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Kansas Legislature considering charter school bill

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A bill before the Kansas Legislature would encourage the growth of charter schools in the state by expanding the types of public entities that oversee charter schools.

Currently, Kansas has 11 charter schools across the state all of which are authorized by school districts.

“While the Kansas State Board of Education is the final authorizer of a charter school in Kansas, the school must first submit an application to its local (Unified School District),” Denise Kahler, director of communications and recognition programs for the Kansas State Board of Education, said in an email. “If the local USD approves the application, then the application is forwarded to the (Kansas Board of Education) for final approval.”

Dr. Alex Medler is the vice president of policy and advocacy for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which provides resources and guidance to authorizers and advocates for legislation that improves the authorization process and standards.

Last week he spoke with legislators in Topeka, Kan., about the bill, which he said is essential to making charter school growth feasible in the state.

“Just about anybody outside of Kansas would explain to you that you don’t really have a viable charter program right now,” Medler said. “The current Kansas approach to chartering is what people in the charter sector consider a dead law that is unviable.”

Medler said that Kansas is one of four states with weak charter school laws and that even though there are currently several charter schools in Kansas performing well, giving districts exclusive chartering authority is a challenging dynamic.

States with strong charter school systems have one alternative authorizer or at least an appeals process that can override a district veto, Medler said.

The current version of the bill would open up authorization to a broad range of entities, including state and local boards of education, cities, counties, universities and the state board of regents.

Although each authorizer would be required to meet certain qualifications, Medler said that the association recommends quality over quantity when it comes to authorizers.

“While you don’t want the districts to be in charge, once you have more than one or two other alternatives, the only person who benefits from the fourth–30th authorizer is a weak applicant or a bad school,” Medler said.

Based on his visit to Topeka, Kan., and similar legislation in other states, Medler said that he expects that, as the bill is amended, the Kansas Legislature will refine the number of authorizers.

“People keep introducing bills, so that it’s like going into a Chinese menu and saying ‘Yes I’ll have them all,’ whereas what you need is a good nutritious meal,” Medler said. “Each (item on the menu) could be a nutritious meal, but all of them together are not.”

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