Posts by Nina Rees

 

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National Alliance July Newsletter

A Note from Nina

We had a tremendous turnout for the 15th annual National Charter Schools Conference in New Orleans! It was great to see so many supporters and so much enthusiasm for public charter schools. If you weren’t able to join us – or if you want to relive the memories – check out our Facebook photo album.

Being in New Orleans was an inspiration because everyone in New Orleans has poured their heart into improving the city’s schools over the past ten years. People are taking notice of what’s happening in New Orleans – America’s first all-charter school district! To help tell the story, the National Alliance released a new report highlighting how New Orleans schools are delivering both higher quality and increased equity in education, and I recently wrote about why New Orleans schools are an example for the nation.

During my speech at the conference, I talked about the need to grow our movement so that we can eliminate the waitlists that are keeping too many children from a great education. I offered three ways to make progress:

  1. By making sure we’re open to every student who comes to us;
  2. By improving the quality of state charter laws;
  3. By increasing federal funding for the replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools. I encouraged attendees to join our advocacy campaign by texting “Charters” to 52886. If you were not with us but want to be a part of our advocacy army, it’s not too late to send a text!

To emphasize how important it is that we support quality growth, the National Alliance joined 40 state- and city-based public charter school support organizations to reaffirm our commitment to growing and replicating the highest-quality schools and closing schools that don’t deliver for students. Please take a moment to read the statement, and share it with your colleagues and friends online.

Thank you so much for all you’re doing to build great schools that make a difference in children’s lives. Enjoy your summer – and we’ll deliver our next newsletter in September.

Warmly,
Nina Rees
Nina Rees

PS – If you weren’t able to join us in New Orleans – or if you want to relive the memories – check out our Facebook photo album!


Noble Network of Charter Schools Wins the Broad Prize

We were honored to announce the winner of the Broad Prize again at our conference this year! The Prize honors the highest performing charter school network in the country with a $250,000 gift to help the schools better prepare their low-income students for college. The year’s winner was Noble Network of Charter Schools which gracefully shared the prize with the 2 other finalists: Achievement First and IDEA. Click here to see a video highlighting the work of this year’s 3 finalists!


30 Days of Grad!

Graduation season is over, but the inspiring stories in our 30 Days of Grad series will keep you pumped up all summer long. Read the stories here – and share them with people who need to know about the awesome power of public charter schools!


Progress on ESEA Reauthorization

This week, the U.S. House passed H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). H.R. 5 would support the growth of high-quality public charter schools but also has some flaws (see our statement here). Meanwhile, the Senate started debate on its own ESEA reauthorization, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA). The National Alliance supports the Senate legislation (you can find our letter here) and continues to work with key Senate offices to strengthen the Charter Schools Program and other provisions that will impact charters. For more details about the National Alliance’s position and priorities on the Senate bill, please click here.


House, Senate Committees Increase Funding for Charter Schools Program

The federal Charter Schools Program received a $22 million (8%) funding increase – to $275 million – in a bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee. The Senate Appropriations Committee followed suit with a $20 million increase for the CSP. The National Alliance is very appreciative of the leadership of Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), who championed the cause of charter schools in this process. While Congress’ work on the spending bills will not be completed until the fall, this is a great first step for charter schools.


Charter Schools Program in Action: Alaska Native Cultural Charter School

This month, our CSP in Action series features the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School (ANCCS) in Anchorage, Alaska. ANCCS was created to offer students a standards-based educational program that incorporates Alaska Native language, culture, history, and traditional practices, including an emphasis on values and community involvement. Learn more about this innovative charter school here.


Mayors Sound the Call for More Facilities Funding

At its annual meeting in June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution calling for more facilities funding for charter schools and other policies to ensure that “all public school children – district and high-quality public charter – have access to adequate school buildings.” Read the National Alliance’s statement on the mayors’ resolution.


Understanding Weighted Lottery Policies

In January 2014, the U.S. Department of Education made clear that charter schools receiving CSP funding may use a weighted lottery to give educationally disadvantaged students a slightly better chance for admission – as long as state law allows weighted lotteries. Unfortunately, only four states explicitly permit weighted lotteries, leaving many schools unclear about whether they can elect this option. A new report from the National Alliance sorts through the federal and state policies that impact lotteries and calls on the federal government to allow CSP-funded schools to conduct weighted lotteries in all cases unless state law expressly forbids it.


Innovation Buzz: NewSchools Venture Fund Launches “Catapult”

Our friends at NewSchools Venture Fund just announced an exciting new endeavor called NewSchools Catapult. Its goal over the next several years is to provide funding and support to help education entrepreneurs launch new schools that enroll significant numbers of underserved students in grades PreK-12. Click here for more details!


Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the high-quality public charter schools serving students across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your contributions. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of public charter schools – and please share our message and our work with your friends. Thank you!

Nina Rees

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Stop the Summer Slide

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Last Tuesday, at an event in New Hampshire, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stated, “There is no reason that K-12 education should be an eight-month enterprise in this country. … We need to adjust the model.”

While Christie blamed teachers’ unions for our antiquated academic calendar, it’s more accurate to say the entire education system is largely set in its ways. Few school boards or administrators want to innovate with an extended school year.

Ultimately, we all need to do more to prevent the summer slide and help children maintain their academic edge. A shift to more year-round schooling would be ideal, enhancing education for both poor and well-off students and reducing the summer pressure on parents’ pocketbooks. The growth of charter schools, which face fewer regulations around class time than traditional public schools, has led to more experiments in year-round education…Read more here.

Nina Rees

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National Alliance June Newsletter

A Note from Nina

We are only a few days away from the 15th annual National Charter Schools Conference on June 21-24 in New Orleans! I am excited that I’ll see many of you there. This conference is a particularly special one for us as we commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – and celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the National Alliance! We have a packed agenda including addresses by Geoffrey Canada, Ashley Judd, Bryan Stevenson, and John White, as well as 135 break-out sessions and the announcement of the Broad Prize for the highest performing charter school management organization. It all kicks off Sunday evening with a welcome parade! Click here for more information. To stay updated on all of our activities, follow us @charteralliance and use #NCSC15. I look forward to seeing you in New Orleans!

Warmly,
Nina Rees
Nina Rees


30 Days of Grad

It’s graduation season – a time to celebrate the success of public charter school students across the country! This month, we’re featuring a new graduation story every day as part of our 30 Days of Grad series. Click here to read the fun and inspirational stories we’ve posted so far, and be sure to check back each day to learn about a new student who’s on the road to a bright future thanks to public charter schools!


ESEA Reauthorization: Movement in the Senate?

This month, we expect the U.S. Senate to start debate on S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act, which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The National Alliance continues to closely engage in the process, specifically with regard to Title I and the Charter Schools Program. For our perspective, read our April letter to Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA).


Charter Schools Program in Action: Haas Hall Academy

This month, our CSP in Action series features Haas Hall Academy. Haas Hall is a rigorous, STEM-focused college prep charter school that Newsweek ranked as the 25th best high school in the nation. Learn how the Charter Schools Program helped Haas Hall Academy get started in this month’s profile.


On, Wisconsin!

Legislators in Wisconsin are moving forward legislation to create new pathways for approving independent charter schools in the state and to provide a small increase in per-pupil funding for independent charters. These measures, along with several others, would be a boost to the growth of public charter schools in Wisconsin. For more info, take a look at our statement.


Examining Facilities Funding Policies

One of the biggest challenges to the continued expansion of public charter schools is the fact that many public charter school laws place the burden of obtaining and paying for facilities on the schools themselves. As a result, public charter school leaders struggle to find suitable and affordable facilities to house growing numbers of students. To help make sense of the facilities funding policy landscape, the National Alliance put together this policy snapshot of the 29 states that provide some level of support to help charter schools access facilities.


Hall of Fame Inductees

The National Alliance is thrilled to honor three long-time champions of public charter schools as the newest members of the National Charter Schools Hall of Fame. Former Senator Mary Landrieu, Deborah McGriff, and Nelson Smith will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame during next week’s National Charter Schools Conference. Learn more about each inductee here. Congratulations to these outstanding leaders on their well-deserved honor!


Welcome New National Alliance Staff!

Please join us in welcoming three new staff members to the National Alliance: Heather Reams, Vice President for Communications and Marketing; Kimberly Lane, Vice President for External Growth; and Mario da Costa, the latest addition to our federal advocacy team. We’re excited to have them on board, and you can click here to read more about them.


Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the high-quality public charter schools serving students across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your contributions. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of public charter schools – and please share our message and our work with your friends. Thank you!

Nina Rees

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National Alliance May Newsletter

A Note From Nina

May is always a big month at the National Alliance. We just celebrated National Charter Schools Week (May 3-9), which gave us the opportunity to tout all the great things that are happening in public charter schools nationwide. And last week we released our 2014 Annual Report, which provides information about the many initiatives the National Alliance undertook last year to strengthen the public charter school movement. Titled The Numbers Add Up, our Annual Report highlights key data about the growth of public charter schools, improvements in federal and state policy, and the National Alliance’s impact as a source of research and information for advocates, journalists, and the public. The report also reminds us of a sobering number – there are more than 1 million student names on charter school wait lists. With so many students waiting for their chance to attend a high-quality public charter school, we have much more work to do. You can read my take on how to reduce the wait in this op-ed in the Huffington Post.

Warmly,

Nina Rees
President and CEO


National Charter Schools Week

The National Alliance joined teachers, parents, students, and advocates across the country in celebrating National Charter Schools Week from May 3-9. Here in Washington, we honored our Champions for Charter Schools – policymakers who are going the extra mile to strengthen public charter schools. Be sure to send a tweet or email to thank them for their support! We also held our first ever National Charter Schools Week essay contest, which produced great essays from students telling us why they love their charter school. Check out our blog for the winning essays at the high school, middle school, and elementary school levels. And #CharterSchoolsWeek was a big hit on social media, generating 24 million impressions on Twitter, including 9 million during our TweetUp! For a full recap of all the National Charter Schools Week excitement, including links to President Obama’s National Charter Schools Week proclamation and pictures from our visit to DC’s Thurgood Marshall Public Charter School, visit our summary page here.


Urban Students Are Waiting for Their Chance

Amid all the excitement of National Charter Schools Week, we also released a new report showing that public charter school wait lists are growing in major cities across the country. The report is an eye-opening reminder of how much work we have to do to ensure that every child who wants to attend a public charter school can do so. As we near the end of the school year, let’s commit to doing everything we can to expand the great work going on in our classrooms so that we can welcome all the students waiting for their chance.


Pressing Congress for CSP Funding

At the end of April, Nina testified in front of a U.S. House subcommittee that will help determine the funding level for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). Nina urged members to support President Obama’s budget request of $375 million for the CSP to help open new charter schools, expand and replicate high-performing charter schools, and support the financing of charter school facilities. Over the next several months, Congress will determine how much funding each program receives, and the National Alliance will continue our work to increase funding for the CSP. Click here to read the National Alliance’s statement and Nina’s testimony.


CSP in Action: Namaste Charter School

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) is critical to meeting the growing demand for high-quality public charter schools. The CSP provides essential funding to help new schools purchase books and equipment, hire school leaders, and finance school buildings. To demonstrate the importance of federal funding, and help make the case for increasing it, each month we’re highlighting a great public charter school that relied on the CSP to get started.

This month we feature Namaste Charter School in Chicago. Namaste was founded on the belief that healthy children are better learners. It seeks to change the trajectory of underserved children’s lives through a holistic education program that includes daily exercise routines and healthy breakfasts and lunches, in addition to a rigorous academic curriculum in which half of classes are taught bilingually, in English and Spanish. Namaste used CSP funding at its start-up to plan for the curriculum and structure of the school. It has used additional CSP grants to provide seed money for the school library, and to launch the Learning the Namaste Way Institute, which has trained more than 80 school leaders in holistic education best practices. Read more about this truly innovative public school in this month’s profile.


Senate HELP Committee Approves ESEA Reauthorization

ESEA reauthorization took an important step forward in April when the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions approved the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA) by a unanimous vote of 22-0. The bill now moves to the full Senate. ECAA, which was introduced by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), requires that states continue to administer annual statewide assessments in grades 3-8 in reading and math and once in high school. It also modernizes the Charter Schools Program. Click here to read the National Alliance’s letter to Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray.


Understanding Title I

The federal Title I program provides $15 billion in funding for schools that serve children from low-income families. It’s an important program for many charter schools, but the process for allocating Title I funding to charter school LEAs is complicated and not particularly transparent. To help clarify the issue, we’ve posted two resources that address Title I allocations to charter schools. The National Alliance’s Christy Wolfe wrote this blog post, which provides a “crash course” in how funding reaches charter school LEAs. In addition, education policy specialist Wayne Riddle has written Issues in the Allocation of ESEA Title I Funds to Charter Schools, which goes deeper into the Title I formula and how it works for charter schools. Riddle calls for further exploration and analysis to ensure that charter schools are being funded appropriately.


Indiana and Oklahoma Improve Charter Laws

Great news from two of the National Alliance’s target states this month. Indiana governor Mike Pence and state legislators approved a budget that will provide public charter schools with a new $500 per student allotment and a $50 million loan program to help with facilities costs and other needs, reducing the funding gap between public charter schools and traditional public schools. The state also enacted legislation to improve its already strong authorizing environment. Together, these changes will help Indiana move close to the top of the National Alliance’s annual state charter law rankings. For more details, read our statement here. In Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin worked with a bipartisan coalition of legislators to pass a law that will allow public charter schools to open throughout the state, while also strengthening school and authorizer accountability. Previously, public charter schools could only operate in about 4 percent of the state’s school districts. Our statement has more details. We’re thrilled for students, parents, and our partners in Indiana and Oklahoma, and we urge other states to take notice!


28 Charter Schools Among Nation’s Best High Schools

U.S. News & World Report released its 2015 Best High Schools rankings, and 28 public charter schools are among the top 100. Moreover, two public charter high schools are ranked in the top 10: BASIS Scottsdale (#2) in Scottsdale, Arizona; and Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology (#4) in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Public high schools were evaluated based on their students’ performance on state-mandated assessments, minority and economically disadvantaged student performance, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exam results. The number of public charter schools in the U.S. News top 100 has grown over the past five years from 18 schools to 28. And the 2015 rankings included nine public charter schools that are new to the top 100 this year. Congratulations to these high-fliers!


Enhancing Authorizer Accountability

Maintaining the highest level of quality in public charter schools starts with good authorizing practices. Authorizers are responsible for ensuring that new charter schools have a credible plan for success and that existing charter schools adhere to their plans, deliver a high-quality education to students, and show good stewardship of taxpayer dollars. Given their essential role in maintaining quality and enforcing accountability, authorizers themselves must be held to high standards. A new report from the National Alliance and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) highlights how state policymakers can raise the bar on authorizer quality and examines four states – Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Ohio – that have recently taken action to improve their authorizing environments. Establishing clear and consistently high standards for authorizers is vital to ensuring that public charter schools fulfill our promise to the families and communities we serve.


National Charter Schools Conference

The 2015 National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15) is just a month away! Join us from June 21-24 in New Orleans, where we’ve lined up inspiring keynote speakers, including Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, and Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. By attending #NCSC15, you’ll have access to more than 135 breakout sessions and myriad networking opportunities. The full schedule of speakers and sessions is now available – and searchable – online. Registration rates go up after Friday, June 5, so register now to join us in New Orleans!


Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the high-quality public charter schools serving students across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your contributions. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of public charter schools – and please share our message and our work with your friends. Thank you!

Nina Rees

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National Alliance April Newsletter

A Note From Nina

We’ve had a busy month at the National Alliance: welcoming Alabama to the list of states with charter school laws, preparing for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and getting ready for our annual #CharterSchoolsWeek on May 3-9. This year, we are encouraging every charter school leader to invite an elected official to tour their school – we’ve put together a handy toolkit and a guide to hosting a tour for policymakers. In addition, we are asking students in your schools to participate in our first ever National Charter Schools Week essay contest. We want to hear directly from students about what makes their school awesome. Learn more here.

As always, we’re eager to hear what you have planned for the week, so please call or email me with your ideas and suggestions!

Warmly,

Nina Rees
President and CEO


Charter Schools Are Coming to Alabama!

Alabama recently became the 43rd state to enact a charter school law! The bill, signed by Governor Robert Bentley, allows up to 10 start-up charter schools per year, as well as an unlimited number of charter school conversions. Alabama’s law includes strong accountability provisions and several other essential elements featured in the National Alliance’s Model Law. For all the details, check out our fact sheet.


ESEA Reauthorization Advances in the Senate

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has taken an important step toward reauthorizing the law. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) announced a bipartisan agreement on a draft bill, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. (See our full statement here.) We’re pleased that the proposed legislation would continue to require annual testing in reading and math, and require assessment results to be disaggregated by student subgroups. In addition, the bill would modernize the Charter Schools Program to support opening new charter schools, replicating and expanding the most successful charter school models, and improving facility financing and authorizer quality.

The HELP Committee is considering various amendments to the Every Child Achieves Act this week, and we will continue to work with members of the Senate to reach a final agreement. We also are hopeful that the House will continue work on its own ESEA reauthorization bill – H.R. 5, the Student Success Act. We’ll keep you updated as ESEA reauthorization advances in both houses of Congress.


The Charter Schools Program in Action: Crossroads Academy of Kansas City

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) is critical to meeting the growing demand for high-quality public charter schools. The CSP provides essential funding to help new schools purchase books and equipment, hire school leaders, and finance school buildings. To demonstrate the importance of federal funding, and help make the case for increasing it, each month we’re highlighting a great public charter school that relied on the CSP to get started.

This month we feature Crossroads Academy in Kansas City, Missouri. Crossroads is a K-7 school serving close to 300 students on its downtown campus. Education at Crossroads rests on three pillars – high expectations, 21st century learning, and community engagement – all designed to help students have a positive impact on their family, their community, and the world. Crossroads used a $375,000 CSP grant to purchase critical materials including computers, library resources, and curricula. To read more about Crossroads, see this month’s profile.


A Big Victory for Charter School Students in Los Angeles

Last week the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) won a favorable ruling in its long-running facilities access case against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The California Supreme Court ruled that LAUSD has been violating Prop. 39, the law that guarantees access to school district facilities for charter school students. The ruling requires LAUSD to change its facilities distribution process to ensure charter schools have more equitable access to classrooms in the district. The National Alliance filed an amicus brief in support of CCSA’s position. We applaud CCSA for its unwavering commitment to improving facilities access for charter schools and congratulate them on this victory.


Urban Charter School Students Show Major Gains

According to the new Urban Charter Schools Study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), public charter schools in the nation’s largest urban districts are helping disadvantaged students generate significant achievement gains. Children enrolled in urban public charter schools gained 40 additional days of learning in math and 28 additional days in reading compared to their traditional public school peers. Moreover, the longer a student attended an urban public charter school, the greater the gains. See the complete report here. Read our take on the findings here.


Examining State Policies on Charter School Access to District Facilities

One of the greatest challenges facing the public charter school movement is access to adequate buildings. From state to state, public charter schools receive varying levels of support in acquiring and maintaining facilities. A new policy snapshot from the National Alliance reviews the 27 state laws that provide charter schools with access to district facilities and offers recommendations for how state policymakers can get more charters into district buildings.


The National Alliance Welcomes New Board Members

We are thrilled to announce the addition of two new members to the National Alliance Board.

  • Former U.S. senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) spent 35 years in public service at the state and federal levels, demonstrating her passionate commitment to children and families. Throughout her tenure in Washington, D.C., Senator Landrieu was a public charter school champion, helping to forge a bipartisan consensus in support of charter schools that has endured for two decades. We look forward to benefiting from Senator Landrieu’s keen political insight, her frontline experience with education reform, and her dedication to the well-being of children across America.
  • Chris Cerf is the CEO of Amplify Insight, which helps teachers and other educators use data to improve decision-making and accelerate personalized learning. Prior to joining Amplify, Chris served as New Jersey’s commissioner of education, where he oversaw 2,500 public schools, 1.4 million students, and 110,000 teachers. As a reform leader in New Jersey, Chris led the effort to expand charter school capacity in some of the nation’s most underserved communities. Chris has also worked with Joel Klein as deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, as associate counsel to President Bill Clinton, and as a high school history teacher in Ohio.

Please join us in welcoming Mary Landrieu and Chris Cerf to the National Alliance board, and learn more about them here.


Innovation Buzz

Each month, we’re calling your attention to some of the cool educational technology being developed for students, parents, teachers, and other educators. While we don’t endorse products, we’re excited to let you know about innovations you may find helpful.

This month we feature Edbacker, which won the education division of the D.C. Challenge Cup sponsored by 1776, an incubator of entrepreneurial companies making a social impact. Edbacker will be competing in the nationwide Challenge Festival next month. Developed by teacher-turned-entrepreneur Gary Hensley, Edbacker facilitates online school fundraising, engages parents, and helps PTO leaders manage their many organizational responsibilities. Hensley points with particular pride to an early success – helping parents at one elementary school raise $150,000 to build a new science classroom.

You can meet the leaders of Edbacker – and many other innovative companies – this June at the 2015 National Charter Schools Conference. The Conference will feature an Innovation Alley showcasing leading ed-tech companies, giving educators and entrepreneurs the opportunity to meet and learn from each other. Be sure to check it out!


National Charter Schools Conference

The 2015 National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15) is fast approaching! Join us from June 21-24 in New Orleans, where we’ve lined up inspiring keynote speakers, including Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, and Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. #NCSC15 is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, school leaders, administrators, board members, and advocates from around the country. By attending, you’ll have access to more than 135 breakout sessions and myriad networking opportunities. Register now to join us in New Orleans!


Welcome to the Team!

We are pleased to welcome Precious Jenkins to the National Alliance team as our newest program coordinator! She comes to us from the UNCF where she worked for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. Learn more about Precious by reading her bio here.


Washington State Conference

Enthusiasm for charter schools is building in Washington state, which launched its first public charter school in fall 2014. The Washington State Charter Schools Association is hosting its second annual conference on May 7-8 in Seattle, and regional neighbors from Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and Montana are encouraged to attend. Click here for more information.


Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the high-quality public charter schools serving students across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your contributions. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of public charter schools – and please share our message and our work with your friends. Thank you!

Nina Rees

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National Alliance March Newsletter

A Note From Nina

One of the things I like most about my job is the opportunity it offers me to meet with dedicated educators who are investing their lives in finding the next best approach to learning. I recently met one such individual: Brian Greenberg, the CEO of the Silicon Schools Fund. The Fund, which helps to launch schools focused on technology, innovation, and student-directed learning, has seed-funded some of the most innovative charter schools in the Bay Area, such as Summit. When I asked Brian what I could do from my perch in Washington, D.C., to best support the growth of his schools, he pointed to the need for more funding for the federal Charter Schools Program. The cost of launching a new school remains steep and the best way for Washington to help seed the growth of innovation is by supporting schools like those launched by the Silicon Schools Fund.

As we champion our schools at the federal level and in states and communities across America, let’s remind policymakers that if they want to find 21st century classrooms that prepare children for the technology and innovation age, they’re most likely to find them in public charter schools. We should also remind our charter school leaders that the freedoms afforded to them in their charter offer the best hope to innovate and push the boundaries of teaching.

And for parents who want to find innovative schools for their children, I recently shared some advice on the Getting Smart blog about what they should look for.

Read on for more info about what’s happening at the National Alliance and throughout our innovative charter school movement.

Warmly,

Nina Rees
President and CEO


Federal Update

Congress continues to work on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In the House, H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, was passed out of the Education and Workforce Committee and started receiving consideration in the full House in late February. The National Alliance issued a letter about the bill, praising the positive aspects of the legislation and recommending ways to improve it. We’re hoping for a full House vote soon. We also expect to see further progress on the Senate’s ESEA reauthorization in April.

In late February, we kicked off our annual advocacy campaign to request Congressional support for increasing funding to the Charter Schools Program (CSP). So far, more than 2,600 charter school supporters have sent more than 8,000 emails and phones calls to Congressional offices, asking their members to specifically request an increase in funding for the CSP. By letting members know that people in their districts are passionate about public charter schools, we’re amplifying our message and increasing our impact. If you would like to join this effort, please click here.


The Charter Schools Program in Action: Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) is critical to meeting the growing demand for high-quality public charter schools. The CSP provides essential funding to help new schools purchase books and equipment, hire school leaders, and finance school buildings. To demonstrate the importance of federal funding, and help make the case for increasing it, each month we’ll highlight a great public charter school that relied on CSP to get started.

This month we’re featuring Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW), a college-prep school that provides emotional, physical, and academic enrichment in an all-girls environment. The school offers a STEAM curriculum – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math – to give young women a strong foundation in areas of study in which they are traditionally underrepresented. Learn more about their story, and let your members of Congress know that we need more CSP funding to open high-quality public charter schools like BLSYW.


Progress in the States

We have been heavily involved in enacting and improving public charter school laws in several states, with especially high hopes for three: Alabama, Oklahoma and West Virginia:

  • Alabama’s Senate just passed the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, which, if also approved by the House, will allow the creation of high-quality public charter schools in the state for the first time. The House Education Committee approved the bill on Friday and the full House will take it up this week. Hats off to Emily Schultz, the Executive Director of the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools for her work bringing the bill to the finish line.
  • In Oklahoma, which allows charter schools in limited locations, we’re pushing legislation that would allow charter schools statewide and beef up accountability. Both the House and the Senate recently passed slightly different versions of our bill. We’re working to ensure one of these bills makes it to the governor’s desk this session.
  • West Virginia came up just short of becoming the next state to approve a charter school law when the legislative session ended there this weekend. While we are disappointed with this session’s outcome, we made considerable headway there in a short period of time. Starting in only December, we were able to get a bill out of a narrowly divided Senate, through two Committees in the House, and to the third and final reading on the House floor.

We’ll continue to provide updates about progress in these and other states, as we support new laws and seek to strengthen existing laws to align with our Model Law.


New York Students and Parents Rally for Better Schools

On March 4th, 13,000 students, parents, teachers, and other supporters rallied at the state Capitol building in Albany, New York, to call attention to New York’s failing schools crisis and insist that every child be given the opportunity to attend a high-quality public school. Using the slogan “Don’t Steal Possible,” advocates mounted a campaign in person and online to ensure that the state’s elected officials heard their powerful voices for educational justice. As you know, New York has been a charter school battleground, with Mayor Bill de Blasio trying to halt public charter school expansion, and Governor Andrew Cuomo protecting charter schools and promoting new legislation to lift caps on the number of charters in the state. For a full rundown of the situation, check out my recent U.S. News & World Report blog post.


Get Ready for National Charter Schools Week!

Mark your calendars for May 3-9, when National Charter Schools Week (NCSW) will be back and bigger than ever. NCSW is an opportunity for the entire public charter school community to come together and share success stories, highlight achievements, and celebrate the power of charter schools in transforming American education. Next month we’ll make available a downloadable toolkit that will include a variety of resources to help you get involved and spread the charter school spirit in your community. We especially want you to invite an elected official to a high-performing charter school so we can show our policymakers the impact that charter schools have on their communities. In the meantime, the National Alliance is looking for guest bloggers who are interested in telling their story during NCSW. If you are interested in sharing why you love charter schools, and the impact they’re making in your community, contact Andrew Schantz at andrew@publiccharters.org.


Innovation Buzz

Last month, we started Innovation Buzz to raise awareness of some of the cool educational technology available to teachers, parents, and students. While we don’t endorse products, we’re excited to let you know about innovations you may find helpful in making your school a success.

This month, we want to introduce you to KickUp, a networked platform that allows teachers to connect with each other, and with mentors, to get advice and solve challenges they face in the classroom. KickUp is built to promote teacher leadership, giving support-seeking teachers the chance to earn professional credit for their engagement, and high-performing educators an outlet and economic incentive to share their expertise. By using videos and web chats to bring educators together, KickUp has the potential to be a great professional development tool for teachers at any experience level. And when teachers have more resources to overcome obstacles, students are sure to benefit.

KickUp co-founder Jeremy Rogoff, a former Teach for America Corps member and KIPP teacher, is getting support from 1776, a D.C.-based incubator of entrepreneurial companies making a social impact. (Read an interview with Jeremy here.) The National Alliance is excited to partner with 1776 to help connect entrepreneurs interested in K-12 education with charter schools across the country.


National Charter Schools Conference

The 2015 National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15) is just three months away! Join us from June 21-24 in New Orleans, where we’ve lined up inspiring keynote speakers, including Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, and – just announced – Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and a widely acclaimed activist and speaker on issues of poverty and social justice. #NCSC15 is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, school leaders, administrators, board members, and advocates from around the country. By attending, you’ll have access to more than 135 breakout sessions and myriad networking opportunities. Register now to join us in New Orleans!


Join Our Team!

The National Alliance is looking for great people who are passionate about educational opportunity to join our team. We currently have openings for several positions. For more information, click here – and please spread the word to people who would be great candidates!


Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the high-quality public charter schools serving students across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your support. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of public charter schools – and please share our message and our work with your friends. Thank you!

Nina Rees

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National Alliance February Newsletter

A Note From Nina

Nina ReesDid you know that charter schools are the fastest growing form of public school choice in the United States? Over the past five years, student enrollment in charter schools has grown by more than 70 percent. As we recently reported, more than 500 new public charter schools opened in the 2014-15 school year alone. Across the country, more than 6,700 public charter schools now enroll nearly 3 million students. This continued growth demonstrates that parents are eager for more high-quality educational options for their children.

That’s just one of the messages we delivered this year as part of National School Choice Week. And to show how important public charter schools are to the students who attend them, we put together a short video entitled “The Power of Charters.” It shines a spotlight on the students, teachers, parents, and administrators who make up the charter school movement. I encourage you to check out the video and share it online so that more people can see how charters are changing lives.

Sharing the success of public charter schools is especially important now, as we work with federal policymakers to raise awareness and support for the Charter Schools Program (CSP). This brilliant article by Neerav Kingsland and Richard Whitmire in Real Clear Education makes a compelling case for why the CSP is the federal government’s best educational investment – and why Congress and the Administration should “quadruple down” on their commitment to high-quality charter schools.

Happy Presidents Day!

Warmly,

Nina Rees
President and CEO


The Charter Schools Program in Action

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) is critical to meeting the growing demand for high-quality public charter schools. CSP provides essential funding to help new schools purchase books and equipment, hire school leaders, and finance school buildings. To demonstrate the importance of federal funding, and help make the case for increasing it, each month we’ll highlight a great public charter school that relied on CSP to get started. This month’s focus school is Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA) Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Named after one of America’s legal heroes, TMA provides an academically rigorous curriculum built around the themes of law and justice, and emphasizing critical thinking and civic engagement. Find out more about TMA’s mission and how the Charter Schools Program helped make it possible. If you are interested in helping us make the case for additional CSP funding, click here!


Reauthorizing ESEA and the Charter Schools Program

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is taking center stage in Congress. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, has issued a draft legislative proposal, and has started bipartisan negotiations with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). We prepared a letter in response to the chairman’s proposal and secured 40 co-signers. We also signed on to a joint letter organized by the Business Roundtable. And we’ve laid out our policy priorities for ESEA reauthorization.

In addition, Chairman Alexander and Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have re-introduced the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Act, which would modernize the federal Charter Schools Program, prioritize the replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools, promote strong accountability, and incentivize states to provide equal funding to charters and traditional public schools.

In the House, Education and Workforce Committee chairman John Kline (R-MN) introduced the Student Success Act, a bill to reauthorize ESEA that includes the CSP reauthorization language that passed the House last year. We’re pleased with the charter school provisions in the bill. We also strongly support the bill’s requirement that students be tested annually in reading and math, which is vital to giving parents the power to make informed choices about their children’s education. However, we are disappointed that the legislation is not strong on accountability.

We applaud Chairman Alexander, Chairman Kline, and their colleagues for driving education reform forward, and we look forward to continuing to work with members of the House and Senate to get good legislation passed.


How Does Your State Stack Up?

Model Law Rankings report We released the sixth annual ranking of charter laws across 43 states and the District of Columbia (eight states still don’t have charter laws). Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws scores each law against 20 essential components from the National Alliance’s model law. These components favor quality and accountability, equitable access to funding and facilities, and no caps on charter school growth.

Minnesota topped the rankings for the fifth time in six years, and states including South Carolina and Utah made substantial gains. Overall, 14 states moved up in the rankings. We’re excited to see more states working to improve their charter school laws. But states need to make more progress in reducing funding gaps between charter schools and traditional schools. They also need to give charter schools the flexibility to innovate, while holding them accountable for improving student achievement. Be sure to check out this year’s report to see how your state measures up.


Supporting D.C. Charter Parents in their Fight for Equal Funding

Charter school parents in Washington, D.C., are fighting to ensure that the D.C. government provides equal funding for their children’s education – and the National Alliance is right there with them. In the District of Columbia, equal funding isn’t just a desire; it’s a requirement of the 1995 School Reform Act. That act of Congress launched charter schools in the District and mandated that the D.C. government establish a uniform funding formula for both traditional public schools and public charter schools. Yet for years, the District’s charter schools have been receiving less per-pupil funding than traditional public schools – a gap of $770 million since 2008. Despite being shortchanged, D.C. charter schools consistently outperform the city’s traditional public schools.

A group of parents have filed suit in federal court to force the D.C. government to live up to the law. The District has asked the court to dismiss the case. The National Alliance, with a coalition of other reform organizations, recently filed an amicus brief with the federal court explaining why the parents’ case should be allowed to proceed.

While it’s always unfortunate to see education battles fought in court, we maintain a robust network to help advocates stay on top of the legal landscape affecting charters and to weigh in with legal opinions that help courts understand the legal framework underpinning charter schools. To learn more about the network, please contact Rob Reed, our Senior Director of Legal Affairs.


Working Together to Improve Services to Students with Special Needs

Equity at Scale reportPublic charter schools have built their reputation on helping every child, regardless of background or circumstance, reach his or her full potential. This is especially meaningful for students with disabilities, who can benefit from the variety of learning models that charter schools provide. A new report from the National Alliance and the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools showcases some of the models that are proving to be very effective in delivering high-quality services to special-needs students.

The report, Equity at Scale, examines the challenges public charter schools can face when serving students with disabilities, including funding and staffing limitations. The authors then explain how network agreements – from formal CMO networks to looser cooperative affiliations – can help individual schools combine and leverage resources and implement innovative practices to enhance special education delivery. I encourage you to read the report to see some of the great examples of public charter schools working together to serve students with special needs, and to consider whether some of the solutions might be right for your school or network.


Innovation Buzz

One of the great things about working in public charter schools is the opportunity to be innovative. Educational innovation and technology are booming, with a variety of new products and services to help teachers, parents, and administrators meet students’ needs in new, often fun, ways.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to see a cool new game developed by the folks at Zearn (which was co-founded by charter leaders Dave Levin and Norman Atkins). The game is called Impoppable, and it’s designed to help build core math skills in students ages 8-12. You can download the app through iTunes – it’s free, contains no ads, and, fair warning, it’s a little bit addictive. My 10 year old daughter already loves it!

Note: the National Alliance does not endorse products, but we do like to share information about new tools that might spark a love of learning in children!


National Charter Schools Conference

Ready for winter to be over? Our thoughts are already turning to summer and the National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15) in New Orleans June 21-24, 2015. We hope you’ll join us as we welcome Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada and Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White as speakers. #NCSC15 is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, school leaders, administrators, board members, and advocates from across the country. By attending, you’ll have access to engaging keynote speeches, more than 135 breakout sessions, and myriad networking opportunities. Register now to join us in New Orleans!


Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the tremendous progress happening in high-quality public charter schools across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your support, and we ask you to consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of charter schools. Thank you!

Nina Rees

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National Alliance January Newsletter

A Note From Nina

Nina ReesHappy New Year! Like many of you, I love the sense of possibility and the opportunity to set new goals that comes with the start of each year. We’re doing just that at the National Alliance, as we celebrate our 10th anniversary and launch our new three-year strategic plan. Our new plan builds on our past work but sets higher aspirations for ourselves and for the movement. Over the next three years, we plan to double the federal investment in the creation and expansion of charter schools, assist states in improving the quality of their charter school movements, and roll out a legal advocacy strategy aimed at enhancing charter autonomy.

We have already hit the ground running, given Congress’s interest in reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). You can see our policy principles here and my blog post on the topic here.

If you are interested in learning more about our work, please click here to get added to our various emails. And if you are not already following me or the National Alliance on twitter, I hope you will check us out – I am @ninacharters and the National Alliance’s handle is @charteralliance.

Thank you for being a part of our family!

Warmly,

Nina Rees
President and CEO


Charter School Enrollment Keeps Growing

The numbers are in and the news is excellent. In the 2013-14 school year, public charter school enrollment continued to grow. About 2.7 million students now attend public charter schools nationwide. At least one in five students attends a public charter school in 43 communities across the country, up from 32 last year. That’s according to A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities, the National Alliance’s ninth annual report measuring charter enrollment.

The report highlights 12 urban communities now enrolling at least 30 percent of their public school students in charter schools, a notable jump from seven last year. New Orleans has the highest percentage of public school students enrolled in charters, at 91 percent. Detroit ranked second with 55 percent, while Washington, D.C., and Flint, Mich., are tied for third with 44 percent. The Los Angeles Unified School District boasts the largest total number of charter school students, with 139,000 – an increase of 15 percent over the previous year – while Clark County School District in Nevada reported the fastest growth in charter enrollment at 36 percent.

We’re thrilled that more parents are choosing public charter schools for their children. Yet the report also reminds us how much work we have to do. Nearly a million student names are on waiting lists across the country. We need to redouble our efforts to create more high-quality charter school spaces to meet the surging demand.


Congress Provides More Charter School Funding

Public charter school advocates ended 2014 on a high note, as Congress increased funding for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) by $5 million, bringing total CSP funding for fiscal year 2015 to $253 million. The CSP provides support for the start-up, replication, and expansion of public charter schools, giving charters the seed funding necessary to open or expand. It also provides a small amount of support for facilities. Nearly all public charter schools across the nation have benefited from CSP funding. An increase in CSP funding means more high-quality public charter schools can open and grow – a huge win for the families who are desperate for better public school options.

While the increase in CSP funding is welcome and will make a big difference for children, even more funding is needed to help public charter schools reach their potential for serving more students. The National Alliance will continue working with new and returning members of Congress to make sure they understand how valuable charter schools are to students and their families.


Sen. Alexander Takes the Helm of the Senate HELP Committee

With Republicans gaining control of the Senate in the 114th Congress, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) becomes the new chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which is instrumental in setting the direction of federal education policy. As a former governor and U.S. secretary of education, Sen. Alexander brings deep experience in education policy to his new post. He also has a long record of supporting charter schools, most recently reflected in the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Act, a bill he cosponsored in the last Congress and folded in his just-released ESEA bill. All of us at the National Alliance look forward to working with Sen. Alexander, his committee colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and their staff to grow and sustain support for our nation’s public charter schools.


Thank You, Sen. Landrieu, for Supporting Charter Schools

Former Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu isn’t a part of the new Congress, but her legacy on behalf of the nation’s students will be lasting. As I wrote in a recent blog post for US News, Sen. Landrieu “seized the mantle of public charter schools like no other senator, even before New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina and jumpstarted its recovery by turning all its schools into charter schools. She pushed hard for myriad projects aimed at supporting the growth of charter schools throughout the nation…. Landrieu used her perch on the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that funds were reaching these innovative schools.” As she moves on to the next stage in her career – which we hope gives her the opportunity to continue her drive for education reform – we offer our deepest thanks to Sen. Landrieu for her steadfast support of public charter schools.


States to Watch in 2015

The National Alliance continues to work with coalitions of state-level charter advocates to build support for public charter schools and pass new laws or strengthen existing laws. After extensive groundwork, we’re eager to move the ball forward this year in several states. Alabama and West Virginia are two of the eight states without a charter law, but with supportive political leadership in each state’s capital, we see an opportunity for a breakthrough. Oklahoma and Wisconsin currently allow charters, but only in a few locales. We’ll be advocating to make charters more widely available in both states. And we’ll be partnering with friends in Indiana and North Carolina to pursue new opportunities to advance the goal of funding equity and quality. Equitable funding, along with the need for effective authorizers and strong accountability – consistent with our Model Law – will be central to all of our state-level work.

We need to build large coalitions in these six states, so if you call one of them home, please contact Todd Ziebarth at todd@publiccharters.org to find out how you can help make our message heard.


National Charter Schools Conference

We hope you’ll join us in New Orleans June 21-24, 2015, for the National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15).  This year we are excited to welcome Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada and Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White as speakers. #NCSC15 is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, school leaders, administrators, board members, and advocates from across the country. This two and a half day event provides engaging keynote speeches, more than 135 breakout sessions, and myriad networking opportunities. Register now to join us in New Orleans!


Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on the generosity of friends like you to help us continue our work. We are extremely grateful for your support in 2014. As we begin a new year, please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of charter schools. Thank you.

Nina Rees

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Don’t Throw Testing Out With the Bath Water

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

The start of the new Congress has sparked renewed focus on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known by the name given to it at its last reauthorization, No Child Left Behind. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the new chairman of the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has been vocal about the need to reauthorize the law, and with the pragmatic Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., serving as the committee’s senior Democrat, many education insiders believe this is the year the law could finally be reauthorized.Read more here.

Nina Rees

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5 Reasons To Be Optimistic About Education

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Though it’s easy to get lost in the myriad of negative stories and feuds swirling around American education, as we approach Thanksgiving I’d like to pause and reflect on all the positive trends impacting our education system and students. Here are my top 5 reasons for being optimistic…Read more here.