Posts by Pamela Davidson

 

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What the president’s budget means for charter schools

On Tuesday, President Obama released his budget proposal for funding federal programs in the fiscal year 2015, marking the start of the federal budget and appropriations processes. The budget proposal serves only as a “wish list” from the administration to Congress, and it does not become law.

The president’s budget proposal requests funding for federal programs that benefit charter schools, including the Charter Schools Program (CSP). The CSP provides vital start-up money in order for new charter schools to open. The chart below sums up everything you need to know about the president’s budget proposal for key education programs that affect charter schools.

Department of Education Program

President’s FY 2015 Budget Request

Expanding Educational Options (Charter Schools Program)

$248.1 million

ESEA Title I (Grants to LEAs)

$14,385 billion

IDEA Part B (Grants to States)

$11,573 billion

IDEA, Part C (Preschool)

$353 million

School Improvement Grants (SIG)

$506 million

ESEA Title II (Effective Teachers and Leaders State Grants)

$2 billion

ESEA Title III (English Language Acquisition)

$723 million

Investing in Innovation (i3)

$165 million

 
 
In addition to the above education programs, the president’s budget supports two programs that may be of interest to charter schools. First, the president requests continuing the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) program that provides grants to national nonprofit organizations to support teacher and school leader enhancement projects with evidence of effectiveness. Next, a newly proposed $300 million Race to the Top–Equity and Opportunity (RTTT-Opportunity) program would provide competitive grants to states and school districts to better identify and close “opportunity and achievement gaps” in high-poverty schools, something charter schools have been doing well for decades.

Now that the president has released his budget request, it’s up to Congress to move quickly and pass an appropriations bill to provide the resources necessary to support the growing charter schools community. If you haven’t already, be sure to visit our online action center and send a letter to your members of Congress asking them to support an increase in public charter schools funding.

Pam Davidson is the senior director of government relations for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 

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A Changing of the Guard

The announcement by U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA) that he will retire at the end of the year means education reform advocates will lose a faithful friend on Capitol Hill. But his tireless efforts on federal education and workforce policies to improve the lives of children and families will leave an impression that will not soon be forgotten.

Representative Miller has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 40 years. He is the senior democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, serving as chairman from 2007-2010, where he championed education reform issues that have strengthened public schools. As one of the “big four,” he worked with (then) Chairman John Boehner (R-OH), Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) to enact the No Child Left Behind Act. He has advocated for high-standards for all students, especially the most disadvantaged, and fought to hold schools accountable for student achievement.

In 2011, Representative Miller teamed up with Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) to write H.R. 2218, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act. H.R. 2218 updated the federal Charter Schools Program that provides critical start-up funds for new, replicating and expanding charter schools, as well as support for charter school facilities.

During House debate on the bill, Representative Miller stated: “Charter schools have been on the forefront of bold ideas and innovation in education. They have shown that, given the right tools, all students can achieve at high levels. We are learning from great charter schools about what works for students and what students need to be able to compete in the global economy. Replicating this success will help our students, our communities, and our economy.” H.R. 2218 was one of the only bipartisan education bills to pass the House with an overwhelming majority.

In 2013, Rep. Miller was recognized by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) as their “Elected Official of the Year” with the Hart Vision Award, which honors individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in education.

We thank Rep. Miller for his service to our nation.

Pam Davidson is senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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A Win for Graduates of Virtual Charter Schools

Enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces is a tremendous opportunity for many young people to serve their country. However, for graduates of non-traditional high schools (virtual charter schools, online and blended learning schools, and home schools) this opportunity has been stymied due to a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) policy that limited the ability of students who attended non-traditional high schools to enlist in the military. Recently, the National Alliance was successful in working with Congress to secure a provision in federal law to change DOD’s current policy and make clear that all students that receive a state-issued diploma must be treated equally for the purposes of military enlistment.

For many years, based on outdated data, DOD has treated students attending non-traditional high schools differently than those who attend traditional “brick and mortar” schools. In 2011, the National Alliance worked with congressional supporters to change this unfair policy. A provision in the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required DOD to give all graduates with a state-issued high school diploma, including graduates of non-traditional high schools, the same opportunity to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, in June 2012, DOD announced a new policy requiring students who graduated from non-traditional high schools to score higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) than students who attended traditional high schools in order to be eligible for military service. Thus, creating a disadvantage for non-traditional high school graduates.

In June 2013, U.S. Representatives John Kline (R-MN), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Rob Andrews (D-NJ), and Jared Polis (D-CO) offered an amendment to the House FY2014 NDAA bill to prohibit DOD from requiring different levels of attainment on any assessment or screening tool for all graduates, and prohibiting DOD from creating different standards on any assessment or screening tool based on the type of high school a student attended. In November, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) offered the same amendment to the Senate NDAA bill. In the end, this provision was included in the final NDAA bill, which was signed into law by the president last month.

This change to DOD recruitment and enlistment policy is a big victory for the charter schools community—particularly graduates of virtual charter schools—because it ensures equal treatment for graduates who wish to join the U.S. military and serve their country. The National Alliance appreciates the work of these members of Congress who championed this effort on our behalf to ensure all graduates who want to serve in the U.S. military have an equal opportunity to enlist.

Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

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Federal Budget Agreement: One Step Closer to More Funding for Charter Schools?

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Fiscal Year 2014 budget deal by a vote of 332 to 94; the Senate is expected to pass the budget later this week. The budget vote sets the framework for federal spending over the next two years and is the first step in moving the appropriations process forward.

Specifically, the budget deal provides $63.4 billion in additional spending above sequestration levels for FY2014 and FY2015. But for the rest of this fiscal year (FY 2014), $22.36 billion will be provided for non-defense discretionary programs, such as education and health care programs, and every government agency and program outside the U.S. Department of Defense. Therefore, new funding will be spread thin.

The next step is for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to work out how much federal funding will actually be spent on these various programs. In the wake of the House vote, House and Senate appropriators signaled that they will begin to work to bring the 12 separate spending bills that cover the different U.S. agencies and the programs they administer into a single omnibus appropriations package for FY2014. Congress must act before January 14, 2014 in order to prevent another government shutdown.

What remains unclear is how much the appropriators will have to spend on individual education programs, including the Charter Schools Program (CSP). Federal funding for the CSP is essential in order to ensure new charter schools can open and meet parental demand. Nevertheless, an increase–even a slight increase to pre-sequestration funding levels–would be a win for public charter schools. Any new funding will help states grow the number of public charter schools and alleviate the estimated one million student names on public charter schools waiting lists.

It has taken some time for Congress to reach a budget agreement. Now it’s time for Congress to put forward an appropriations bill that ensures federal resources are available to support the growing public charter school community. Over the week, the National Alliance will continue to work with members of Congress to educate them on the importance of CSP and the need for increased funding.

Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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The Federal Budget: What it Means for the Charter Schools Program

Yesterday, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) released their topline budget agreement for Fiscal Year 2014, and the House and Senate are scheduled to vote on it in the coming days. While the specifics for programs funded through the Department of Education are not available yet, here is a short summary of what’s at stake and why we must protect funding for charter schools.

The new FY2014 budget will include overall spending levels for the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). Funding for USDOE is critical, since so many charter schools receive Title I and IDEA funds. And of course, new and expanding charter schools have prospered under the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), which provides start-up funds and facilities support for new and existing charter schools.

While we wait for more details about how the funds will be allocated in FY2014, the Obama administration is already at work on its FY2015 budget request, which is due the first Monday in February. In November, the National Alliance joined with a coalition of charter support organizations, charter school operators, and national partners and advocacy groups on letters requesting $330 million for the CSP in the president’s FY 2015 budget.

In the coming months, the charter school community will play a critical role in educating members of Congress about the importance of the CSP.  The CSP, which is currently funded at $241million, serves several functions, including new school start-ups, the replication and expansion of successful charter schools, support for facilities, and dissemination activities.

This chart provides an overview of each of these grants within the CSP, their current funding levels, and their purpose:

Federal Charter Schools Program, FY 2013

csptop2
  • SEA Grants & Non-SEA Grants: Competitive grants are awarded from the U.S. Department of Education to State Education Agencies to make subgrants to charter schools.  When SEAs do not apply or are denied, individual charter schools can apply. Funding is used to help cover charter school start-up costs.
  • Replication & Expansion Grant: Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to nonprofit charter management organizations that have demonstrated success, including improved academic achievement.
  • National Leadership Activities Grant: Competitive grants provide funding for projects of national significance to improve charter school quality, as well as money to disseminate information about the projects.
  • State Charter School Facilities Incentive Grant: Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to states to help cover charter school facilities costs.
  • Credit Enhancement for Charter Schools Facilities Program: Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to public and nonprofit entities that enhance the ability of public charter schools to raise private capital to acquire, construct, renovate, or lease academic facilities.

Federal funding for the CSP is essential in order to ensure new charter schools can open and meet current demand. With nearly one million student names on waiting lists for charter schools, a strong federal investment is critical for the movement. As we continue our work advocating for charter school funding, we urge the charter school community to join our efforts to educate their members of Congress about the importance of the CSP.

Pam Davidson is senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Kim Kober is the federal policy coordinator.

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The President’s Pre-K Proposal: How Charter Schools Fit In

Last week, the president’s proposal to expand access to full-day, high-quality pre-kindergarten programs for four-year olds from low- to moderate-income families was introduced in the House and the Senate. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2013 was introduced in the Senate (S. 1697) by Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and in the House (H.R. 3461) by Representative George Miller (D-CA-11), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Representative Richard Hanna (R-NY-22).

Under the proposal, states, mostly likely through the state education agency (SEA) would apply directly to the U.S. Department of Education to receive funding for pre-kindergarten programs. The funds would be allocated to states by formula, based on their number of four-year olds living at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. States will be required to match the funds on an escalating basis beginning with 10 percent in the first two years and 100 percent by the eighth year and beyond. Federal funds will be gradually phased out over 10 years. In turn, states must sub-grant funds to local eligible entities (which may include school districts, public charter schools, Head Start programs, or licensed child care providers) to operate these programs. The legislation authorizes $27 billion over 10 years.

Public charter schools and traditional public schools would be eligible to apply for a grant from their SEA to open, expand, and operate pre-K programs. Charter school participation could come at a cost, however: the legislation’s requirements could potentially undermine their autonomy and flexibility. For example, the legislation mandates requirements for teacher qualifications and salaries, class size, and required services for children–areas where most public charter schools currently have autonomy to set their own standards.

Public charter schools thrive on their ability to be innovative and independent while being held accountable for student academic achievement. They enjoy the freedom to select their staff; create a distinctive school culture, adjust curriculum to meet student needs, and develop new learning models. Public charter schools could benefit from these pre-k grants to create early learning programs, but they should not have their hands tied. Consistent with the terms of their charter, charter schools should be free to innovate while being held accountable for results for any pre-k program they offer.

Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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Congressman Petri Celebrates Lake Country Academy’s Expansion

TEPwithStudent_LakeCountryAcademy

Congressman Tom Petri (R-WI-06) visits with a student while attending the dedication ceremony for the new West Wing at Lake Country Academy.
Last Friday, U.S. Congressman Tom Petri (R-WI-06) attended the dedication ceremony for the new West Wing at Lake Country Academy in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a public charter school for children 4 years of age through 8th grade. Congressman Petri was invited to attend the event by the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association.

Representative Petri is a long-time champion of public charter schools. In Washington, D.C., he serves as a senior member of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce where he sits on the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education. The committee has jurisdiction over public charter school policy, including the Charter Schools Program, which provides funding for new charter schools. Most recently, Rep. Petri was a co-sponsor of H.R. 5, legislation that would expand the Charter Schools Program and provide additional funding. He is also a founding member of the bipartisan Congressional Charter Schools Caucus that educates members and staff about the importance of public charter schools, and works diligently to protect our interests.

It’s always exciting to see members of Congress engage with public charter schools in their district and states. School visits are a critical step in building a relationship with your members of Congress and showing them firsthand the positive impact of public charter schools. I encourage everyone to invite their representatives to visit their schools too.

Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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Impact of the Federal Government Shutdown on School Breakfast and Lunch Programs

Federal child nutrition programs are designed to ensure that low income students receive nutritious meals and snacks during the school day. There are more than 31 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program and more than 11 million participating in the School Breakfast Program. These programs play an essential role in ensuring that children have the fuel they need to learn.

As the federal government shutdown continues into its third week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently notified states that sufficient resources are available to support federal nutrition programs, including the school lunch and breakfast programs, for the next several months. USDA explained that “this funding is provided through a permanent appropriation supporting the Child Nutrition programs, and its availability to support Child Nutrition program obligations does not depend on further action by Congress.”

In addition, USDA told states they may use funding leftover from fiscal year 2013 (known as “carryover funds”) to cover the costs of free- and reduced-priced meals for students.

USDA’s guidance to states is available here.

Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

image1

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School Visit – Host Your Member of Congress

The start of the 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. School visits are a critical step in building a relationship with your Congressman, because it helps them understand the connection between the federal policy decisions they make in Washington and what is happening back home. Finally, school visits are a great opportunity to establish yourself/organization/school as a resource to Congressmen and their staffs on public charter schools.

There are numerous opportunities for inviting your Members of Congress to your public charter school, such as:

  • Back-to-school celebrations
  • Open houses
  • Host a “Meet your Elected Official(s)” event and invite your federal official(s) to speak to students during a civics class or student assembly
  • School play, band or choir concert
  • School fundraisers and canned food drives
  • School picnics, barbeques, carnivals, and festivals
  • End of the year ceremonies, celebrations, and/or graduations
  • National Charter Schools Week 

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.

Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

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Race to the Top-District Competition

The U.S. Department of Education has announced the final application for the 2013 Race to the Top-District competition, which will provide $120 million to support locally directed efforts that seek to improve student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

 

Created in 2012, the Race to the Top-District competition is designed to build on the momentum of other competitions conducted under the Race to the Top program and invites applicants to demonstrate how they can personalize education for all students in their schools. The U.S. Department of Education hopes to support high-quality proposals from applicants across a variety of school districts, including rural and non-rural, those already participating in a Race to the Top grant, and those not currently participating.

 

Who Can Apply? Local Education Agencies (LEAs), including public charter school LEAs and consortia of LEAs, located in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, are eligible to apply. Applications are due October 3 and awards will be announced no later than December 31, 2013. Additional information can be found in the Department’s Fast Facts. Questions may be directed to 2013.racetotop.district@ed.gov

 

Race to the Top was created in 2009 to spur innovative strategies and reforms that are most likely to lead to improved student results. Race to the Top has sent over $4 billion to 19 states and approximately $373 million to 16 specific school districts. In FY 2012, three public charter schools–Harmony Public Schools (TX), Idea Public Schools (TX), and KIPP DC–received funding from the Race to the Top-District program. Is this your year to win?

 

Pamela Davidson is senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.