Posts by Gina Mahony


Gina Mahony


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Charter Schools Win with the Senate Passage of S.1177, the Every Child Achieves Act

Earlier today, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with a vote of 81-17. The National Alliance issued a statement on the bill’s passage.

S.1177 makes significant improvements to the Charter Schools Program (CSP), including broadening the range of entities eligible to receive state grants, adding more flexibility in the use of funds, creating a dedicated funding source for the replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools, and improving current language on the use of lotteries for student enrollment. These provisions will support the opening of new high-quality public charter schools to serve the growing number of students on charter school wait lists.

An amendment introduced by Senators Murphy (D-CT) and Booker (D-NJ) received considerable debate and ultimately failed, with a vote of 43-54. The amendment improved the underlying bill by requiring that states identify their lowest performing schools, set goals to move all students to college and career readiness, and require state or local interventions if a school fails to make progress. Still, the amendment did not fully address our top priorities– to identify clear indicators of academic achievement and provide students in low-performing schools with access to high-quality schools, such as charters. Because of that, the National Alliance was silent on this amendment, a position consistent with several of our peer organization. We are hopeful that when the amendment surfaces again in conference negotiations, that House and Senate conferees will adopt stronger and clearer language.

We now move to conference! The process will likely take a few months and there are some significant areas of disagreement between the House and Senate bills. During the conference committee process, the Obama Administration will also have a more formal opportunity to engage.

Over the next few weeks, House and Senate staff will compare and contrast each and every provision in the bill. The federal team at the National Alliance will do the same, with a focus on the Charter Schools Program and the Title I program.

Indeed, this is progress.

Gina Mahony


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The Every Child Achieves Act Update

Consistent with our views expressed to the Senate, the National Alliance strongly supports the provisions under the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) that preserve the annual assessment requirements under current law, including the test participation requirements which will help hold schools accountable for results and provide clear information to parents about school performance.

High-quality statewide assessments provide taxpayers and parents with information on how their tax dollars are being spent and whether these investments are improving our educational system. It is critical that ALL students participate in state assessments to ensure that achievement gaps are identified and that parents have reliable data to determine if a school best meets the need of their child.

The ECAA has made significant changes to current law to address concerns about over testing in public schools today. However, an amendment introduced by Senator Mike Lee (UT) would undermine the quality of the information provided to parents. It would facilitate the manipulation of data to mask the true academic results of low performing states, districts, and schools and it would hinder parents’ ability to use assessment data to determine the best educational options for their children.

The National Alliance supports the Every Child Achieves Act because of the bill’s improvements made to the Charter Schools Program and the common-sense accountability provisions, including annual, grade-level assessments. Therefore, the National Alliance, along with many education, civil rights, and business community organizations, opposes the Lee amendment.

Accountability and transparency is the foundation of the charter school movement, and this amendment rolls back progress on both. A no vote on the Lee Amendment is a yes vote for charter schools and education reform.

Gina Mahony is Senior Vice President, Government Relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Gina Mahony


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ESEA Update

Last week, Congress made great progress on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Here’s a brief summary.

House of Representatives

On Wednesday, July 8, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) with a number of amendments that were offered to attract additional votes:

  • An amendment to set the authorization period of the bill for three years, from FY2016-FY2019 passed.
  • An amendment to allow parents to opt their child out of state assessments required under ESEA, and to exempt opt-out students from schools’ participation rates passed. The National Alliance joined other organizations in opposition of this amendment.
  • An amendment to send ESEA funding to states via a block grant, and allow states to use funding for any education purpose under state law (the “A Plus” Amendment) failed. (A similar amendment also failed in the Senate.)

The National Alliance issued this statement on House passage of H.R. 5, which praises the bill for including bipartisan charter school language, but notes that the provisions around accountability, interventions, and funding for school improvement need to be significantly strengthened in final law.


The Senate kicked off debate last Tuesday, July 7, on the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), and have already considered more than a dozen amendments. Through the amendment process, we continue to improve the bill for charter schools. In addition to securing language that will allow charter school leaders representation in Title I discussions at the federal level, we also secured a sponsor for an amendment to ensure that charter school representatives are formal stakeholders in state and district Title I plans. Thank you to Senators Gardner (R-CO) and Carper (D-DE) for securing the inclusion of this amendment in ECAA and kudos to Kendall Massett, of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, for recruiting Senator Carper as a sponsor for this bipartisan amendment!

This memo from our partners at the Penn Hill Group provides a recap of all the Senate amendments adopted last week.

This Week

The Senate will continue to debate amendments and possibly complete its work this week. More amendments will be offered and we anticipate debate on provisions to strengthen accountability and to change the federal-to-state Title I formula. There may also be a parental “opt-out” amendment, identical to the one passed by the House, which that National Alliance will also oppose.

We continue to be optimistic that the long-overdue reauthorization of ESEA will continue and that we will see a bill on President Obama’s desk by the end of year!

Gina Mahony is Senior Vice President, Government Relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Gina Mahony


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High Hopes on Capitol Hill

It’s an exciting time for education advocates in Washington, D.C. – after seven years of fits and starts, Congress is truly making progress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), otherwise known as No Child Left Behind. This effort is long overdue.

Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives completed work on its proposal to reauthorize ESEA. The Student Success Act (H.R. 5) narrowly passed the House with a vote of 218-213. Every Democrat in the House and 27 Republicans opposed the bill. The National Alliance has been engaged through the process (see our floor letter). We are pleased that the federal Charter School Program (CSP) provisions that previously passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support are embedded in H.R. 5, but have concerns that the bill does not include strong accountability provisions that would hold schools accountable for helping all students meet high standards.

In addition, the House added a provision to the bill that would weaken test participation requirements. The National Alliance joined other organizations in opposition to this amendment because we believe that accurate and objective student achievement data is critical for ensuring educational equity. We are disappointed that this amendment passed.

The House passage of H.R. 5 adds momentum to the reauthorization of ESEA. While it would have been possible for a bill to get to the President’s desk even if the House had failed to pass H.R. 5, it makes a bipartisan final bill more likely.

Now, all eyes are on the Senate. We anticipate that we will see the Senate reauthorization bill on the floor for debate through next week. The National Alliance is pleased with the provisions supporting charter schools – see our floor letter—and we are closely watching the amendment process on issues related to accountability and testing.

After seven years and dozens of ESEA waivers, this week has been a long time coming—stay tuned!

Gina Mahony is Senior Vice President, Government Relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Gina Mahony


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Reason #3: Public charter schools are collaborating with district schools to raise the bar for ALL students

One of the valuable things about public charter schools is their ability to innovate. With the flexibility they are given, public charter schools are able to explore new teaching methods or customize curriculum to help students succeed. As charter schools develop these best practices, they should be shared with the traditional public schools so that all students benefit.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen increased collaboration between public charter schools and traditional public schools that empowers teachers, parents, students, and communities. Collaboration can take shape in many forms, such as joint professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders or shared purchasing agreements. But in recent years, these efforts have been more formalized, with leaders joining together to provide parents with more educational choices and improve all public schools. Here are a few examples:

These communities are leading the way toward a better public education system that serves the needs of all students. By working together, public charter schools and district schools can help raise the bar in our nation’s schools.

This blog is the third in a series called “5 Reasons Public Charter Schools are Great” to celebrate School Choice Week. To read the other posts in the series, visit The Charter Blog here

Gina Mahony is senior vice president for government affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Gina Mahony


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The Latest Charter School News from Washington, D.C.

Congress is in the home stretch for 2013, with the House and Senate scheduled to wrap up business by December 13. We are closely monitoring two actions in Congress that may impact charter schools: negotiations on the FY2014 budget and Senate consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Budget Update 

The House and Senate budget conference committee charged with reaching an agreement on the FY2014 budget framework, including an alternative to the sequester, continues to negotiate. Regardless of whether the budget conference committee is able to reach a deal, Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution (CR) by January 15, 2014 to keep the government open through the remainder of the fiscal year. We expect more activity and press coverage of the budget conference committee early this month.

Continuing the Push in the U.S. Senate on Department of Defense Recruitment of Students Attending Online Charter Schools

In June, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would prohibit the Department of Defense from requiring students who attend online charter schools and homeschools to score higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test than students at traditional public schools. Last week, Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) were successful in their efforts to include a similar amendment to the Senate NDAA. We expect further activity on this legislation this month, when the Senate returns to complete its consideration of the bill.

National Alliance Leads Coalition of Charter School Leaders, Urges Obama Administration to Increase Charter Schools Program Funding 

We are planning ahead for FY2015! Earlier this month, a coalition of leaders in the charter school and education reform community sent letters to the administration requesting $330 million for the federal Charter Schools Program, which is currently funded at $241 million. Sixty state charter support organizations and charter management organizations signed the letter. In addition, nine national education reform advocacy groups, including the National Alliance, sent a separate letter asking for $330 million.

Gina Mahony is the senior vice president for government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 

Gina Mahony


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Ed Reformer, Charter School Advocate Sworn into the United States Senate

On October 31, Cory Booker (D-NJ) was sworn into the United States Senate to complete the term of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). Senator Booker (@CoryBooker) has been at the forefront of the national movement to strengthen public education, most notably in his previous position as mayor of Newark. During his time as mayor, Booker encouraged Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to donate $100 million to establish the Foundation for Newark’s Future. To date, the foundation has made nearly $80 million in grants to improve access to early childhood education, reform K-12 education, and strengthen community and family engagement in Newark’s schools.

Under state law, the mayor of Newark has limited influence over the city’s public schools. But there is no doubt that the leadership and vision of then-mayor Booker created the right climate to improve the city’s schools.  Public charter schools have been an important part of the education reform movement in Newark, with more than two dozen schools opening in recent years, which now enroll 20 % of Newark’s students. A recent report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) shows that students in New Jersey public charter schools–particularly those in Newark–are making significant learning gains in both reading and mathematics.

As part of his reform efforts, Senator Booker also forged a relationship with Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) to promote public charter schools. In late September, they joined for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Newark Teacher’s Village, a public-private partnership that will house three public charter schools, subsidized residential housing for teachers, and commercial development.

“Senator Booker worked hard to set the right tone for Newark’s education sector during his time as mayor,” says Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund. “As he noted in a recent video on Newark’s public charter sector, Senator Booker believed that all students in Newark deserve access to a high-quality education. He recognized that collaboration is the only way to provide that access, and challenged stakeholders at all levels to put aside our differences and commit to cooperation. We are hopeful that his successor will continue to foster that spirit of collaboration and support for a portfolio approach to education that includes a strong public charter sector.”

Senator Booker understands that for all children to succeed, families need a variety of high-quality schools that range from neighborhood schools to charter schools. This leadership, vision, and ability to build bipartisan relationships is needed in the United States Senate, and the National Alliance is eager to work with the new senator from New Jersey to strengthen public education across the nation.

Gina Mahony is the senior vice president for government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Gina Mahony


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The Government Shutdown and the Impact on K12 Federal Education Programs

As we go into week two of the government shutdown with no end in sight, many people are wondering what will happen to schools. While there shouldn’t be significant impact at the school or school district level at this stage, this memo from the Penn Hill Group provides a comprehensive outline of the impact of the shutdown on U.S. Department of Education programs.  Key highlights include:

Elementary and Secondary Formula Programs

Title I, IDEA Part B, and other formula programs are forward-funded, meaning the funding for a fiscal year is provided to states in July. So, school districts shouldn’t have any issues drawing down these funds. In addition, the Department of Education’s contingency plan made clear that funding available to states for these programs in October will be allocated as originally planned.

There are several programs that are funded on a “current-year” basis and could be affected if the shutdown becomes prolonged. One such program is Impact Aid, which assists schools whose local sales or property tax funding is adversely affected because the school is on land owned by the Federal Government or land that has been removed from the local tax rolls by the Federal Government. Many schools on Indian reservations are aided by this program and could face funding issues if the shutdown last more than a couple of weeks.

Competitive Grant programs

Many federal grant program awards are made in the spring, so a government shutdown of a few weeks is unlikely to have significant consequences. However, a lengthier shutdown could cause delays in grant-making, especially for Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation and Promise Neighborhoods. The Department is still processing the FY2013 competitions and must award grants by December 31.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a path forward for a quick resolution and the stakes only get higher over the next ten days, as Congress must also act to increase the debt ceiling by mid-October. It is likely that government funding and the debt ceiling will be negotiated in one package.  If lawmakers can’t make that happen, there could be major implications for school districts, states, and the overall economy. That could be much worse than the shutdown.

Gina Mahony is the senior vice president of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Nick Fickler is a staff assistant at the Alliance. 

Gina Mahony


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August Washington Update

August is a great time in Washington, D.C. Congress leaves town, many area residents go on vacation, and traffic is minimal. At the National Alliance, we are taking advantage of this quiet time to gear up for Congress’s return on September 9.

Fall Outlook

This New York Times article captures it best: once again, we are entering a high stakes budget and spending standoff, all of which must be resolved this fall. First, Congress must approve FY2014 spending levels by September 30, or the government will shut down. We anticipate that Congress will pass a short-term continuing resolution (known as a “CR”), which will keep all programs funded at FY2013 levels. This means that all federal education programs that are important to charter schools – Title I, IDEA, the CSP – will be funded at current levels.

There is bipartisan interest in trying to address the impact of the sequester – the across-the-board spending cuts that went into effect in March.  However, there are no easy solutions, given competing priorities and offsets. Finally, the debt ceiling must be raised again to ensure that the U.S. Government avoids a default. These issues are intertwined, and will have a significant impact on the budget for the U.S. Department of Education and all other programs.

As we wrote about in the July Washington Update, the House of Representatives passed legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  There is a possibility that the Senate will consider ESEA this fall; we will let you know when we hear more.

Government Accountability Office Report on ELL Students at Charter Schools

On August 15, Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) released a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the enrollment of English Language Learner (ELL) students in charter schools. This report was requested in 2011, and the National Alliance had been expecting its release.

In an unexpected development, the GAO was not able to conduct the study due to a lack of data. Specifically, in 14 states, the GAO reported that 60 percent of public charter schools are not reporting on ELL enrollment; in 5 of these states (including NY, NJ, and OH), between 80 percent and 100 percent of charter schools are not reporting. In addition to a lack of reporting on ELL enrollment, the GAO also reported a lack of reporting by charters on math and reading proficiency rates and graduation rates across many of the same states.

In response, we joined with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) in issuing a statement encouraging the charter school community – from operators to authorizers – to be more diligent in understanding their legal obligations to serve ELL students and report accurate data. We also believe that there is an important role for the U.S. Department of Education, state education agencies and school districts to ensure compliance and provide technical assistance as necessary. We are working with key stakeholders to address this issue, and will keep you updated on developments. It is worth noting that our experience in collecting ELL data from state departments of education shows that when data are available, charters report at a fairly high level. Meanwhile, we encourage all charter school operators to review and implement this toolkit produced by the National Alliance earlier this year to help the charter school community understand the legal issues surrounding serving the needs of ELL Students.

Phi Delta Kappa International/Gallup Poll

The 45th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, produced by Phi Delta Kappa International, an educators association, and Gallup was released last week. The survey found that nearly 70 percent of respondents support public charter schools.


The Obama Administration has launched an effort to update the E-rate program, which provides subsidized internet connections to schools and libraries. This could take up to 18 months, and is subject to a rulemaking process by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Digital Learning Now published a good policy brief on the E-Rate program, and the changes proposed by the FCC. As appropriate, the National Alliance will align with other education groups on comment letters or other actions.

Back-To-School – Host Your Member of Congress

The start of a new school year is an ideal time to invite your Congressman or U.S. Senator to visit your school. Elected officials love visiting schools, and a school visit is the best way to highlight the positive impact of public charter schools. Also, school visits are a critical step in building a relationship with your Member of Congress, because  it helps them understand the connection between the federal policy decisions they make in Washington and what is happening back home. School visits are a great opportunity to establish yourself, your organization, and your school as a public charter school resource for the Member and their staff. Inviting your Members of Congress is easy. Send a letter of invite by email or mail to the Congressman or Senator’s District Director or State Director (you can find this information on their website). The Member’s staff will know when the Congressman or Senator will be in town, and should be willing to work with you to set up a visit.

Find your Members of Congress:  U.S. House and Senate

Job Opening at the National Alliance on the Government Relations Team

Last, but not least! We are looking for a Government Affairs Coordinator. This person will manage and execute a variety of key tasks and programs for the Federal team. The ideal candidate must be able to prioritize multiple tasks in a fast-paced environment and possess excellent writing skills. The full job description and how to apply can be found on our website.

Best of luck in the new school year, and please contact us with any questions or concerns.

Gina Mahony is the senior vice president of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Gina Mahony


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The Quest to Reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Congress made progress this summer on efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This important law, which governs nearly all K-12 education programs, is long overdue for reauthorization. There is a long way to go (and it’s a bit discouraging that President Obama didn’t even mention it in either of his speeches last week); but the National Alliance is focused on ensuring that the final legislation reflects the priorities of the public charter school community.

On July 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of ESEA in H.R. 5, the Student Success Act. While H.R. 5 passed on a party-line vote, with no Democrats in support of the bill, we are pleased that the Charter Schools Program (CSP) section of the bill mirrored a bipartisan compromise reached in 2011 with the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s Senior Democrat, Rep. George Miller (D-CA). In addition, a number of key changes were made to the bill during negotiations and floor consideration that reflected the National Alliance’s guiding principles for ESEA reauthorization.

Now that the House has completed its work, all eyes are on the Senate. In mid-June, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee passed its version of ESEA reauthorization, S. 1094, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, also on a party-line vote, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposing. The bill now awaits consideration by the full Senate. Once the Senate bill is passed, the differences between the House and Senate bills will be resolved in a conference committee.

We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to strengthen public charter schools, and are eager for more forward progress!

Gina Mahony is senior vice president of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Additional Resources:

National Alliance Letter of Support to Chairman John Kline (R-MN)

National Alliance Letter of Support to Senior Democrat George Miller (D-CA)