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Charter School Accountability

As taxpayer-funded schools, charter schools must be held to the same safeguards and high standards of accountability, transparency and equity as public schools.

Introduction

Charter schools were initially promoted by educators who sought to innovate within the local public school system to better meet the needs of their students. Over the last 22 years, charter schools have grown dramatically to include large numbers of charters that are privately managed, largely unaccountable, and not transparent as to their operations or performance.

The explosive growth of charters has been driven, in part, by deliberate and well-funded efforts to ensure that charters are exempt from the basic safeguards and standards that apply to public schools. This growth has undermined local public schools and communities, without producing any overall increase in student learning and growth. It is important to note, that most recent studies have shown that public schools outperform charter schools when accounting for student demographics, and public schools educate every student, including English learners, students in poverty, and students with individualized education plans. While charters are prohibited from discriminating, they serve far fewer students in poverty, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

    FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CHARTER SCHOOLS

    How do charter schools come into existence?

    There are three (3) entities allowed in law to sponsor a charter school:

    1.  The board of trustees of a school district may apply to the Department of Education for authorization to sponsor charter schools within the school district in accordance with the regulations adopted by the Department pursuant to NRS 386.540. An application must be approved by the Department before the board of trustees may sponsor a charter school. Not more than 180 days after receiving approval to sponsor charter schools, the board of trustees shall provide public notice of its ability to sponsor charter schools and solicit applications for charter schools.

          2.  The State Public Charter School Authority shall sponsor charter schools whose applications have been approved by the State Public Charter School Authority pursuant to NRS 386.525. Except as otherwise provided by specific statute, if the State Public Charter School Authority sponsors a charter school, the State Public Charter School Authority is responsible for the evaluation, monitoring and oversight of the charter school.

          3.  A college or university within the Nevada System of Higher Education may submit an application to the Department to sponsor charter schools in accordance with the regulations adopted by the Department pursuant to NRS 386.540. An application must be approved by the Department before a college or university within the Nevada System of Higher Education may sponsor charter schools. 

    State law specifies the requirements and procedures for charter school sponsors to operate a charter school.  Nevada Revised Statutes Sections 386.490-649 comprise the state’s Charter School laws. The major areas for regulating charter schools in state law include:

    • State Public Charter School Authority
    • Sponsorship of Charter Schools; Review and Approval of Applications to Form Charter Schools; Renewal and Revocation of Charters
    • Governing Body; Operation and Finances; Contracts; Implementation of Statutes; Relations With Board of Trustees
    • Account for Charter Schools
    • Pupils
    • Personnel
    • Reports Required of Governing Body and Sponsor
    • Charter School Financing Law

    (NEW DATA NEEDED) A 2020 Charter School Directory lists the following number of Charter Schools with one or more campuses in operation by sponsoring entity:

    • State Charter School Authority        
    • Carson City School District              
    • Clark County School District             
    • Washoe School District                     

    What are the concerns about charter schools?

    Forty-five states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have state charter school laws. Unfortunately, many of these laws provide for weak regulations and lax oversight.

    • Many do not require that charters comply with the same open meetings laws and conflict of interest requirements that apply to public school boards, school districts and their employees. 
    • None adequately prevent for-profit management and operation of charter schools.
    • Many do not require charter school teachers to meet the same certification requirements as public school teachers.

    Because of these statutory problems, other major concerns have emerged:

    • Under-funding our public neighborhood and magnet schools. Charter schools, by their very nature, drain funding from local public schools, which enroll over 90 percent of K-12 students.
    • Adverse impact on students with disabilities. Students with disabilities are often pushed out of charter schools that can’t meet their needs, while the schools get to keep the funding taken from the neighborhood public school. This practice disproportionately impacts students of color.
    • Instability. Charters are very unstable. Of all charter schools that have been active since 2000, 25 percent have closed within six years of opening, usually due to poor performance or financial mismanagement.
    • Waste, fraud, and abuse. Governments at all levels have failed to implement systems that proactively monitor charter schools and hold them accountable. Several reports have documented millions of taxpayer dollars wasted by fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.

    Over the past year, Nevada has seen half-measures implemented, such as the five-year Growth Management Plan enacted during the 80th Session. While it is good public policy to require charter sponsors to work with school districts to prepare an evaluation of the academic needs of students in the area, and reemphasize the need for site evaluations, it does not go far enough. NSEA believes that the legislature should assert stronger controls of Nevada charter schools, including joining 21 other states in capping charter school expansion.

    Why were charter schools created?

    The main argument initially offered for creating charter schools focused on a desire to create greater flexibility for innovation within public education. It was hoped that successful innovations could be adapted to benefit public education more broadly. Unfortunately, many charter schools have devolved far from the original concept as small incubators of education innovation.

    Are charter schools private schools?

    Charter schools are taxpayer-funded but are often privately managed. They are not private schools in the ordinary sense in which that term has been understood. There can be important differences in how charter schools are operated because of weak oversight and a lack of transparency. Charter schools have been exempted from some rules designed to protect students, families, communities, and taxpayers.

    Do charter schools operate in the same way as traditional public schools?

    There are significant differences: 

    • Charter schools tend to hire younger and less experienced teachers. Many do not require charter school teachers to meet the same certification requirements as public school teachers.
    • Charter schools typically have appointed, rather than elected, school boards. 
    • Many charter schools do not require that charters comply with the same open meetings laws and conflict of interest requirements that apply to public school boards, school districts and employees. These are commonsense protections that parents and communities rightly insist upon for all other taxpayer-funded schools.
    • None adequately prevent for-profit management and operation

    How do students enroll in charter schools?

    They apply for admission. In cases where more students apply than the school can accommodate, a lottery is held to determine admission. Some charter schools employ selective outreach and recruitment practices. These appear to have contributed to the under-representation of students with disabilities, especially those with more severe disabilities, and English language learners in the charter sector.

    How does student achievement in charter schools compare with that in traditional district schools?

    It is important to note, that most recent studies have shown that public schools outperform charter schools when accounting for student demographics, and public schools educate every student, including English learners, students in poverty, and students with individualized education plans. Again, while charters are prohibited from discriminating, they serve far fewer students in poverty, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

    What other issues exist with charter schools?

    Weak regulation and lax oversight with charters have led to major concerns for students, parents, taxpayers, and communities, including:

    • Under-funding our neighborhood public schools. By their very nature, charter schools drain funding from local public schools, which enroll over 90 percent of students in K-12 schools
    • Instability: Charters are very unstable. One out of three charter schools that opened in 2000 had closed by 2010, usually due to poor performance or financial mismanagement.
    • Waste, fraud, and abuse: Governments at all levels have failed to implement systems that proactively monitor charter schools and hold them accountable. A 2016 report from the Center for Popular Democracy documents waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement of charter school funds, totaling more than $216 million. Download the full report below. 
    • Wasteful competition

    What makes a strong charter school?

    The record of charter schools in terms of quality, student performance, innovation, and community impact has been mixed. With improvements to charter sector practices and policies, more of the positive potential of these taxpayer-funded schools can be realized, while key concerns for students, families, and communities are also addressed. Four key features of strong charter schools include: 

    • QualitySuccessful students need caring, experienced, and qualified teachers and a rich and engaging curriculum, regardless of the school they attend.
    • Equity Charter schools must equitably enroll and serve all groups of students instead of subtly or overtly screening out some who are less advantaged.
    • Accountability: Charter schools must operate in a manner that is accountable to the communities they serve, including being monitored effectively by their authorizers. Those managed or operated by for-profit entities create a conflict of interest and undermine the transparency required to maintain public accountability regarding school finances. Charter schools should be required to meet or exceed any student performance targets applied to all other taxpayer-funded schools. 
    • Transparency: Charter schools need to operate openly. They should either establish elected governing boards or comply with the open meeting laws that include parents and the public in decision making. They should be required to disclose the amounts and duration of large charitable contributions. Ownership of property purchased with taxpayer support to open charter schools should be transferred to the local school district, and not the private sector, when a charter school is closed.

    NSEA is committed to standing with parents, educators, and communities to support charters driving creative solutions that nurture student needs and are committed to the long-term health of their communities. NSEA is also committed to advocating for measures ensuring that all charter schools operate in a high-quality manner that is equitable, accountable, and transparent.

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    Ensuring a High Quality Public Education For Every Student

    NSEA has been the voice of educators for over 120 years. We represent teachers, education support professionals, and other licensed professionals throughout the state of Nevada.