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### Enhancing Alaska’s Education System: Including Charter School Authorizers to Alleviate Lengthy Waitlists


In a recent assessment, Alaska secured the second position nationwide in terms of K-12 education funding adequacy, achieving a commendable score of 95 out of a potential 100 for funding sufficiency.

Given this context, any substantial increments in K-12 funding should be accompanied by some degree of educational reforms, such as the expansion of authorizers for public charter schools. Historical data indicates that significant boosts in K-12 expenditure without corresponding educational reforms have not yielded positive outcomes for Alaska. Between [ppp1], state investment in education surged by 90.6%, while [ppp2]. Notably, student [ppp3] across all metrics experienced a notable decline over the two-decade period.

Despite operating one of the most underfunded and restricted public charter school systems in the country, Alaska boasts the finest public charter schools in the United States, as per a recent [ppp4]. The lack of adequate support has resulted in a considerable backlog of parents vying for enrollment in Alaska’s most innovative and successful public charter school models. The existing programs face limitations in meeting public demand due to the unilateral authority of local districts in Alaska to govern aspects of public charter school initiatives, such as setting enrollment caps. In the absence of competition from alternative authorizers, local districts may lack the incentive to align with the preferences of charter applicants, potentially imposing unfavorable conditions like constraints on expansion to cater to public demand.

Alaska adheres to a model [ppp5], granting exclusive jurisdiction to local school districts for approving and expanding public charter schools, a setup that might not always be conducive to the growth of public charter schools if districts exhibit hostility towards such programs. In contrast, other states feature diverse authorizers ranging from universities and state education departments to specialized public or private entities. For instance, in Ohio, parents have the flexibility to choose from five distinct charter authorities to secure approval for a public charter school, fostering a more competitive environment.

Contrary to popular belief, public charter schools authorized by local school districts do not undermine the concept of “local control” but rather epitomize it. While these programs may receive authorization from various entities, the actual governance of the schools predominantly lies in the hands of parents and staff involved in the individual programs, ensuring a high degree of localized control.

Dispelling another misconception, the support for public charter schools is not confined to a specific political party. In Washington D.C., where a majority (76%) identifies as Democratic Party members, [ppp6]. The notable expansion of charter schools in D.C. correlates with a significant improvement in student NAEP scores, surpassing the average performance of Alaska students across all NAEP categories, including both low-income and upper/middle-income students. This achievement holds true even when considering that a higher proportion of children in poverty [ppp7] compared to Alaska.

Addressing the notion that public charter schools divert resources from traditional neighborhood schools, the scenario in Alaska presents a different picture. Per-student expenditure in charter schools is notably lower than that in conventional neighborhood schools. As more students transition to public charter programs, neighborhood schools experience a reduction in the variable costs associated with educating transferring students, thereby enhancing the per-student funding allocated to children remaining in their local schools.

Accessing education tailored to a child’s learning style should not be contingent on winning a lottery. Embracing the policy of multiple charter authorizers, a practice already prevalent in most states, would facilitate the expansion of highly successful, locally governed public charter schools to meet parental demands while concurrently augmenting per-student funding available for families opting for neighborhood schools.

Bob Griffin serves as a member of the State Board of Education and Early Development and holds the position of senior education research fellow at the Alaska Policy Forum, presenting his views independently.