The expansion of charter schools has spread beyond Nashville and Memphis in the last few years. As charter schools have applied to open in suburban and rural counties, scrutiny of their financial impact has escalated.
Charter schools are funded with tax dollars but operated by independent nonprofit organizations.
An innocuous-sounding group called the National Association of State Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) wields tremendous influence in education policy in states across the country. Former Nashville School Board member Will Pinkston exposes their agenda in a recent piece on Medium:
Many districts have fallen into the trap of letting the charter sector exert undue influence on their review process. The most egregious example: For more than a decade, an innocuously named Chicago-based nonprofit organization — the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) — has led the national charter sector’s campaign to set ground rules for how K-12 public school districts should review charter applications.
In fact, NACSA is a thinly veiled charter advocacy group largely funded by the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — the two biggest pro-charter philanthropies in the U.S. Moreover, NACSA’s board and staff is exclusively populated with charter school advocates. According to an Internal Revenue Service filing, NACSA’s mission is simple: “Promote establishment” of charter schools.
To counteract NACSA and other opponents of stronger charter review standards, local school districts should consider adopting independent review guidelines that require charter applicants to address the myriad academic, fiscal, and operational complexities associated with opening a new school of any type. For strategic purposes, portions of NACSA’s standards could be incorporated by reference into new nationally validated standards that go farther than the charter movement anticipated.
Strengthening charter application review standards isn’t rocket science. Career educators, researchers, and policy experts who have worked in and around K-12 school districts should get together and articulate new best practices. State and local teachers’ associations and unions can leverage their relationships with district leaders, including superintendents and school boards, in order to persuade them to adopt new or enhanced charter review standards.
While Tennessee is governed by the Plaid Privatizer, it’s critical that legislative leaders stand up and fight for our public schools. Here, Pinkston offers valuable insight that should guide serious policymaking.
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