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The Charter Commission: authorize, advocate and regulate

Karen Echeverria

During this past legislative session, much discussion and debate was held related to advocating for charter schools and the oversight or regulation of charter schools. Who is responsible for one or both of these areas? Some history might help understand the various roles.

Idaho’s charter school law went through a major rewrite in 2004. During that rewrite, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission (IPCSC) was created. Prior to the IPCSC, charter schools had only one option to petition for authorization and that was through their local school district. In most cases, the local school districts were denying those petitions and the petitioners had nowhere else to go. By creating the IPCSC, it gave petitioners another option – another place to go to request authorization – so they could open and operate their charter school. IPCSC is, and always has been, an authorizing entity. That is important to understand when we begin to look at the responsibilities of an authorizer. IPCSC definitely authorizes the vast majority of charter schools but there are still school districts that authorize charter schools as well.

For the most part, charter schools must comply with the same laws and rules as traditional school districts. They participate in statewide testing, receive funding through the same line items and formulas, submit reports to the State Department of Education (SDE) at the same time and in the same form as traditional schools, receive a yearly audit, and must comply with Open Meeting Laws and Public Records Requests. In addition, the IPCSC has adopted a framework they utilize to assess several areas of the charters’ performance each year. The framework includes governance, finances, and academic performance. By reviewing this framework on a yearly basis, the IPCSC is meeting their oversight, or regulatory, responsibility.

The requirement for oversight and accountability for the IPCSC, or any authorizer (a school district), is clearly outlined in Idaho Administrative Rule:

Rules Governing Idaho Public Charter Schools, 08.02.04

01. Monitoring. Notwithstanding Section 300 of these rules, the authorized chartering entity of a public charter school shall be responsible for monitoring the public charter school’s operations in accordance with all of the terms and conditions of the performance certificate, including compliance with all applicable federal and state education standards and all applicable state and federal laws, regulations, and policies. ( )
02. Pre-opening Site Visit. Authorized chartering entities may conduct site visits to the physical location of the public charter school to verify the facility meets all state, local, and federal requirements for operating a public school. ( )
03. Performance Certificate Review. Pursuant to Section 33-5209B, Idaho Code, an authorized chartering entity may renew a charter for a term of five (5) years or may nonrenew a charter following the initial operating term. Should an authorized chartering entity take no action to renew or nonrenew the charter, and the charter school has met all of the existing performance certificate targets, the charter school shall be provisionally renewed until such time as the chartering entity takes action. The five-year term of the renewed charter shall be based on the provisional renewal date.

It is important to note that there is no reference in either law or rule related to the advocacy of charter schools. There is a reference in law as to the responsibility for assisting charter schools. That responsibility lies with the State Department of Education (SDE):

33-5211.   TECHNICAL SUPPORT AND INFORMATION. (1) Upon request, the state department of education shall provide technical assistance to persons or authorized chartering entities preparing or reviewing charter petitions or performance certificates, and to existing public charter schools in the same manner as such assistance is provided to traditional public schools and school district.

It is clear from debate on the floor of the legislature this year when it came to the IPCSC’s budget and passage of their rules that the legislature believes the IPCSC is not advocating enough for charter schools and is regulating them too much.

However, Idaho’s laws and rules are clear about where the regulatory responsibility lies vs. the support responsibility.

Charter schools, just like traditional schools, must be held to accountability standards. It is important that we always remember that the goal is to provide the best education for the students attending these schools and that taxpayer dollars are used wisely and judiciously. If not, then the charter school is missing the mark.

If the charter school is not meeting the required, or agreed upon goals established in the initial performance certificate they negotiated when they are authorized, and reported
each year in the framework, the IPCSC notifies the schools and provides ample opportunity for them to correct the deficiencies. Numerous times over the past five years, some charter schools have failed to comply with the measures agreed upon in the performance certificate. Quite frankly, the number of deficiencies are too numerous to list here. In addition, the severity of the deficiencies are enormous including, but not limited to, not meeting one single academic performance measure in a five year period.

It is inconceivable to believe that not meeting academic standards for five years is good for the students in that school.

The IPCSC is required by Idaho Administrative Rule to hold the charter schools they authorize accountable. However, they failed to do so on several occasions. In doing so, they have failed the students and the taxpayers of the state of Idaho.

Yet, theLegislature seems to want the IPCSC to advocate more for schools and regulate them less. Many questions remain unanswered. Who is responsible for advocacy – there is nothing in law or rule? How is less regulation and more advocacy good for students or taxpayers? Requiring one entity to both advocate and regulate leads to confusion and frustration on everyone’s part. It also leads to bad decision-making and bad governance.

Charter schools were created to allow for new ideas and innovations, to allow for school choice. Why then would we allow a few bad apples to continue to operate and put a bad tarnish or stain on the many charter schools that are succeeding?

Karen Echeverria

Karen Echeverria

Karen Echeverria retired as the executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association.

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