by Meredith Machen
Charter School Regulations: Public School Funding, Accountability, and Transparency
Scope of Study: In the context of the growing emphasis of some governmental policy-makers on promoting charter schools, this study will review information regarding the regulations and policies from which charter schools are released to determine if the exemptions from regulations may impede the progress of traditional public schools and the sufficiency of funding for public schools.
Because charter schools are publicly funded, the study raises the question of whether they should be held to standards of accountability and transparency that are at least as rigorous as those of traditional public schools. The study will also examine the need for changes in charter school regulations regarding their missions (which now allow adults to get their high school credentials, have specialized curricula, and alternative assessments), their governing bodies (which are not publicly elected or complying with the Open Meetings Act), their operations (which are not publicly audited), and rules for authorization and reauthorization.
Rationale: While the advantages of charter schools may outweigh the disadvantages, many policy experts and League members in the state and across the country have identified the following areas of concern: the issue of equitable and adequate funding of public education, the financial impact on school districts, privatization and profit-making (the presence of private, for-profit companies in the governance of public education).
Charters place financial pressure on the system (especially for smaller districts) by drawing money out of the traditional public schools. In New Mexico, a charter school must be public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, and non-home based. Though a charter school is required to be organized and operated as a nonprofit corporation, its unelected governing body can hire a for-profit management organization to run the school. Countless studies have been conducted by educational researchers examining effects of charter schools. Some of these will be considered in creating a proposed position as will studies conducted by numerous state and local Leagues. Recent events in New Mexico and across the nation suggest that more oversight and accountability may be needed to increase charter schools’ transparency and compliance with requirements that apply to traditional public schools.
This study will not attempt to resolve the issue of whether charter schools or traditional public schools achieve better student outcomes or offer more choice to families. There are excellent charter schools, just as there are excellent traditional public schools. The goal of this study is to determine what steps should be taken to tighten charter school regulations so that such problems do not continue to arise, given that charter schools will be part of the public education landscape for the foreseeable future.
The reason for conducting this study is that we are facing a critical problem in the state with the serious lack of funding for public education. Our Education position allows us to continue to advocate for adequate and equitable school funding, but we are unable to address the causes and effects of the increasing insufficiency until we examine what is happening with the proliferation of charter schools and the lack of accountability in what gets authorized, funded, and allowed to continue to operate without the same accountability as traditional public schools.
Expected Outcome: The League will be able to take action and advocate for or against policies and proposed legislation when a position is reached. This study will increase state and local League visibility and help League to link with individuals and groups representing different viewpoints and groups that are underrepresented in League. The issues are of statewide importance and will stimulate the involvement of members and may attract potential members. The issue will add a needed element in LWVNM’s Education position and may be important part of a national study that will be proposed for the program that will be decided at the LWVUS Convention in 2016.
March: Initial concept of study approved by State Board.
May: Brought before Convention as an LWVNM-recommended study
Summer: Identify charter school study committee members. Locate and share national reports as well as other state studies of charter schools. Discuss materials acquired through research and reports collected by NM Legislative Education Study Committee staff and proposed legislation that succeeded and failed.
Fall: Continue research. Study budgets, governing boards, and keep asking PED for its overdue audit in order to study findings w/ state-chartered schools. Discuss what committee members are learning from resources. Develop questions to ask some of the legislators who are serving on the LESC Subcommittee on Charter Schools to explore their concerns. Conduct electronic conference call and in-person meetings with study committee.
Winter: Summarize findings in an article for January La Palabra. Develop consensus questions for LWVNM Board approval.
Spring: The state study committee will meet with local league members to share information on the issues, supplying study resources in advance of consensus meetings. Share findings with the state Board and Council delegates. Schedule two-hour consensus meetings before April with local Leagues to get perspectives about charter school regulatory issues.
Summer-Fall: The state study committee will compile results of local leagues’ consensus studies and draft a position. The consensus results and draft position will be presented to the LWVNM Board. (State Board will vote whether to accept the wording of the position as is or amend it based on results. Once adopted, the LWVNM Action Committee will be able to use it during the Legislative session and as needed.)
May: Position will be brought before Convention delegates to adopt, amend, or reject.
Study Leader: Meredith Machen
Dr. Machen is the President of the League of Women Voters of New Mexico and its Education Chair. Before becoming active with the League, she was an educator for 38 years. In addition to teaching English and Human Development courses, she administered numerous programs, many of which were aimed at helping educationally and economically disadvantaged community members succeed. At Santa Fe Community College, where she worked for 25 years, she headed the Educational Leadership division which focused on teacher training, academic preparation and enrichment, service-learning, prevention programs, civic engagement, social advocacy, and improving education at the district, state, and national levels. Meredith has served on several educational policy committees ranging from early childhood development through higher education including high school/college curriculum alignment, articulation, academic preparation, access, dual credit, assessment, and student outcomes. In addition to her statewide work, she participates in the LWV Education Committee, which researches and analyzes public education policy, legislation, and programs. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Boston University and her master’s and Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico.