With state legislative sessions underway, our efforts to protect the interests of students and families seeking high-quality public education options are in full swing. Last year, parents made their feelings clear about where they stand on charter schools and elected a bipartisan roster of charter school supporters. Riding a wave of positive sentiment about charter schools, we are hopeful about the possibilities this year, while being on guard for likely efforts to weaken charter school laws in certain states.
First and foremost, we expect to see a substantial amount of legislation to close the inequitable gap in funding between charter school students and district school students. In Indiana, for example, charter school supporters are working to secure what would be a game-changing win for charter school students. Last session, they fought to enable local operating dollars to follow students to charter schools. While they were unsuccessful, we are hopeful about the potential for a win there this year.
Another state to watch this year is Idaho. Last year, a bill to create a charter school revolving loan fund to be used for facilities costs unanimously passed the state’s House but stalled in the Senate. We are hopeful that this bill will make it across the finish line this year, along with some other legislation focused on charter school facility issues.
Charter school supporters in Texas are hoping to make progress on several issues, including ending municipal discrimination and equalizing charter facilities funding. On the first issue, charter schools are targeted with discriminatory fees, zoning, and permitting schemes that divert state funding from the classroom. Supporters are pushing a bill that would require municipalities to enforce the same municipal rules for all public schools.
On the second issue, qualifying charter schools currently share a fixed $60 million charter facility appropriation rather than receiving a per-student facilities allotment. Supporters are advocating that the state provide a per-student facilities allotment, as is available to all other public schools.
Other states to watch for potentially big strides on funding and facilities include Colorado, New Jersey, Ohio, and Tennessee.
Beyond all the activity on funding and facilities, we hope to see progress on other issues, such as authorizing. In Oklahoma, for example, charter school supporters pushed a bill last year that would have created a new statewide authorizer. They came up just short last year but are hoping to get a similar bill enacted into law this year.
In Wyoming, we worked with our local partners to make some big changes to the state’s charter school law in 2021, which led to the approval of Wyoming’s first three state-authorized charter schools in 2022. We will be working with our local partners again this year to make further changes to the state’s authorizing structure, in the hopes of creating an environment more supportive of the growth of high-quality charter schools in the state.
Going into this year’s state legislative sessions, there are still five states that haven’t enacted charter school laws. We expect to see activity in at least two of these states: Montana and South Dakota. In Montana, where the legislature only meets every two years, there was a mild push to enact a charter school law in 2021. We are working with our state partners to support a much stronger push there this year.
In South Dakota, a bill that would have allowed a limited number of charter schools focused on Lakota language and culture has been introduced the past three sessions. This bill passed the South Dakota Senate in 2020 and 2022, but has never passed the House. We are working with our state partners on another push there this year, although the specifics of the bill are still being determined.
As always, charter school opponents will be pushing negative charter school bills in several states. Beyond the usual anti-charter school legislation run year after year in states such as California, Illinois, and Massachusetts, political changes in Arizona and Michigan have created openings for charter school opponents to weaken the charter school laws in those states.
The National Alliance looks forward to standing with the students, families, educators, and leaders seeking to strengthen public education in their communities. We just hope state legislators will listen to them as well.
Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.