As legislatures convene for their 2006 sessions, a national advocacy group for charter schools is urging lawmakers to remove caps limiting expansion of the publicly funded but largely autonomous schools.
Fixed limits on charters in 10 states are severely constraining their growth, the group argues in a new report. “The demand for charters is growing,” Nelson Smith, the president of the Washington-based National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said in a Jan. 18 statement issued with the report. “If we are to continue to close the achievement gap in this country and create real opportunity for children, caps on charter schools must be lifted—now.”
The report by Todd Ziebarth, a senior policy analyst for the alliance, says 25 states and the District of Columbia have some type of limit on charter growth, with some states imposing more than one restriction.
Sixteen states limit the number of charter schools that may operate, the report says, while seven restrict the number that may open each year.
Eleven states limit the number of charters that may be approved by a particular authorizer. And four have caps on charter students or the percentage of public school enrollment they represent.
The report argues that state-imposed limits are an especially pressing problem in 10 states. Eight of those states were at their caps at the start of this school year: Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island. Two others, Illinois and New York, will reach their ceilings this academic year, the report predicts.
“Caps have proven to be blunt instruments that don’t lead to high-quality charter schools,” the report contends. “[S]tates will get more bang for their quality buck by working with authorizers to establish rigorous application processes, firm but supportive oversight mechanisms, and reliable, transparent processes for funding and renewal.”
The charter alliance also says high-performing schools should be exempted from existing limits.
But Marc Egan, the director of federal affairs for the Alexandria, Va.-based National School Boards Association, said the mixed research on whether charter schools are improving student achievement is one reason caps may be justified.
“Because they’re a new experiment in education, it would seem pretty sensible judgment for states to have caps in place until there has been enough data to determine whether this in fact is something that’s working,” he said.