NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Charter Authorizers Face Challenges

May 30, 2013

In recent years, U.S. education has taken a turn for the worse. Some policymakers have been striving to increase the quality of U.S. schools by advocating school choice with private schools and charter schools. Charter schools have taken a lot of heat lately from policy analysts and traditional public school advocates, and charter school authorizers (regulators) are facing many challenges, says Joey Gustafson, CEO of JM Consulting, Inc., which specializes in charter diagnostics, growth planning and evaluation.

  • Public charter schools enroll about 5 percent of the nation's public school students.
  • More than 2.3 million students attend 6,000 charter schools, and more than 600,000 students are on waitlists for seats in charter schools that are oversubscribed.
  • The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) anticipates that 400 to 500 new charter schools will open in 2013.

With charter schools numbering in the thousands and the sector's continual growth, one might expect that the authorizer world had developed a solid infrastructure. This is hardly the case.

  • As of 2011-2012, 957 agencies served as authorizers, and fewer than 80 were entities other than school districts or state education departments.
  • This means that 92 percent of all authorizers are "within the educational establishment," and that 72 percent of all charter schools are authorized by these two types of organizations.
  • Some 86 percent of all authorizing is done by authorizers that have fewer than five charters in their portfolios.
  • Out of the non-school-district authorizers, a significant portion (38 percent) has more than 10 charter schools.
  • Only 7 percent of school district authorizers have more than 10 charter schools.
  • Authorizing is a labor-intensive business.

According to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a good authorizer needs at least five to six staff members for a portfolio of 50 to 70 schools. But the accuracy of this formula depends on the type of authorizer organization. A strong authorizer must assemble a staff that has the right combination of skills and knowledge: people who understand how to operate a successful charter school, who can think strategically, who understand legal and fiscal issues, who have experience in the public sector, who have worked with large foundations and the federal government, and most importantly, who are skilled in relationship management.

The success of charter schools is completely dependent on the ability of the authorizer in charge of the school, and if charter schools are going to become a solution to the problem of mediocre education coming from public school they are going to need the right authorizers.

Source: Joey Gustafson, "Charter Authorizers Face Challenges," Education Next, Summer 2013.


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