Why Universities Choose To Authorize Schools

Lessons For Idaho

By The National Charter Schools Institute and Bluum

A quality authorizer can serve as a change agent, a market maker, and a force for quality in public education. Quality authorizing can serve as a quality control check for the charter schools sector and provide lawmakers with the confidence that someone is watching the store and ensuring excellence. Changes to Idaho law (H221) signed by Governor Butch Otter in April 2013 also allows Idaho colleges and universities to serve as charter school authorizers.

However, deciding to become an authorizing body is not an easy decision. Institutions looking to engage in this activity must balance a number of factors—such as potential benefits and risks to the institution, and political and legal liabilities that the institution might incur—with the desire to help launch more schools that help students reach their full potential.

Institutions that excel at authorizing exhibit two characteristics: will and capacity.  Great authorizers believe in the need for education reform and are willing to do something about it.  This means they have the will – the political guts – to get involved.  The good news is that this does not cost any money.  The second thing great authorizers do is build the capacity to charter schools, oversee and support their operations, and evaluate their performance in a top-quality manner.  This requires resources – time, talent, and money – in order to build a performance-based, results-oriented team that does this work.

In the nation’s 25 years of experience in charter schools, the record shows that independent authorizers—especially state public universities—have what it takes to excel at authorizing. By being outside of the traditional K-12 system, universities are often outside of the political pressures that others experience. They also have an organizational history and an institutional capacity that helps them connect with resources and other organizations needed to be successful. Also, universities have access to researchers to study school and authorizing practices, which can create a loop of continuous feedback to improve chartering practices.

Universities that have chosen to engage in authorizing have also realized that there are benefits to the university beyond fulfilling its mission. These include launching new programs in their colleges of education to train charter school leaders, access to data to research best practices, and an enhanced institutional reputation and reach.

This report provides an overview of university authorizing and helps answer the question: Why would a university choose to become an authorizer? It provides some common reasons for becoming an authorizer, some examples of benefits to universities that have chosen to do this, and a brief overview of resources that are available to help an Idaho university successfully launch a charter schools office. It is intended to showcase experiences to help educate and inform to help decision makers balance competing pressures needed to enter the chartering sector to help more students learn and grow.