The State Public Charter School Authority continues to face serious criticism from legislators for failing to conduct evaluative site visits at the dozens of charter schools it oversees, even amid their promises to begin such visits early next year.
“I’m concerned there’s not real clarity on what you are supposed to be doing as a regulator,” Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, told the charter school authority during an Interim Finance Committee meeting this week.
Carlton raised concerns over how the agency characterized the framework it uses to evaluate schools. In a five-page letter to the Interim Finance Committee, the charter school authority states its “academic performance framework has been defunct for quite some time” and also that “there is no requirement for site visits.” The lack of evaluative site visits has been of interest to the Interim Finance Committee over the past year because four new full-time staff positions at the charter school agency were approved by the Legislature to ensure the evaluative site visits get done.
“I have concerns about that statement,” said Carlton. “That framework is cited in (Nevada Revised Statute). It has not been repealed. It does exist. And site visits are in the framework.”
Charter school board chair Jason Guinasso confirmed the academic framework has not been used to rate schools “in four or five years.” He added that the process of updating the framework is currently underway.
Carlton pressed for a straightforward answer.
“We have something in state statute that you have not been doing,” she said.
Replied Guinasso, “In all candor, yes.”
Guinasso continued that he had been trying to address the issue “with limited success” and suggested it caused tension between him and former Executive Director Patrick Gavin, who submitted his resignation last month. An interim executive director is already in place. Much of the charter school authority’s letter to the Interim Finance Committee passes blame onto Gavin, characterizing him as a leader who willingly withheld information or possibly outright lied to the board about what information they were privy to.
“There is no debate on whether you enforce the laws,” said Carlton. “Ultimately the rubber hits the road, hits the board, and the board has not been enforcing the law. That is a problem.”
Guinasso promised the board would be fully accountable and that they were committed to updating their evaluative frameworks as well as the evaluative site visits.
Carlton issued a promise of her own: that legislators are paying attention and will address these issues.
“We will make sure everyone understands what’s in the framework,” she said. “We hate to micromanage but if we have to spell this explicitly, that’s what we will do to make sure this is accomplished.”
Charter schools are approved by the charter school board for six-year terms. The Charter School Performance Framework specifies that annual and midterm reviews are to be conducted, and that midterm reviews include “a site visit to gather qualitative data that complements the quantitative findings.”
The charter school board meets Friday (Dec. 14). They are agendized to discuss how the update to the Interim Finance Committee went, among other things.
Charter schools are open-enrollment, tuition free schools that receive public funding but are managed privately, often by national academic management companies. Roughly 45,000 students, or nearly 10 percent of students enrolled in K-12 in Nevada, are in a Nevada charter school. The overwhelming majority of those students, more than 43,000, are in schools overseen by the state charter authority, effectively rendering it the third largest school district in the state, after Clark and Washoe.
The growth of charter schools has been large and fast in recent years, and the job announcement for a new executive director states the authority “aspires to serve 60,000 students” by 2020. There are more than 6 dozen charter schools in the state, and all but a few are under the aegis of the state charter school authority.