Understanding the Roles of Charter School Authorizers

Since 1991, charter schools have offered families throughout the United States opportunities to choose how their children receive publicly-funded education.

These institutions rely on people throughout local and federal government, who craft and pass the legislation necessary to bring charter schools into existence. They also rely on those willing to start these institutions, build brand new establishments from the ground up, and do what it takes to maintain them.

Another important role in this process is held by charter school authorizers, because without them, these schools wouldn’t exist.

What Exactly is an Authorizer?

The laws regarding charter school authorizers vary by state, but each is expected to do three things.

Determine who is able to create a new school. Charter school authorizers are entities or bodies that, first and foremost, decide if a charter school can operate. Whether or not an organization can be an authorizer depends on the state. Likewise, the different types of authorizers, their characteristics, and their powers vary by location.

When a group wishes to start a charter school, those involved need to send an official application to an authorizer. The authorizer then decides if this concept can turn into a viable, well-run institution.

The factors that are taken into consideration vary by state and authorizer, but generally, the goal is to ensure those in charge of the schools are capable, the correct resources are in place, and the right students could benefit from an approved application.

Define expectations and monitor school performance. The job of charter school authorizers doesn’t end after the approval process. Rather, they are expected to keep tabs on the institutions to ensure that everything remains in order. This is essential, given that each charter school must renew its contract on a regular basis to continue running.

Determine if a school needs to shut down. If a facility is not performing as well as it should be, drastic measures could be taken. Authorizers must communicate with a charter school if certain expectations are not being met. If problems within that establishment appear difficult or impossible to fix, the authorizers can opt to not renew the school’s contract.

When this step is taken, authorizers need to help the charter school board, as well as the families involved, to make sure each student affected by that decision can enroll in a new school.

What are the Different Types of Authorizers?

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers recognizes six kinds of authorizers.

1. Independent Chartering Boards: Also referred to as commissions and institutes, ICBs are statewide bodies that exist solely to authorize charter schools and survey their operations. The biggest advantage of ICBs is right in its name: its independent nature leads to unbiased results.

“ICBs ensure that charter schools have access to at least one high-quality authorizer,” per NACSA. “School districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and state education agencies serve a variety of functions. They may have conflicts of interest (as is often the case with school districts) that prevent them from fairly or adequately performing their functions as authorizers. State contexts vary in ways that shape how many authorizers make sense.”

2. Local Education Agencies: Typically school districts that utilize their school boards to serve as charter school authorizers. This is by far the most common type of authorizer: According to research, as of 2013, 945 of 1,045 charter school authorizers were LEAs. That’s roughly 90 percent.

3. State Education Agencies: These agencies are usually found within a state’s department of education. The U.S. Department of Education states that the purpose of SEAs is to increase the understanding of the charter school model by (1) expanding the number of quality schools in the country through financial assistance for the planning, design, and implementation of the schools, and (2) evaluating the effects of these schools on students, staff, and parents.

4. Higher Education Institutions: A common alternative to local school districts and state education agencies, HEIs can bring a sense of independence and credibility to the process.

“Because of their education focus and credibility, HEIs can be an option for creating an independent or statewide authorizer when other approaches—such as independent chartering boards or state education agency authorizers—are not politically viable,” according to a NACSA policy report. “HEI authorizers can be an important authorizing option in states where local districts are unwilling to authorize charter schools or lack capacity to do so effectively.”

5. Not-For-Profit Organizations

NFP authorizers are not common: There were only 18 in the country as of 2013, and as of that year, only Minnesota, Ohio, Louisiana, and Hawaii allowed them by law.

6. Non-Educational Government Entities: NEGs are municipalities and mayors that work as authorizers. As of this writing, only Oklahoma, Indiana, and Wisconsin have active NEG authorizers.

Why are Independent Authorizers Important?

Independent charter school authorizers are authorizers that are not local or state school boards. A study from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty indicates charter schools that receive more independence when it comes to important policy decisions see their students perform at a higher level. The Center for Education Reform reached a similar conclusion.

“The data show that states with multiple chartering authorities have almost three and a half times more charter schools than states that only allow local school board approval,” per a paper written by the CER. The paper also determines that about 78 percent of the nation’s charter schools are in states with multiple authorizers, which are often home to some of the highest quality schools.

In addition to providing valuable information about the charter school movement, Charter Asset Management is committed to helping charter schools throughout the country receive fast and affordable financing. For more information about how CAM can provide funding to your institution, click here to download our program overview or contact our team today.