“No caps” tops list of reasons pro-charter group likes Nevada laws

school choice rally
Students hold up signs during a National School Choice Week rally in Las Vegas in 2016. (Photo Credit: National School Choice Week)

Nevada is keeping up with the joneses when it comes to charter school laws, according to pro-charter advocates.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools on Tuesday released its 10th annual ranking of state public charter school laws. The rankings take into consideration 21 benchmarks the organization considers  Those criteria include having access to the same capital funding sources as traditional public schools, and governing virtual charter schools differently than brick-and-mortar ones.

The benchmark listed first on the list of “essential components of strong public charter school law” is “no caps” on charter school growth. “Nevada law does not place any caps on charter school growth,” the advocacy group notes.

Twenty-one states have established caps on charter school growth, and another seven states do not authorize charter schools at all, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Nevada ranked 10th out of the 44 states analyzed by the Alliance.

Their complete state breakdown of charter school laws paints a picture of what types of reforms the majority of charter school advocates want and how Nevada stacks up against them. Nevada has largely embraced the charter school industry.

Positive in the eyes of the charter advocates is Nevada’s lack of caps on charter school growth, as well as the fact the state has multiple charter school authorizers. In Nevada, the State Public Charter School Authority approves and oversees the vast majority of the state’s charter schools. There is also the Achievement School District, which selects low-performing schools within traditional school districts and converts them into charter schools that are then overseen by the state department of education. Traditional school districts, such as Clark County School District, also have the ability to sponsor charter schools, though they have largely moved away from the practice.

Negative in the eyes of charter advocates is the fact Nevada charter schools do not have access to all of the same operational, facilities and capital funding sources as traditional public schools. Charter schools receive per-pupil funding like traditional district schools do, but they do not receive funds for constructing or maintaining buildings. This is why some charter schools are housed in former retail or commercial spaces. Charter schools in Nevada, however, do have access to bonding opportunities through the Department of Business.

Nationally, no state received all the points possible when it comes to the governance of virtual charter schools. Nevada received zero out of 12 possible points.

The Alliance pushes for strengthening oversight of virtual charter schools by establishing special goals related to enrollment, attendance, engagement and attrition. They also call for performance-based funding for virtual charter schools and funding levels “based on costs proposed and justified by the operators” rather than the default amount. Nevada’s virtual charter schools have been controversial, criticized for low graduation and performance rates. Virtual charter school advocates have pushed back and claimed they are being treated unfairly.

Within the charter school movement, Nevada is considered “mature,” having first established public charter school laws in 1997. An estimated 46,000 students were enrolled in Nevada charter schools during the 2017-2018 school year, and that number is expected to continue to rise. The Nevada State Public Charter School Authority has said it wants to push that number to 60,000 students by 2020.

At the same time, some backlash against charter schools is building nationally. The Los Angeles teachers strike, which ended Wednesday after six days of picketing, brought attention to what charter school opponents say is the devastating effect charter schools can have on traditional public schools. Nearly one-fifth of all K-12 students living in the district now attend charter schools. The loss of the per-pupil dollars led to reduced funding for traditional public schools, leading to the cutting of personnel such as librarians, counselors and nurses — positions the striking teachers demanded be returned. The deal reached to end the strike is expected to introduce new regulations on charter schools.

For whatever it’s worth, California is ranked 18th out of 44 states by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Indiana placed first. Colorado, Washington, Minnesota and Alabama rounded out the top five.

Of the states ranked, Maryland ranked last. Maryland only allows school districts to sponsor charter schools, meaning the state does not have an equivalent to the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority or Achievement School District.

The release of the Alliance’s report coincides with National School Choice Week. Rallies are being held across the state. In addition to charter schools, which are tuition-free schools that receive public funding, the school choice movement also encompasses voucher and neo-voucher programs such as Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship and Education Savings Accounts.

April Corbin
Reporter | April Corbin is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. Most recently she covered local government for Las Vegas Sun. She has also been a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of its student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April serves as treasurer of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter and is an at-large member of the Asian American Journalists Association. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise. She lives with her boyfriend, his toddler, three mutts and five chickens. In her free time, she enjoys rock climbing, exploring Nevada and defending selfies.

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