A bill that would prohibit new charter schools from opening in Nevada until 2021 is running into strong backlash from parents and students in the charter school community before its first hearing.
The bill, sponsored by the Assembly Committee on Education, would bar the State Public Charter School Authority, the Nevada System of Higher Education and school boards from granting applications for new charter contracts until Jan. 1, 2021.
The state has seen a steady increase in the number of charter schools, with enrollment numbers outpacing population growth in Clark County and statewide school enrollment, according to a Review-Journal analysis of data from 2011-12 to 2016-17.
The State Public Charter School Authority, the largest authorizing entity in the state, has seen the number of students in its schools rise from just over 500 in 2005-06 to roughly 43,000.
A Review-Journal analysis found some schools had thousands of students on their waiting lists in December, including Somerset Academy and Doral Academy at over 5,000 each.
Students and parents spoke out against the bill last week during a public comment period, though it wasn’t on the agenda, touting the academic improvement they experienced in charter schools and the pent-up demand for more charter seats.
Isabel Storla, an eighth-grade student at a Mater Academy school, told the committee that she had problems with English language arts when she was little and was unable to read.
“When I attended Mater Academy, I shot up in my grades,” she said. “I had A’s and B’s, and all my ELA scores went up — so please don’t pass the bill.”
Sandy Fudge, who son also attends at Mater Academy, told the committee that her son was bored in his traditional public school, which was overcrowded. Since entering the charter school, she said, he has been on the honor roll multiple times.
“As a strong supporter of the ability to choose public charter schools and not be forced to go to the school we are zoned for, I urge you to allow our charter schools to be built,” she said.
The Nevada State Education Association supports the bill, arguing the moratorium would give the state authority more time to perfect its authorization process.
NSEA President Ruben Murillo noted previous issues that the authority had with conducting evaluative site visits at its schools.
“We’re just concerned about the quality, the transparency, the lack of accountability when it comes to charter schools,” he said.
Murillo also noted the charter sector’s challenge in diversifying its student body — something the authority has improved upon while but is still making a top goal.
Jason Guinasso, head of the State Public Charter Authority, opposes the bill, which he said would punish the authority for its success.
“The SPCSA has the strongest accountability and oversight in Nevada,” Guinasso said. “There’s no other (local education agency) that demands more from their schools. In the last three years, student outcomes have dramatically improved as a result of our work. These results I think should be replicated, not subjected to a moratorium.”
The authority has shut down two underperforming charters in its history: Argent Preparatory Academy, formerly known as Silver State Charter School, in Reno and the elementary grades of Nevada Virtual Academy.
The Clark County School District, meanwhile, has put two of its failing charters into receivership.