Posts by Gina Mahony


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)

Gina Mahony


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Vote “YES” on the following H.R. 5 Amendments

As the U.S. House Committee on Education & the Workforce begins floor consideration of H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools encourages a “YES” vote on the following amendments to the Student Success Act:

Cantor #30—This amendment allows States, at their discretion, to allow Title I funds to follow a child to their public school of choice, including public charter schools.

  • The National Alliance supports providing States with the flexibility to allocate Title I funds in a manner that allows funds to follow an eligible child to a public school of choice. This is particularly important for states and districts that allow funds to “follow the child” and allocate their state and local dollars using what is known as a “weighted student formula.” Allowing Title I funds to follow low-income students to their public school, including public charter schools, can help to improve the allocation of Title I funds to public charter schools.

Polis-Petri #25—This amendment would specify that CSP funds can be used for paying costs associated with teacher preparation; purchasing instructional materials and implementing teacher and principal professional development programs; and providing the necessary renovations and minor facilities repairs, excluding construction, to ensure a strong school opening or to meet the needs of increased student enrollment.

  • The National Alliance supports providing charter school leaders and principals more flexibility in how they can use their funds at the school level. Under this amendment, funds could be used for teacher preparation, professional development for teachers and principals, and limited facilities repair—costs that are critical for ensuring a strong school opening.
Gina Mahony


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July Washington Update

As Congress wraps up its activity for the summer, we wanted to update you on Congressional action that impacts the charter school community.

Congress has continued it work on the long overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). To this end, on July 19 the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, which is a comprehensive rewrite of ESEA. H.R. 5 passed on a party-line vote, 221-207, with no Democrats in support of the bill. The White House has issued a veto threat should the bill come to the President’s desk in its current form.

While the vote on the overall bill was partisan, the CSP section of the bill mirrored a bipartisan compromise reached in 2011 with Rep. George Miller (D-CA). In addition, we are pleased that a number of key changes were made during negotiations and floor consideration that reflect provisions outlined in our ESEA paper, “Free to Succeed.”

Specifically, the charter school provisions in H.R. 5 were strengthened in Committee and on the floor by:

  • Adding charter support organizations as a new statewide eligible entity to apply for CSP grant funds
  • Expanding authorized uses of CSP funds to include costs associated with teacher preparation; purchasing instructional materials and implementing teacher and principal professional development programs; and providing the necessary renovations and minor facilities repairs (excluding construction)
  • Clarifying that funds from the Credit Enhancement program can be used for predevelopment costs such as soil-testing, or lead paint or asbestos screening that are necessary to commence or continue the operation of a charter school
  • Requiring the Secretary of Education to consult with charter school representatives when issuing non-regulatory guidance

Outside of the CSP section of the bill, the National Alliance secured provisions in the bill to ensure that public charter school representatives are consulted in the same manner as other public school representatives in the Title I program. For example:

  • States and school districts must include “public charter school representatives” as required entities to consult with in developing the state and local Title I plans.
  • Public charter school leaders and representatives of public charter school authorizers must be included on state Committee of Practitioners. The Committee of Practitioners is a state level entity, authorized in Title I of ESEA, that reviews any state rules, regulations and policies related to Title I.

The National Alliance also supported a successful amendment to H.R. 5 that will allow states to make Title I funds “portable,” so that they follow low-income children to any public school they attend, including a charter school.

What the House Bill is Missing 

Of note, the House bill does not authorize a direct competition for CMOs for the purposes of replicating and expanding successful models.This issue is addressed in the Senate approach, and will be worked out in a Conference Committee.

H.R. 5 authorizes only $300M for the CSP, which is far below the needs of the charter school community. The authorization level for a program serves as a cap; thus under this bill, it would be very difficult to fund the CSP at a higher level.

A summary of CSP Provisions in H.R. 5 is attached, as well as the letters from the National Alliance to Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) about the CSP sections of their respective bills.

Next Steps on ESEA 

Now that the House has completed its work on ESEA, the focus turns back to the Senate. As you may recall, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) considered their version of ESEA reauthorization in mid-June. The bill was passed by the Senate HELP Committee on a party-line vote of 12-10, with all Republicans opposing. At this time, the Senate has not scheduled any further consideration of ESEA.

CSP Funding

The Senate Appropriations Committee recently passed the FY2014 Labor-HHS-Education bill, which provides funding for all federal education programs, including the CSP. The bill included $254M for the CSP, nearly restoring the sequester cuts made to the program. The House Appropriations Committee has not yet considered this bill. The National Alliance is closely monitoring funding levels for the CSP and other K-12 education programs.

Connect ED–Updating the E-RATE Program

President Obama has unveiled an initiative, ConnectED, that would build upon the current E-rate program. If fully implemented, ConnectED would upgrade the connectivity of schools and libraries and invest in teacher training. The Federal Communications Commission has issued a notice for rulemaking. The National Alliance is monitoring the developments of this process, and will update the community when there are developments. Please let us know if you have questions or concerns about this program.

Have a great August, 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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Commissions Highlights need for Equitable Public Charter School Funding

The Equity and Excellence Commission, established by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, was charged with collecting data, analyzing issues and obtaining broad public input regarding how the federal government can increase educational opportunity by improving school funding equity. The report For Each and Every Child was released on February 19th, and it highlighted the value of public charter schools in providing a high-quality education for all children, particularly those from low-income communities.

We agree with a number of the Commission’s key findings, particularly its call for public charter schools, and all public schools of choice, to receive equitable funding. The most recent study on charter school finances suggests that charter schools receive approximately 20 percent less funding than their traditional public school counterparts.

We are also pleased the Commission acknowledges that public charter schools have succeeded in providing choice to families, and serve a high number of students in low-income communities and communities of color. As we have previously noted, public charter schools across the nation enroll a greater percentage of low-income students than traditional public schools (46 percent versus 41 percent), black and Latino students (27 percent versus 15 percent and 26 percent versus 22 percent, respectively), and students who perform lower on standardized tests before transferring to public charter schools.

The Commission notes that some of the best schools for disadvantaged students are charter schools, but raises concerns about the inconsistency of student performance across all charter schools. The quality of charter schools is improving, and we expect student performance will continue to rise. The latest research shows that students in charter schools are increasinglyoutperforming their traditional public school peers. This is not because charter schools skim the best and the brightest from public schools. In fact, the highest quality research shows that students in charters outperform their peers who applied to a charter but were not chosen in the randomized lottery.

NAPCS will continue to advocate for the growth of high-quality charter schools, and for equitable federal, state, and local funding for all schools.