Will Pinkston, who served on the elected school board of the Metro Nashville school district, writes here that school districts should not outsource their charter application process to the charter industry’s lobbyists.

The timing is right because the Koch Network has targeted four states for unlimited charter school proliferation: Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.

Up until now, many school districts are using the guidelines and standards developed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which wants minimal oversight of charter schools.

But NACSA, Pinkston notes, is not a neutral arbiter, but an organization dedicated to the growth and expansion of the charter industry.

Asking NACSA for advice about how to grant charters is akin to asking the Tobacco Industry Association whether cigarettes are good or bad for your health.

Many districts, Pinkston notes, are having budget problems because of the expansion of charters.

He advises:

Strengthening public school districts’ charter application reviews is a logical first step toward disrupting the school privatization movement…

Charter application review practices vary greatly between states and local school districts — and charter operators over the years have capitalized on this confusion in the field to push into existence scores of unneeded and unwanted charters.

Many districts have fallen into the trap of letting the charter sector exert undue influence on their review process. The most egregious example: For more than a decade, an innocuously named Chicago-based nonprofit organization — the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) — has led the national charter sector’s campaign to set ground rules for how K-12 public school districts should review charter applications…

In fact, NACSA is a thinly veiled charter advocacy group largely funded by the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — the two biggest pro-charter philanthropies in the U.S. Moreover, NACSA’s board and staff is exclusively populated with charter school advocates. According to an Internal Revenue Service filing, NACSA’s mission is simple: “Promote establishment” of charter schools.

With a multi-million-dollar annual budget, NACSA carries out its mission through a range of activities, including: Hosting conferences and workshops to train public school district employees on implementing pro-charter review standards; awarding grants to sway districts’ opinions on charters; and lobbying state policymakers to advance a pro-charter agenda in legislatures and statehouses…

The carefully branded name of NACSA’s standards assumes that charter school “authorizing” will happen. But districts’ default position should be that authorizing may happen — or not.

NACSA describes its standards as “a rich base of knowledge built on deep experience, study, deliberation, and refinement that reflects collective insights on best practices among authorizers of all types and portfolio sizes across the country.” But a closer examination reveals that NACSA’s standards are just a finely manicured PR product devised by the charter sector, for the charter sector.

Pinkston urges districts to take control of the charter authorizing process and consider such factors as:

Audits (they should be conducted by independent auditors, not self-audits);

Class size (NACSA is silent on this but district authorizers should not be);

Facilities and transportation (Districts should require charter applicants to submit detailed transportation plans that mirror best practices among districts. Moreover, districts should require charter applicants to submit robust facility plans — including the address of the proposed charter location, development or redevelopment plans, letters of commitment by funders or financial institutions, and other documentation that would be expected before any district opens a new school);

Licensed teachers (NACSA is silent, but districts should not be);

Salaries and benefits (NACSA is silent, but districts should not be).

As Pinkston says, it is up to districts to decide whether to award charters and to set conditions. They should not ask the charter lobbyists how to do it.