A leading national advocacy group considers Iowa’s charter school laws to be among the worst in the nation. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranks states based on how well they support charter school growth. Iowa dropped from 36th to 38th last year among the 42 states that have charter school laws.
Alliance vice president, Todd Ziebarth, says Iowa prohibits charter schools from opening unless they’re converted from existing public schools.
“Because the law doesn’t have most of those ingredients it’s just very challenging for individuals and organizations to start up a charter school and to succeed and to sustain that level of success,” Ziebarth says. He says Iowa charter schools can’t get better under the current rules.
He says the law in Iowa “really needs an overhaul to create the kind of environment where charter schools can open and thrive.” Ziebarth says opening charter schools is more effective than improving traditional public schools because charters offer unique and alternative curriculum for students.
“The challenge is it’s really hard to turn around existing schools and so at the same states are engaging in that challenging work, they need to have the door open for new schools to come in , again to bring these innovations into the system that the states can then apply to a larger set of schools,” Ziebarth says.
A main criticism of charter schools is that they often compete with public schools for funding. Although there are few studies that compare charter schools with traditional public schools, Ziebarth says students at charter schools outperform public school students in testing and college attendance rates.
Governor Branstad’s education reform plan includes a law that lifts charter school restrictions in Iowa, and Ziebarth hopes Iowa’s poor ranking pressures lawmakers to support the governor’s proposal.