Utah ranks fourth in the nation for quality charter school laws, according to a study released Tuesday by The Center for Education Reform.
Falling in behind the District of Columbia, California and Minnesota, Utah earned a B grade for its policies on charter school approval, funding and autonomy. The center, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that advocates choice in education, gave the majority of states C's and D's.
"We are extremely pleased that Utah provides a great example of how parents — thousands of them — can demand change and actually see it realized," said Jeanne Allen, president of The Center for Education Reform. "Too many states have allowed their charter school laws to be watered down under pressure from special interests who feel their monopoly on the education of our children is threatened."
Brian Allen, chairman of the State Charter School Board, was pleased with Utah's grade. Good laws, he said, enable educators to better help children.
"What means something is what we are doing with schools here and how we are helping children," he said.
Utah got high marks in the report for allowing charter advancement. The state does not have a cap on schools, but does monitor enrollment growth. During the 2008-09 school year, 32,921 students attended charter schools.
"Utah gets high marks because it allows for a charter school board — not just local school boards — to create charter schools," Jeanne Allen said. "Across the country, we have seen that the presence of multiple charter authorizers, such as charter school boards, plays a huge role in the success of a state's charter law."
Utah's method for funding charter schools, however, could use improvement, she said. Charter schools still get about $500 less per pupil than the state average.
The Center for Education Reform also criticized the autonomy of Utah's charter schools.
The state restricts curriculum and scheduling, keeping charters from operating independently.
Schools must appeal to the State Charter School Board for waivers.
"To get an A grade, Utah should work to lessen some of the bureaucratic requirements that pose challenges to charter school operators," Jeanne Allen said.
Brian Allen agreed that, in this area, Utah's laws could use some tweaking.
"I think there should be more flexibility given, not just to charter schools, but to traditional public schools also," he said. "We basically have a one-size-fits-all system. It's hard to break free of that, be innovative and really help children."
Utah approved its charter laws in 1998. They were last amended in 2008.
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