School Choice & Charters

It Was an Eventful Summer for School Choice

By Arianna Prothero — September 12, 2016 4 min read
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From major anniversaries to civil rights groups calling for moratoriums on new charter schools, the summer of 2016 was a busy one for school choice.

And because it’s easy for a story or two to slip under the radar while on summer vacation, I’ve compiled a list of some of the most notable events from the last three months. Consider this a cheat sheet to start the school year informed on all things school choice.


June marked 25 years since the nation’s first charter school law was signed into existence in Minnesota.

Today, 43 states plus the District of Columbia have charter schools enrolling over 2.5 million students—or about 5 percent of the total K-12 public student population.

As part of Education Week‘s special report on the anniversary, we highlighted two charter schools, one led by teachers in St. Paul, Minn., and the other part of a large network in Los Angeles, to show how much the charter movement has changed over 25 years.

The Big Talkers and Water Cooler Must-Knows

Comedian John Oliver made charter school fraud the focus of his show, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on Aug. 21. Reaction to the episode was fairly predictable from the anti- and pro-charter camps. If you haven’t seen the segment, yet, you can watch it here, and read some of the reaction to it.

Although the John Oliver segment generated a lot of conversation on social media, arguably the biggest story of the summer was the NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives (a coalition of groups that includes Black Lives Matter) calling for a moratorium on new charter schools. The announcements exposed rifts in support among African Americans for charter schools—and it’s unclear what the long-term impact will be for charters.

U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. spoke to the National Charter Schools Conference in Nashville in June about discipline in charter schools. He called on charter leaders to use innovative approaches to rethink school discipline and cut down on student suspensions.

Finally, in mid-July, Turkey’s president survived an attempted military coup. And what, exactly, does this have to do with school choice? Well, it turns out there’s a bizarre link between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the man he’s accused of orchestrating the coup attempt, and a number of U.S.-based charter schools. You’ll have to read it to believe it.

Charter Schools and School Choice Research

Two separate studies—one on Florida charter school students and the other on Texas students—found very different results on how attending a charter school affects a student’s future income. The Florida study found that attending a charter school had a positive effect on students’ future salaries. The Texas study found the opposite.

Students using vouchers to attend private schools in Ohio performed significantly worse on state tests than their peers who remained in public schools, according to a study commissioned by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Three prominent charter school advocacy organizations, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and 50Can, came together to release a report calling for more regulation of full-time virtual charter schools.

Meanwhile, another study on virtual charter schools in Ohio, also by Fordham, found fast growth but spotty performance in the sector.

The American Federation for Children, a pro-school choice advocacy organization, released its first ever state report cards on school choice. School choice programs in Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina came in first, second, and third, respectively. You can find the full rankings here.

The Finer Details: Policies and Politics

There’s another lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Washington state’s charter schools. And the initial lawsuit in Washington has inspired another one in Mississippi.

Nevada’s supreme court heard both lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of its expansive—and unprecedented—school choice program at the end of July, but it has yet to issue a decision.

The group behind the landmark Vergara teacher tenure lawsuit in California is now backing a legal challenge to limitations on charter and magnet schools in Connecticut.

The latest Education Next poll found that support for charter schools has remained steady, but it has dropped for school vouchers.

A Philanthropic Update

In June, the Walton Family Foundation, one of the biggest financial backers of the charter school sector, pledged to spend $250 million to help charter schools buy or renovate school buildings.

And last but not least, the Texas-based IDEA Public Schools charter network won this year’s Broad Prize. Funded by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, another prominent funder of charter schools, the award recognizes high-performing charter school networks with a $250,000 prize to spend on college readiness efforts for students.

Did I miss anything important? If you think so, share the story in the comments section below or tweet it to @ChartersNChoice.

Photo: Students arrive for classes at Alliance Collins Family College-Ready High School, a public charter school in Huntington Park, Calif. —Patrick T. Fallon for Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.