OPINION: Alaska should add charter school authorizers

Alaska was ranked second in the nation in K-12 education funding adequacy by a recent Rutgers University study, with a score of 95 out of a possible 100. Against that backdrop, we should not be considering legislation for record-breaking increase per-students in K-12 funding that is not also accompanied by a few modest education reforms like expanding options for public charter schools.

Major hikes in K-12 spending without education reforms have not worked in the past for Alaska. Between 2003 and 2023, state education spending increased by 90.6% per student while inflation was 64.7%. And Alaska student National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores in every category declined significantly during those 20 years.

Reinforcing our very successful public charter schools is low-hanging fruit to improving student outcomes. Alaska has the best public charter schools in the U.S. according to a recent Harvard University study — despite having one of the most poorly supported public charter school systems in the U.S., per the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Huge waiting lists of thousands of parents who are eager to participate in Alaska’s innovative and successful public charter school models are frustrated because of statutory barriers that inhibit the growth of popular public charter programs. One of the key reasons for the lack of availability of public charter schools to families is the fact that local districts in Alaska have sole authority to dictate the terms of authorization, expansion and continuation of these programs.

Alaska is one of only five states that leaves the power of approval and expansion of public charter schools solely in the hands of local school districts — which are often hostile to public charter school expansion. In Ohio, parents have five different charter authorities they can go through to get approval for a public charter program. In other states, a university or even a mayor’s office can authorize new public charter schools.

There’s a myth that public charter schools authorized by local school districts somehow disrupt the concept of “local control.” Public charter schools are actually the ultimate in local control. Though the programs can be authorized by many different entities, the schools themselves are very much controlled by the parents and staff in the individual programs. It’s hard for control to get much more “local” than that.

There’s also a myth that public charter schools are a partisan Republican issue. In Washington, D.C., where 76% of voters identify as members of the Democratic Party, 48% of children are in public charter schools.


The rapid growth of charter schools in Washington, D.C. has a direct correlation to a rapid rise in student NAEP scores, to the point that the average D.C. student outperforms the average Alaska student in every NAEP category, for both low-income and upper/middle-income kids. That’s true even considering that almost double the percentage of D.C. children are in poverty than Alaska children.

A final myth is that public charter schools rob resources from neighborhood public schools. This is certainly not the case in Alaska, where per student spending in charter schools is significantly lower than in traditional neighborhood schools. As more kids move to public charter programs, neighborhood schools are relieved of the burden of the variable cost of educating the kids who move, leaving more funding per student for the children who stay in their neighborhood schools.

Finding education that fits your child’s learning style shouldn’t be reliant on winning the school lottery for admission. We should adopt the policy of multiple charter authorizers — already available in most states. That will allow our very successful, locally controlled, public charter schools to grow to meet the demand of parents while increasing per-student dollars available for parents who choose their local neighborhood schools.

Bob Griffin is a member of the Alaska Board of Education and Early Development and Senior Education Research Fellow for the Alaska Policy Forum. He wrote this piece on his own behalf.

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