The latest report by the Center for Education Reform, which ranks states by their friendliness to charter schools, is attracting more attention than usual as New York’s fight over education reform heats up. State laws determine how easy it is to authorize new schools, how many resources to devote to charters, and whether or not they are exempt from regulations affecting traditional schools—all highly contentious issues dividing reformers and teachers unions. The CER report uses these as metrics to pinpoint the battleground states for the charter movement:
“While it is true the charter school sector in the United States has grown at a steady, linear pace since the first charter school law was passed in 1991, we know the highest charter school and enrollment growth is in jurisdictions with strong charter school laws,” said Alison Consoletti Zgainer, executive vice president of the Center for Education Reform and lead author of the rankings. Strong charter laws feature independent, multiple authorizers, few limits on expansion, equitable funding, and high levels of school autonomy.“These critical flexibilities and equitable resources must be codified in law, otherwise they fall prey to the whims of politicians. We are seeing this play out right now in New York City under Mayor Bill de Blasio, and have seen it before in Washington, D.C. and in Oakland, California,” said Kerwin.
Among the five states to receive a grade of “A” were the usual stars—DC, Indiana and Arizona—but these were joined by newcomer Mississippi, which is rarely singled out for its performance on assessments like these. New York ranked near the top as well, but one tier below.Also surprising was the middling placement of education reform darling Louisiana, which received criticism for its restrictions on independent authorizers of charter schools and its failure to guarantee that charters receive the same levels of funding for facilities as public schools. It was outdone by Kansas, whose charter school laws are ranked as the worst in the country. Sam Brownback’s red revolution, it seems, has not entailed increased support for charters.Of course, CER is an advocacy group, and its report measures how closely states hew to its preferred agenda, not whether the reforms in question are actually improving education outcomes. Most of these laws are simply too new to accurately assess their impact. But it’s useful to see at a glance which states are implementing the policies reformers support. If education improves dramatically in these states over the next few years, it will be a clear sign that these reforms are working.