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  • Writer's pictureJ.D. Merrill

Who decides whether a school opens or closes?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to give a guest lecture on charter school authorization to Dr. Murray’s Intro to Education Policy class at Davidson College.

Davidson’s primary purpose is to help students lead lives of leadership and service. And I was excited to share with students how I’ve tried to do that in public education.

The students had been learning about school choice so I wanted to share with them how education policy affects the choices students and families have.

It was great to be back in the classroom.

I started by asking students what criteria they thought should be used in determining if a school should open or close.

I then split the class into four groups to work through real case studies of one of our clients:

  • A charter school in Louisiana up for renewal,

  • A charter school in Maryland up for renewal,

  • A new charter school application in Pennsylvania,

  • And a new charter school application in Ohio.

I gave each group context about the state and the school, and asked them to imagine they were the authorizer and to decide together if the school should open or close.

The discussion was fascinating and unlocked the nuances and complexities of how these decisions are made.

With experience in the seat of both an applicant and a reviewer, I was excited to watch as students discovered the role that authorizers play in this process.

As we debriefed the activity, here are some of the key points we discussed:

  • Charter schools play an important role in the education landscape, offering increased flexibility and innovation in exchange for stronger accountability. This means that charter schools have more autonomy than traditional public schools, but they also have to meet certain performance benchmarks and comply with specific regulations in order to maintain their charter.

  • Authorizers play a crucial role in the authorization and renewal of charter schools, and they ultimately decide whether a charter school opens or closes. This authority gives them significant power over how students and families experience school choice and school quality.

  • While, on paper, most authorizers consider academics, culture, financial management, and governance, there are often political factors at play too, such as pressure from interest groups or elected officials. These factors can influence the authorization process and impact the success of an application or a non-renewal.

  • In practical terms, authorizers have to balance the needs of the entire portfolio of schools. They have to consider the potential impact of a new charter school on existing schools in the area as well as the impact on the larger portfolio of a potential school closing.

  • The nuances of authorizer policies and state laws can have a big impact on the authorization process and the overall success of charter schools.

At Mangrove Strategies we are committed to supporting schools and authorizers as they work to ensure every student has access to a great school. I was excited to share a bit about that work with students at Davidson College yesterday. And as we face nationwide staffing and leadership challenges in public education, I am hopeful many of them will choose to be among the next generation of education leaders.

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