by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
For the past four years, the annual rate of charter school growth has declined nationally from 14 percent annual student enrollment growth in 2014 to 5 percent in 2017. Other national research recently demonstrated that charters are not being created in the areas that may need them most — those with high poverty and no existing charter schools.
Though these schools and the networks they comprise are witnessing well-documented successes and demand for them continues to increase, why are they growing at a slower rate? The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) and the Texas Public Policy Foundation conducted a case study in Texas to put the pieces of this puzzle together.
The hotbed for well-respected charter school networks such as Knowledge is Power Program, YES Prep, and Individuals Dedicated to Excellence and Achievement, Texas saw 90 new charters open in 2012, but only 26 in 2014.
Several probable reasons for the decline exist, namely the difficulties charter school organizers go through to be granted a charter and the lack of equitable financial support to gain and sustain school facilities in many states.
The process for starting a charter changed in 2013, and since then the process of starting a school is “arduous, highly proscriptive, and inflexible,” according to a ExcelinEd case study. Applications are often more than 400 pages, cost thousands of dollars and are subject to an external review not evaluated by a consistent set of reviewers.
Moreover, out-of-state operators, even those with proven successes in places other than Texas, are more frequently vetoed than in-state operators, even those with no track records.