Letter to the House on the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 10)
May 05, 2014
On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA), and the students they serve, we wish to offer our views on the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 10) scheduled for a vote later this week. While this bill includes some improvements to existing law, it falls short of what is needed to ensure greater accountability and transparency.
NEA supports high-quality charter schools that operate in a manner that is transparent and accountable to parents and taxpayers; ensures equity and access; and solicits and benefits from input from parents, educators, and the communities they serve. We caution, however, that charter schools are not a panacea for solving all education challenges.
Charter schools are public schools, so they should be held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools, including those in ESEA and other federal requirements. We believe there should be clearer requirements than in current law for charter school authorizers to work directly with charter schools to conduct annual financial audits. States should require charter schools to disclose publicly all funding sources (public and private), student attrition rates, and student demographic characteristics.
The best studies of charter schools to date, including the 2013 national study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, have yielded mixed results with regard to student achievement. Charters come out ahead of, the same as, or behind traditional public schools in terms of student growth depending on the subject area, the demographic characteristics of individual students, and the length of time a school has been in operation.
Specifically regarding H.R. 10, we would like to draw your attention to a few specific provisions of the legislation that NEA is pleased to see included in the bill:
Charter Authorizer Accountability: We are pleased that H.R. 10 includes stronger accountability measures, including revoking the power of charter authorizers where the performance of the schools they authorize is persistently poor. Charter authorizers have the power, conferred to them by state charter laws, to approve, disapprove or close charter schools. When they do a poor job of vetting initial applications, or renewing charters without high enough standards, students, parents, communities and taxpayers can be faced with the prospect of potential school closures. Yet current federal law does not require states to take responsibility for tracking how charter schools fare and holding their authorizers accountable.
Weighted Lotteries: Including weighted lotteries in H.R. 10 is a positive step toward providing another tool to those charter schools that wish to address under-enrollment of “educationally disadvantaged students.” Charter schools nationally under-enroll students with disabilities, especially those with severe disabilities, and English language learners. Also, they are more segregated than other public schools by family income, ethnicity, or race (UCLA Civil Rights Project, 2010; National Education Policy Center, 2010). While we see the inclusion of weighted lotteries as a good first step, this provision, and the bill as a whole, does not go nearly far enough in addressing under-representation and segregation issues in the charter sector.
Alternatively, there are a few issues that are of particular concern to educators which this legislation does not address. The bill’s shortcomings include: no mandatory disclosure and reporting on key data, including funding received from private sources; no independent audit requirements; and no conflict of interest guidelines. It should do more to improve accountability and transparency to ensure charters promote equity and best serve all students.
More specifically, we believe H.R. 10 would be strengthened with changes such as these:
- Open Meetings and Conflict of Interest Guidelines: Charter school board members are not elected and the public is often excluded from attending their meetings. Given that these schools are publicly funded, open meeting law provisions that apply to traditional public schools should also apply to taxpayer funded charter schools. There should also be conflict of interest guidelines to prevent purchase arrangements which are not transparent in the ways all other taxpayer-funded schools must operate.
- Public Disclosure on Student Attrition / Demographics: Because research shows that overall, charter schools underserve English-language learners and students with disabilities and that individual charter schools may be more segregated than other public schools by family income, ethnicity, or race, states should require charter schools to publicly disclose student attrition rates and student demographic characteristics, in accordance to their state reporting requirements.
- Not Penalizing States with Charter Caps: Some states have decided to limit charter school growth by capping the number of charters authorized. As states and school districts are in a better position to determine the types of programs their students need, states capping their number of charter schools should not be put at a competitive disadvantage when applying for federal funding.
- Financial Oversight and Transparency: To further increase accountability and transparency there should be a set-aside of funds to help ensure states provide sufficient oversight of charters; and require disclosure of private sources of funding.
- Again, while we are encouraged the bill includes improvements in some areas over current law, it ultimately falls well short of long-overdue parent, student, educator, community and taxpayer safeguards needed in the now 23-year old charter sector.
We welcome the opportunity to work with you in strengthening H.R. 10 as the House considers this legislation this week.
Director, Government Relations