Nevada lawmakers consider changes to charter schools

As the popularity of charter schools increases, the state needs to make sure the schools are well-run and held accountable, lawmakers were told Wednesday.

The Senate Human Resources and Education Committee voted unanimously to pass AB334, sponsored by Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, which tightens several regulations regarding charter schools.

State and local school boards don't have the authority to even question the budgets of charter schools, said Smith. While charter schools need independence, state lawmakers have to establish some basic guidelines on what is allowable, she said.

Her bill would establish educational requirements for charter school administrators, and limit their salaries to the salary of the highest-paid administrator in the district, excluding superintendents.

Since school boards don't have much power over charter schools, the salary caps are a necessary safeguard, said Smith. As more charter schools pass students on to other institutions, or use online or distance education, the state has to be on guard, she added.

"I don't think there is a lot of abuse," said Smith. "But I don't want charter schools to get a bad name."

Dr. John Gwaltney, a member of the Nevada State Board of Education, said that he was surprised about the inclusion of salary caps but supports the bill. With for-profit companies now applying to be charter schools, the state needs to make sure it's getting the most "bang for the buck," he said.

"Charter schools are supposed to be the petri dish of education," Gwaltney added.

The bill also would make charter schools appoint an administrator to take charge of student and employee records in the event of a school closing. When a charter school recently closed in her district, teachers ended up with responsibility for those records, said Smith.

While those closings are rare, they are very public, and very emotional, she added.

The bill also would allow public, private, or home-schooled students who want to take classes at a charter school to do so, and for the charter school to collect fees for those services.


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