd Zeibarth is the Senior Vice President of State Advocacy and Support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.