On July 4th, the vast majority of the 7,000 delegates from the National Education Association (NEA) voted to adopt a new charter school policy statement. The new statement is an overhaul of NEA’s former charter school policy statement that they had adopted in 2001.
Context for Charters Nationally and in Minnesota
A lot has changed since 2001, when chartering was just ten years old and the national enrollment was only 571,000 students. Since then, charter school enrollment has increased dramatically. Today, more than 3 million students are enrolled in charter schools across the country, which comprises 6.1 percent of national public school enrollment.
In Minnesota, even though charter school enrollment has grown by 36 percent in the past five years, it still accounts for just 6 percent of the state’s public school enrollment. According to Eugene Piccolo, executive director for the Minnesota Association of Charter schools, “We’ll see probably steady, slow growth” for charter school enrollment and expansion.
NEA Provides Criteria that “Charters Must Meet”
NEA President, Lily Eskelen Garcia, said that, “This policy draws a clear line between charters that serve to improve public education and those that do not.” Specifically, NEA’s new policy statement lays out three criteria that charter schools must meet in order to provide students with “the support and learning environments they deserve.”
Criterion #1: Charter schools must be authorized and held accountable by public school districts. Specifically, the statement asserts that charter schools only “serve students and the public interest when they are authorized and held accountable by the same democratically accountable local entity [school board] that authorizes other alternative school models in a public school district such as magnet, community, educator-led.”
Criterion #2: The charter school must demonstrate that it is necessary to meet the needs of the students in the district, and they must meet those needs in a manner that improves the local public school system. Additionally, charter school may only be authorized or expanded only after the public school district has “assessed the impact of the proposed charter school on local public school resources, programs and services.”
Criterion #3: The charter school must comply with the same basic safeguards as other public schools, which includes open meetings and public records law, prohibitions against for-profit operations, and certification requirements, among other things.
The policy statement contends that if these criterion are not met then no charter school should be authorized, and that NEA would support state and local moratoriums on “further charter authorizations in the school district.”
In addition to the three criteria, the policy statement asserted that “fully virtual or online” charter schools should be not authorizer at all because they “cannot, by their nature, provide students with a well-rounded, complete educational experience.”
NAPCS, NACSA Respond to NEA Policy Statement
On July 5th, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) issued a response to NEA’s statement. The response provided clarifications to some of the assertions that NEA had made. In response to NEA’s claim that charters are largely held “unaccountable” and are for-profit, NAPCS wrote, “Eighty-five percent of charter schools are either independently run or part of a non-profit network, but no matter their structure, all charter schools are public schools and all are held accountable to their authorizers and the families they serve.”
Further, the NAPCS noted several achievements in the charter sector over the past year, including that six of the ten best high schools in America, as ranked by U.S. News, were charter schools and that the National Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee, is a Massachusetts charter school teacher.
Greg Richmond, President and CEO for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), asserted that NEA’s policy statement seems to indicate that “they are not against charter schools as long as they operate just like district schools,” and have union contracts and school board politics. Richmond asked, so then “What’s the point?”
He also said the statement missed some of the “nuance in the sector”. He noted that some charters are far more transparent than others due to state and local rules, but also indicated that virtual or online charters have consistently yielded poor results for students. He admitted that, “there is work to be done, but that won’t happen by making charter schools run exactly like district schools.”
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