Postponing the heat death of the charter school universe

Recently Andy Rotherham tweeted and then wrote about the below image. Our own Travis Pillow then noted that both charter schools and ESAs were doing great in Florida at the same time. By the way, the character labeled “Republicans” could have just as easily been called “Families.”

Your humble author is member of the “all of the above!” choice tribe, and thus wants to see progress for charters, vouchers, open-enrollment policies, home-schooling, tuition tax credits, you name it. The growth in the charter movement however has stalled:

Mind you that FIVE new charter school laws passed during the period covered in the above chart. None of them however resulted in very many “charter schools” opening (insert standing Dr. Malcolm joke about here). The enrollment reduction in 2021-22 may have been the first in charter school history, time will tell if it was an COVID anomaly or a start of a worrisome trend.

What clearly is already a worrying trend is the decline in the opening of new charter schools- again despite multiple state laws debuting during the period covered by the below chart.


Earlier posts posited a heat death of the charter school universe due to a Baptist and Bootlegger problem whereby incumbent charters (the Bootleggers) team up with charter opponents to limit competition- 900 page application requirements that a large CMO can have their legal department cut and paste from previous applications seem transparently designed to keep mom and pop operators out.


The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has a new President in Starlee Coleman. With luck and God’s help, perhaps she can get the charter school movement from dying of ennui like some character in a 1980s French existential film of the sort that Americans now have the good sense not to watch.

Put me down as rooting for Starlee and doing my best to provide constructive criticism. Not to be too complacent, the private school choice movement needs to beware of the Baptist and Bootlegger problem as well.

More on that next week.


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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of NextSteps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.

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