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Thomas B. Fordham Institute

When the charter school movement began in the early 1990's, one key set of players received little attention: the public entities that sponsor or authorize these unconventional schools. A charter is properly understood as a contract between two parties, the school operator and the authorizer. For the charter movement to succeed, both must do their jobs effectively. The operator must run a successful school that delivers the results it promised. The authorizer must see that this happens, providing various forms of oversight and assistance, renewing the charter if all goes well, and pulling the plug if it does not. The role of the authorizer, therefore, is pivotal to the charter movement's overall success. To address the question of how authorizer performs, the researchers explored how existing state policy environments were supporting effective schools and authorizers. They also examined authorizer practices to see whether quality oversight and accountability processes were in place, without choking the charter schools in red tape and paper. Data collected from nearly 900 individuals across 23 states and the District of Columbia reveals important findings across states, and detailed information on each state. Key issues across states include: (1) Most major authorizers are performing adequately, but red tape and "compliance creep" are concerns; (2) Many state policy environments are not supportive of charter schools and their associated authorizers; (3) Local school boards generally do not make good authorizers; (4) States with fewer authorizers, serving more schools each, appear to be doing a better job; (5) Quality authorizing costs money: authorizing fees appear to be a viable funding source; and (6) States with higher grades have more proactive authorizers when it comes to technical assistance and charter advocacy. Individual state reports are included. Two appendixes conclude the document: (1) Detailed State Tables; and (2) Primary State Contracts. (Contains 19tables.) [Published with support from the Walton Family Foundation.]

Descriptors: Charter Schools, Governance, Public Policy, State Government, Accountability, Educational Quality, Compliance (Legal), Educational Policy, Boards of Education, Financial Support, Technical Assistance, Advocacy

Thomas B. Fordham Foundation & Institute. 1701 K Street NW Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20006. Tel: 202-223-5452; Fax: 202-223-9226; e-mail: backtalk[at]; Web site:

Autor: Palmer, Louann Bierlein; Gau, Rebecca


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