(The Center Square) – While 39 states experienced increases in charter school enrollment during the 2020-2021 school year, Iowa was one of three states that did not. The numbers are from a report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released Wednesday.
Wyoming and Illinois were the other states that had enrollment decreases. Iowa (132 students) and Wyoming (631 students) are the only states included in the report that had fewer than 1,000 students enrolled in charter schools in the 2019-2020 school year. Illinois’ 2019-2020 charter school enrollment was 63,462 students.
Iowa’s charter school enrollment decreased 6.8 percent, by nine students, while district school enrollment decreased 2.1 percent, by 10,656 students (from 517,189 to 506,533).
The state has two charter schools: Storm Lake/Iowa Central/Buena Vista Early College Charter High School in Storm Lake and Northeast Iowa Charter High School in Maynard. Dubuque Community School District’s Board of Education decided in January 2018 to close its charter school, Prescott Elementary, after the 2017-2018 school year, Iowa Department of Education Communications Director Heather Doe told The Center Square in an emailed statement.
The number of charter schools in Iowa may increase. This past legislative session, Iowa legislators enabled charter schools to apply for authorization through the Iowa Department of Education, bypassing public school boards. The State Board of Education unanimously approved advancing its proposed rules for the new process last week at its meeting on September 16.
Beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, applications to the state board would have to be made by Aug. 1 of the preceding school year. Charters for the 2022-2023 school year would be due February 1, 2022. Initial charter school contracts would be granted for five school budget years. Performance measures would include statewide outcome assessments for English/language, arts, and math.
Charter schools would require a written application, an in-person interview, and a public forum, which would allow residents to learn about the schools’ application. The board would decide, within 75 days of receiving an application, whether the prospective charter school would be successful.
Iowans will have until 4:30 p.m. on October 26 to respond to the proposed rulemaking. Stakeholders can contact General Counsel and Administrative Rules Coordinator Thomas A. Mayes via phone at 515-281-8661, via mail at Grimes State Office Building, Second Floor; 400 E. 14th Street; Des Moines, IA 50319-0416, or via fax at 515-242-5988. The public hearing will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Grimes State Office Building’s State Board Room, 400 E. 14th St., in Des Moines, Attendance via videoconference is another option.
The state board anticipates adopting final rules at its November 17 meeting, Doe said.
Americans for Prosperity Iowa State Director Drew Klein told The Center Square in an emailed statement that he has heard interest in opening charter schools from “a handful” of people, but those prospective administrators have been advised to wait for the department to establish rules.
“With the release of rules, we’re optimistic that students and families could see new options popping up in the near future,” Klein said. “These proposed rules appear to maintain the legislative intent around innovation and flexibility.”
According to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll, 55 percent of Iowans oppose the change in the law regarding the establishment of charter schools without approval from the local school board.