The City of Henderson and the City of North Las Vegas were approved to authorize public charter schools this month. The approvals mean more educational opportunities for students throughout Southern Nevada, and means that cities can more directly address the needs of families, students, employers, and residents. 

“We’re thrilled that the Nevada Department of Education has approved Henderson and North Las Vegas as charter school authorizers, marking an exciting step forward in public education in the Silver State. As part of Governor Joe Lombardo’s education package from 2023, these cities can now offer more responsive and tailored educational options to families. Charter schools are public, free, and open to all, and this move provides more opportunities for students to find schools that best fit their needs. Charter schools are an important part of public education, driving innovation and excellence in education across Nevada,” said Todd Ziebarth, Senior Vice President for State Advocacy and Support, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Learn more about what it means and what to look for in the coming months:

First, what are charter schools and how do they operate?

Charter schools are free, public schools open to all. Charter schools are bound to the terms of a contract, or “charter,” that details a school’s mission, goals for students, fiscal guidelines, and accountability requirements. Charter schools are independently run by a school leadership team, as well as its own board of trustees. Charter schools can be innovative, focused on specific academic goals (such as college preparation, industry-related careers and technical education, etc.), and many charter schools can fulfill specific missions to give students a tailored, more individualized education experience.

Further, unlike public district schools, public charter schools are not bound by attendance zones; families choose to attend and enroll through an application process. If there are more applicants than available space, a lottery is held, similar to magnet programs at public district schools. 

Charter schools must be approved by an authorizer to open. This authorizer is responsible for ensuring the school is abiding by its charter contract regarding academic progress, student success, fiscal management, and operational plans. In Nevada, the State Public Charter School Authority authorizes the majority of charter schools in Nevada, and is the third largest school district in the State, behind Clark County and Washoe County.

When did the change happen to allow cities to authorize charter schools?

In 2023, AB 400 passed through the Legislature and was signed by Governor Lombardo. In this key piece of education legislation, municipalities were given the opportunity to become charter school authorizers, by submitting an application to the Nevada Department of Education. Both the City of North Las Vegas and the City of Henderson submitted applications earlier in 2024, and both were approved in June. 

Other U.S. cities, such as Indianapolis and Washington, DC, have municipal charter authorizing power.

What does it mean to have cities become authorizers?

Cities and municipalities have a unique vantage point of being able to hear directly from their residents on challenges and opportunities relating to education, career preparedness, and student success in their respective communities. By giving cities this additional autonomy, they can be more responsive to the needs of their residents, students, and the workforce. An example of this may be to authorize a high school focused on a specific trade or career pathway, partnering with local businesses to provide internships and certifications to prepare them for a career in that field while they obtain their high school diploma. 

Since the majority of charter schools are currently authorized and overseen by the SPCSA, there is only one opportunity each year for schools to apply to be authorized. Cities also only get one chance to weigh in on schools that open within their boundaries.

The cities approved to authorize will now have their own application timelines, as well as criteria for approval, to fit the needs of their cities. It represents a new opportunity to directly meet the needs of students, families, residents, and businesses in these communities.

Can cities authorize as many charter schools as they need or want?

No – under current state law, they can only authorize up to 7% of a community’s total student residents enrolled in the zoned public school district.

What are the next steps for the cities, now that they are approved?

Both cities will create boards to manage and review any applications, as well as perform monitoring duties for each school that is authorized under their purview. As a school prepares to open after they are authorized, this monitoring includes ensuring facilities, enrollment, community engagement, hiring, and operational plans are on track with the school’s application and mission. Once operational, the authorizer will have responsibility to ensure that the school is delivering on academic, financial, and operational goals. 

Stay tuned for more info as these processes are finalized and schools begin the application process. 

Want to learn more about charter school authorizing?