State board prepares to launch new charter school process

Friday, November 19, 2021

The Iowa Board of Education is moving ahead with the implementation of a new state law that changes the way charter schools can form and operate.

Thomas Mayes, general counsel for the Department of Education, said the first few charter school applications may be a “choose-your-own adventure” as the state adjusts to the new law.

“It is big and bold … but when something is big and bold, the butterfly effect is major,” Mayes said during a board meeting Wednesday.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the new charter school law in May. It allows founding groups to apply directly to the Board of Education to create a new charter school, rather than requiring them to work through the local school board. The law also creates broad freedoms for charter schools, exempting them from many of the requirements that public schools face.

“They don’t have to prove that they need a waiver, they’re just exempt from it, except unless it’s specifically listed,” Mayes said

The Board of Education is also on an accelerated timeline to begin the application process for the 2022-2023 school year. The proposed deadline for applications is Feb. 1, 2022. The board will have 75 days after an application is submitted to evaluate it, potentially giving charter schools just a few months between an approval and the first day of school.

“It will be a really tight timeline,” said Janell Brandhorst, chief of the Bureau of School Improvement.

In future years, the deadline will be Nov. 1 to start a charter school for the following year.

The proposed application to form a new charter school includes over two dozen wide-ranging questions for the founding group, such as “How will the school feed and transport students?” and “What will the bylaws be for the school?”

Brandhorst said her team spoke to about six public school districts and founding groups that might be interested in applying to form a charter school. Mayes noted the issue generated a lot of public comment as lawmakers and the Department of Education work through the details.

“The commenters, to a person, advanced the quality of the rules that are before you today,” Mayes said.

Right now, Iowa has just two charter schools: a high school in Storm Lake and a high school in Maynard.