Home > Uncategorized > Stop micro-charters now (SB 234)

Stop micro-charters now (SB 234)

May 31, 2014

It’s nearly June and on cue there is late-breaking charter mischief afoot in the General Assembly. This year it is micro-charters. Current law says that a charter school must have at least 200 students [to open]. But a new bill, SB 234, would remove that language and allow the creation of even smaller charters (h/t Kilroy).

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Sokola and Rep. Scott, the chairs of their respective education committees, so there is going to be some muscle and political capital behind this bill. And as usual there is no public discussion on the need for this bill, and no time for parents to organize. Although interestingly, the bill has not drawn any other co-sponsors. I suspect the vote will be based simply on factional loyalties to the sponsors, rather than any real need or demand for the bill.

Why is this happening now? Where is the burning need for smaller charters? What public purpose is served?

The answer is found in the recent embarrassments the charter lobby has suffered due to several new charters failing to draw sufficient enrollment. The spectacle threatens to undermine the lobby’s contention that charters exist because they are demanded by parents. One of the underenrolled schools, Academia Antonio Alonso, plays a key role in the megacharter showcase, the Community Education Building.

According to Jennifer Nagourney, director of the Charter Schools Office in the State Department of Education, the department has three options: impose remedial measures on the schools, revoke their charters, or allow them to open as planned.

But apparently Sen. Sokola and Rep. Scott have found a fourth option: loosen the law to make the deficiencies legal.

This comes at a time when the public and legislators are becoming aware of the negative impact charters have on our district schools, by drawing away funds for key programs. Another bill (SB 209) has passed the Senate and is pending in the House, which allows the state to impose conditions on charters based on their projected impact to district schools.

So the last thing we need is to lower the bar on the creation of new charters, especially marginal charters with dubious financial viabilty, who will wreak their havoc on neighboring schools, and then likely fail and walk away from the trauma caused to their students.

Do we really want storefront charters fragmenting public education even further? We expect schools of all kinds to operate with a scale that permits organization and a reasonable economy of scale. Micro-charters will inevitably become personality-driven fiefdoms with no internal mechanics of governance (remember Pencader?). What’s next, kitchen-table charters?

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  1. John Young
    May 31, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Maybe they want to start that clown school Heffernan mentioned.

  2. MHS
    May 31, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    A charter school must be fiscally viable and those new higher standard reviews were put in place last year. It’s very possible that a school with only 200 students isn’t financially viable but the current language implies they only have to have 200 to open. I would think now they have the ability to have a tighter review of new applications the need for an artificial floor is no longer needed.
    Also your comment about this being a way around the three schools not meeting their enrollment requirement is completely incorrect! Those schools were brought up for formal review because they didn’t meet the 80% requirement in law of their approved enrollment. That requirement is still there in law, thus if a school didn’t meet their enrollment requirement by April 1st they would still face that review. This proposed change really does just seem to be bringing the emphasis on the review of new applications on the higher standards of financial viability established in the past several years, more directly last year with the new language in 511 through HB165. This language elimination seems to be an alignment with that effort and not have potential conflicting impressions with an arbitrary floor placed in code. Approval should be based on the proposed quality and economic viability not just a random floor established 17 years ago especially when it’s very highly unlikely that a school would be considered to meet the quality and viable threshold at that low number.

    Sorry, but I really think your sky is falling claim of “micro-charters” is misplaced here.

  3. May 31, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Yes, I know 200 only applies to the startup phases of a new charter, but so what? The arbitrary floor is a reasonable one to assure some modicum of organizational structure. Sorry, I am not swayed by your analysis, and there is no reason to make charter startups even easier. Let them prove they are meeting a real need for their specific educational niche, by attracting at least 200 students.

  4. MHS
    May 31, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Actually the current law says a start up would only need 100 in their first two years to be at full capacity and at that number not to mention 80% of that which is required, I would be hard pressed to believe a school would be financially or organizationally viable not to mention good quality. For that reason I fully understand why the higher standards established through the review process and written into 511 are able to supercede these arbitrary numbers in 503 and make then unnecessary thus there is no need for this language in 503 when 511 establishes a more rigorous standard.

  5. May 31, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    You are actually going to make me read the code again, aren’t you :-)

  6. MHS
    May 31, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Saving you the trouble:
    Here it is:
    A charter school is a public school including 2 or more of grade kindergarten through 12 and having at least 200 students (provided, however, that a charter school may enroll fewer than 200 but no less than 100 students in its first 2 years of operation or for a charter school serving at-risk or special education students),

  7. John Young
    May 31, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    using MHS logic, a charter that pledges 10 kids, gets 8 = good to go.

  8. John Young
    May 31, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Let me save everyone the trouble:MHS is the sole applicant for Dave Sokola’s personal legislative aide.

  9. MHS
    May 31, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    John, how in the world would a school proposed to serve 10 kids be financially or organizationally viable not to mention how would it get past the initial review of quality and viability?
    You are making my point. Arbitrary minimums of size are not needed when you have higher standards and level of review at the beginning of the process which is what was put in place last year.
    Sorry, don’t need a job with Sen. Sokola I’m counting down the days till retirement this year.

  10. John Young
    May 31, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    DOE and ” higher standards and level of review at the beginning of the process ” cannot co-exist. Come on, you know this.

  11. John Young
    June 1, 2014 at 12:28 am

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  12. Arthur
    June 3, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Where a micro-charter could work is a small consortium of home schoolers. 3-4 moms/dads with a total of 10-14 kids ages 6-12. Establish a charter in a building that is currently owned and you rent a small space (better if a spouse/family member owns the building), establish your charter for those kids and collect the funds to educate the as you wish. Make the charter so specific that no one besides your small group wants to attend and viola, you’ve got a $150k a year business.

  1. May 31, 2014 at 11:25 am
  2. June 2, 2014 at 7:43 am
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