Charter-School Holdouts: States That Prohibit Them, and Why

The eight states that have staunchly resisted charter laws could shrink in number after midterm elections Nov. 4. That, combined with forceful advocacy efforts, could help push the holdouts toward embracing the publicly funded, independently operated schools.

  1. Funded with taxpayer dollars, charter schools operate free from many of the laws and regulations that govern traditional public schools.
  2. And while most states allow charters, Alabama, Kentucky, Nebraska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia still do not. The reasons why vary, but they do have some things in common.
  3. Most are heavily Republican and have been equally resistant to other school-choice efforts, such as taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools. Also among their common traits is their largely rural populations, with less demand for new schools.
  4. "If you have a conversation in Kentucky about charters, people think about it as only a solution for kids in Louisville," said Todd M. Ziebarth, the vice president for state advocacy and support at the Washington-based National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. "I think there's a mischaracterization that charters are only for cities."
  5. But, with the upcoming midterm elections, these states could embrace charter schools.
  6. Let's start with Alabama. In that state, legislators who favor charters have fallen short of mustering enough political support for years.
  7. In this picture, by Tamika Moore for Education Week, Duncan E. Kirkwood, state director of the Alabama chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, or BAEO, talks to local media after a town hall event in support of charter schools in Montgomery.
  8. The BAEO is leading the effort to pass charter laws, with support from high-ranking Republicans, as well as Democrats. The group says charter schools could improve the grim graduation rates for African-American students and help empower parents to make schooling choices for their children.
  9. But, the statewide teachers' union has blocked previous efforts to pass charter legislation, saying the problem is Alabama's budget cuts, and that charters would put additional strain on the state's finances.
  10. While the midterm elections probably won't have much effect in Alabama, since the most competitive races in the heavily GOP state took place in the June primary, they could alter the charter landscape in other states—like Kentucky and Nebraska.
  11. In Kentucky, observers expect the state Senate to remain Republican and say there's a 50-50 chance for the GOP to capture the House of Representatives, meaning there's a good chance the state can pass a charter law next year.
  12. In Nebraska, the GOP candidate running for governor supports charter schools.
  13. There have also been past pushes for charter schools in the state.
  14. Meanwhile, in South Dakota, the large Native American community may push for more charters.
  15. If these states move toward embracing charters, they’d be following in the footsteps of Maine and Washington, where charter laws were passed in recent years.
  16. The first charter school in Washington was opened in September.
  17. Washington approved charter schools in 2012, but a challenge to the law has made it to the state supreme court.
  18. In Maine, charter legislation was passed in 2011.
  19. In fact, incumbent Gov. Paul LePage, who signed the 2011 charter legislation, wants more charter schools in the state.
  20. Despite what could be a perfect storm of circumstances for the eight holdouts to embrace charter schools, some experts say anti-charter sentiment runs deeper than union power and political makeup—it reflects a strong, anti-Washington culture.
  21. "For better or for worse, charters have been associated with Washington think tanks, and the federal government," said Mr. Lubienski, a professor of education policy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who again pointed to the fact that many of these states are largely rural. "People take a lot of pride in their community schools."