NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

What Charters Can Teach Private School Choice Programs

July 16, 2014

The private school choice movement could see enormous growth if it looks to charter schools for guidance, says Andy Smarick in a report for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

In 1990, the first private school voucher program in the United States was established in Wisconsin. A year later, Minnesota passed the nation's first charter school law. Since this time, a number of states have established their own charter school laws, but comparatively few have created private school choice programs.  2.3 million American children are enrolled in charters today, while only 300,000 students participate in private school choice.

Recently, however, some states have instituted a number of private school choice reforms:

  • Fifty-one private school choice programs are in operation in 24 states as well as Washington, D.C.
  • Arizona has established education savings accounts and a tax credit scholarship program.
  • In 2011, Indiana approved a voucher program that is the largest in the country.
  • Four states (Mississippi, New Hampshire, Virginia and Kansas) recently established private school choice programs for the first time.

Smarick identifies three lessons that the newly invigorated private school choice movement can learn from the charter school movement in order to grow and expand:

  • Building networks: Charter development has benefited greatly from Charter Management Organizations, or CMOs. CMOs operate one out of every five charter schools in the United States, and their multi-campus approach allows for economies of scale. Charters also work to attract teachers from nontraditional pipelines and invest heavily in developing teacher talent.
  • Incubation: A number of nonprofit organizations aimed at identifying and supporting charter opportunities have developed across American cities. These organizations recruit school leaders and bring charter networks to cities, in addition to generating financial and strategic support.
  • Authorization: States have various procedures with regard to authorizing new charters and closing unsuccessful ones, but independent authorizing agencies and performance-based contracts have proven key in creating and maintaining successful charters.

Smarick encourages private school choice advocates to draw from the charter school experience and build strong, multi-school networks.

Source: Andy Smarick, "The Chartered Course: Can Private School Choice Proponents Learn from the Charter School Sector?" July 2014.


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