The National Education Association supports public charter schools that have
the same standards of accountability and access as other public schools. Publicly
funded schools must be accountable to the general public-as well as parents-for
budgets, health and safety standards, academic standards and access for students.
NEA policy embraces high standards, accountability and strong local control
for charter schools. It also offers guidance in the form of various criteria
that can significantly improve the chances for success of these programs, which
after 10 years are still in the experimental stage. Among other things, NEA
firmly believes that all affected public education employees must be directly
involved in the design, implementation and governance of these and other educational
Failures spur review of charter school laws
Charter schools are part of the landscape of public education. According to
the Education Commission of the States, as of August 2001 there were more than
2,300 public charter schools serving more than 500,000 students nationwide.
The Commission reported that 37 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto
Rico have laws providing funding and permitting charter schools to operate.
However, many of those statutes are being revisited and revised in light of
a number of charter school failures, some with disastrous consequences for students.
NEA's position on charter schools is necessarily general. State laws and regulations
vary widely, and NEA state affiliates have positions that are appropriate to
the situation in their states. For example, accountability for meeting high
academic standards is an essential component of successful charter schools.
But not all state charter laws have strong accountability requirements. In addition,
not all state laws require charter schools to develop programs conforming with
state or local academic standards, and many charter laws do not require charters
to participate in the state accountability system.
Accountability proves to be elusive
According to the U.S. Department of Education: "Charter schools are public
schools that come into existence through a contract with either a state agency
or a local school board. The charter-or contract-establishes the framework within
which the school operates and provides public support for the school for a specified
period of time. The school's charter gives the school autonomy over its operation
and frees the school from regulations that other public schools must follow.
In exchange for the flexibility afforded by the charter, the schools are held
accountable for achieving the goals set out in the charter including improving
But holding charter schools accountable to parents and taxpayers is proving
to be troublesome. Education Week reported on March
20, 2002, "Originally designed to inspire innovation and free schools
from bureaucracy, in return for showing results, charter schools often remain
mired in debate over what they should look like and how they should be regulated
Problems plague some charter schools
The lack of adequate accountability provisions in some state laws, and in some
cases ineffective monitoring, have led to significant problems and abuses by
some charter school operators.
In the first half of 2002, the California State Board of Education reduced
funding to 46 charter schools after an audit found the schools failed to follow
state spending guidelines. State education officials and legislators in Indiana,
Massachusetts and elsewhere were exploring how to better monitor charter school
funding and spending.
In 2001, the Texas legislature instituted a limit on the number of charter schools
allowed to operate in the state. The move came after 10 Texas charter schools
closed and 600 displaced charter school students were forced to repeat a grade
because of inadequate record keeping. Additionally, test scores for the Texas
charter schools were lower than those in public schools.
In late March 2002, the Arizona Board of Education took unprecedented action
to start the process leading to revocation of the Northwest Charter Academy's
contract with the state. In an investigation of the school in February, state
officials found that the school, operated as a private Christian school before
getting its public charter, was openly promoting religion. (The Arizona Republic,
March 26, 2002)
The District of Columbia Board of Education revoked the charters of three of
their 17 charter schools in August 2001 because of chronic problems with teaching,
discipline, attendance, and administrative oversight. Suggested probationary
measures were rejected because the board believed there was no chance of resolving
the problems and that the schools were doomed for failure. (The Washington
Post, August 8, 2001)
In 1999-2000 80% of children in Texas public schools passed the Texas academic
achievement tests, and only 37% of charter school students passed the same test.
(The Dallas Morning News, May 19, 2001)
New concerns are being raised by the recent proliferation in California, Minnesota,
Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and elsewhere of non classroom-based charter schools,
or "home-study schools." These include online schools and distance-learning
schools-an abuse of the charter school concept that NEA adamantly opposes.