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Report says state too lenient on charter schools

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A new report raises questions about whether the New Mexico Public Education Commission is allowing some poor-performing charter schools to continue operations when they are not reaching their targets.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers’ review, released Friday, ranked PEC “minimally developed” on holding schools accountable for academic performance.

PEC recently renewed six schools’ charters, though none met their charter goals or received an A or B state grade, “the loosely defined ‘standard’ for renewal,” the report states, adding that PEC gave conditional renewals based on promises of improvement.

Legally, charter schools must make “substantial progress,” but PEC has not outlined what that means. As a result, charters face few repercussions for poor performance, according to the report.

Currently, 32 percent of the commission’s 57 charter schools have D or F grades from the Public Education Department.

NACSA recommended that PEC formalize requirements for renewal and only grant it to schools that meet the standard.

“Because the PEC has not defined the standards for renewal, the PEC has not attempted to close a school for poor academic performance,” the report states.

PEC Chairwoman Patricia Gipson countered that PEC is serious about educational quality and accountability.

“We are not supporting the continuation of schools that are under-serving or under-performing,” she said.

The problem, Gipson said, is a lack of complete data on some schools. NACSA agreed that the commission could not fully evaluate multiple schools that did not submit all their data.

Gipson said PEC and PED have discussed the issue and gotten on the right track.

According to the report, the two entities have a contentious relationship, which undermines their “capacity to make good decisions about charter schools.”

“The schools feel like the children of a bitter custody battle,” it states.

PEC and PED work together closely. The 10 elected commissioners are responsible for voting on whether to grant new charters or to shutter low-performing institutions, but they have no budget.

PED’s charter school division staff provide the commission with support and recommendations – though the commissioners sometimes disagree with their conclusions.

In one instance, PEC sued after PED asked it to reverse a school closure decision.

Gipson said she feels relations have improved since NACSA’s visit in March. She backed the organization’s recommendation that PED and PEC discuss their respective responsibilities, roles and authority.

In a prepared statement, PED spokesman Robert McEntyre said NACSA “generally outlines a path that could help make charter schools in New Mexico stronger.”

The report will be presented at the Aug. 17 meeting of the Legislative Education Study Committee.

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