State legislative sessions are wrapping up across the country and so far, we have seen some major wins for public charter schools and the communities they serve. However, several states are still in session, and there are a lot of important bills still in play.
Perhaps the biggest win this session comes from Big Sky Country, the great state of Montana, where it is now the 46th state with a charter school law. After a roller coaster ride of a session, the legislature passed two charter school bills, and Governor Greg Gianforte signed The Community Choice Schools Act (HB 562) into law on May 16, 2023.
We partnered with a coalition of organizations and individuals in Montana to get HB 562 passed by the legislature. This bill creates a new statewide charter school authorizing entity and provides charter schools with the flexibility to innovate while holding them accountable for results.
Another groundbreaking win this year came in Indiana. The Hoosier State has long had one of the strongest charter school laws in the country. This year, it made major strides regarding charter school funding equity. Specifically, it enacted legislation that:
- Requires districts to share operating referendum proceeds proportionately with charter schools.
- Requires districts to share future increases in local property taxes proportionately with charter schools.
- Creates a capital grant fund to assist charter schools with facility costs.
- Provides charter schools with access to the state’s common school fund and expanded access to the Indiana Bank Bond, providing new and affordable pathways for financing capital projects.
- Increases the existing charter school grant from $1,250 per student to $1,400 per student to help fund operational expenses.
As part of a more broadly based education reform bill entitled the LEARNS Act, Arkansas made several notable improvements to its charter school law. The LEARNS Act:
- Fully eliminates the cap on state-authorized charter school growth. Previously, a cap was set at 24 schools statewide, with a previous escalator provision that if the number of schools reached within two of the cap (22), then the cap would automatically be increased by five schools. The cap continued to raise every time the number of charter schools reached within two of the cap. The LEARNS Act fully eliminates this cap.
- Creates an expedited application process for charter renewals for existing schools and operators that are above the statewide average for the rating system, showing exceptional growth, and abiding by all operational and financial requirements.
- Creates a facilities loan fund for charter schools.
- Allows any district receiving a “D” or “F” letter grade to be freed from certain statutory requirements and receive innovation dollars if they partner with a “transformation partner,” which can include a state-authorized charter school.
As part of a budget deal in New York, the state allowed 22 new charters to be issued. Of the 22 new charters, 14 may be used in New York City in community districts where charter school enrollment is less than 55% of total public school enrollment and eight charters can be issued for schools to be located in the rest of the state.
Idaho also made major strides this year by enacting two bills to better support charter school facility costs. The first one increased the cap for the state’s credit enhancement program for charter school facilities, while the second bill created a $50 million revolving loan fund for charter schools in their first or second year or the year prior to opening.
Wyoming lawmakers continued building on the positive momentum for charter schools in the Equality State. This year, lawmakers established the Wyoming Charter School Authorizing Board and clarified that charter schools are entitled to 100% state average daily membership funding, 100% of state transportation funds and special education funds, and 100% of retirement funds. However, the legislation that made these changes only allows one charter school to be authorized by the Wyoming Charter School Authorizing Board between July 1, 2026, and July 1, 2028.
In Colorado, lawmakers increased equalization funding to state-authorized charter schools to $27 million next year and called on the legislature to fully fund equalization funding every year after that. Lawmakers also increased charter school facilities funding by $10 million and made a state public school facilities program more equitable for charter schools.
In the Sunshine State, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill to designate hundreds of millions more in public funding will go toward the capital costs of public charter schools. Supporters say the new law recognizes the bigger role charter schools have taken on and makes it so that the money follows the students.
The lawmakers in West Virginia passed legislation to create the Charter Schools Stimulus Fund, intended to support charter school applicants and charter schools that may not have the resources for start-up costs. The fund would consist of money appropriated by the Legislature, grants, gifts and donations from any public or private source. It provides an initial grant of up to $300,000 before or during the school’s first two years of existence, followed by a possible second grant of up to $100,000. Grants must be paid back if the school fails to begin operating within 30 months of its most recent grant.
We also saw improvements to charter school laws in Tennessee, Utah, and Washington.
Notwithstanding the major progress we’ve seen in several states already, there are still significant bills in play in a number of states. In Alabama, for instance, charter school supporters are pushing for increased charter school funding equity. Advocates in Connecticut are working for funding improvements as well as modifications to the country’s most dysfunctional authorizing arrangement (in which both the state board of education and the legislature need to authorize the school).
In North Carolina, charter school supporters are pushing for increased funding equity and facilities support as well as the creation of a new, independent statewide authorizer. In Oklahoma, advocates are working on a major overhaul to the state’s authorizing system that would involve the creation of a new, independent statewide authorizer.
Supporters in Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin are also working on major improvements to charter school funding. We are hoping to see significant breakthroughs in these states this year as well.
Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.