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Gina Mahony

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, this is progress.

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DFER’s Marianne Lombardo Gets It Right about Brown Amendment to ECAA

As I read the news clips today, I had to pause and applaud DFER’s Marianne Lombardo and her article she published today on DFER’s blog about Senator Sherrod Brown’s amendment that would have, in the words of Lombardo, “crush[ed] public charter schools.” The National Alliance had deep concerns about this amendment. We were glad to see that it didn’t make it far in consideration. Regardless, it’s important that it’s understood why this amendment was so harmful to the charter school movement nationwide. Read more below.

Sen. Sherrod Brown Wisely Withdraws Charter Amendment

JULY 16TH, 2015

Here, we would like to think, is why.

By Marianne Lombardo

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) offered an ESEA amendment to “improve accountability and transparency” of public charter schools. DFER, and other organizations, believed the amendment would crush public charter schools.

Although the amendment will not be voted on, it’s important that the implications be addressed.

Policy affects people’s lives, so let’s take the case of one particular wealthy suburban school district in Brown’s home State of Ohio.

Of the 84 fourth graders that went to school in the district in 2007, 18 kids didn’t graduate high school with their fourth grade peers.

What happened to them?

  • 7 moved
  • 1 died
  • 1 transferred to Catholic school
  • 9 transferred to public alternatives

In other words, other than the kids that moved, 10 percent of the original fourth grade class chose or was directed to another public school option. Even though they lived in one of the best school districts in the state, the district was not meeting their needs and they needed an alternative.

Even in “good” districts, some kids need something different.

This illustrates what was wrong with Brown’s amendment that was intended to bring greater accountability and transparency to public charter schools.

In Cleveland, 39 percent of students attend public charter schools. In urban areas, kids leave district schools not just for personal reasons, but for better academics. And to be clear, the majority of Cleveland’s public charter schools are not for-profit and do outperform comparative district schools on achievement and student growth – according to Stanford University’s gold-plated CREDO study.

Now to be fair, Brown, the NEA, and other critics were right that not all charters do well. Financial and operational mismanagement by some have sullied the reputation of all. Ohio’s long battle over charter reform, particularly with authorizer quality, is a frustrating example of politics at its worst.

Senator Brown’s ESEA Amendment, however, took the “nuclear option” approach to fixing charter school problems that are primarily in Ohio and a few other egregious states.  What exactly did it propose?

  1.  It put the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Brown would have had local school districts (the competitor to charters) draft impact statements assessing any newly proposed charter school’s impact on a district-wide multi-year school plan. Only after the statement was made public and after a public hearing was any determination to be made to approve or disapprove a new charter school application.

Problems:

First, how an interested party – the district – can objectively and legitimately represent the needs of students – particularly those that are in conflict with the district – and not their own needs, is hard to understand.

Second, districts use a variety of tactics to thwart charter schools, such as denying transportation and access to buildings and preventing payments. And, districts have had their own scandals involving attendance, grades, test scores, and use of funds (see OhioGeorgia, and Texas, for example).

In the Brown-NEA scenario, a district would have had an unfair advantage in determining the fate of a potential competitor. And of course it also would have had more capacity and communication channels to organize support around its interests. As a result, districts can easily out-muscle a nascent charter group, especially one without a management company.

  1.  It made transparency good for the goose, but not for the gander.

Brown’s amendment required charter schools to publically disclose:

  1.  Annual student attrition rates by grade level;
  2.  Staff qualifications and languages spoken;
  3.  Annual teacher attrition rates, disaggregated by grade level, subject, years of experience and credential;
  4.  Fees, and if they are waived for certain students;
  5.  Attendance and the number of suspensions and expulsions by school year, in total and disaggregated by category.

Never mind that bureaucratic paperwork is antithetical to the charter concept. What’s stunningly ironic and inequitable is that districts and the entities they do business with don’t have those same requirements.

Brown wanted charter school management companies to be audited annually because they receive public funds. But a fair extension of that would be to audit the use of public funds by all entities doing business in the public education sphere, including:

  1.  Public funds transferred to unions and other organizations.
  2.  Public funds paid to lobbying, membership, and other organizations.
  3.  Public funds paid to other organizations that contract services to schools, such as transportation and food services.

Senator Brown believed that districts could balance their own as well as community and student needs. But, how did the district cited above react when students chose other educational options?

Initially, they chose to limit parent options by not agreeing to send tuition to the early college high school parents wanted their child to attend. Only a legislative change made it possible for students to attend regardless of district cooperation. Also, the district banned students educated outside the district from participating in district extra-curricular activities. The clear message is that if you’re not educated in the district, you’re not part of the community.

Across settings – underperforming urban schools to well-resourced suburban schools – public charter schools are needed for kids that aren’t well-served by the district. Yet, Brown’s amendment put kids’ futures in the hands of the very same district that isn’t helping them. Good thing it’s withdrawn.

 

Gina Mahony

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The Every Child Achieves Act Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gina Mahony

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ESEA Update

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

House of Representatives

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

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

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

Senate

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

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

This Week

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

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

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

Gina Mahony

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High Hopes on Capitol Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Department of Education Announces CSP Grant Competition for State Educational Agencies

The U.S. Department of Education has announced the FY2015 Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant competition for State Educational Agencies (SEAs). The competitive grant program supports the development of high-quality charter schools by enabling SEAs to provide funds for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of charter schools.

Over the past 20 years, the federal Charter Schools Program has helped open thousands of high-quality charter schools across the country. Schools like Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville, AR that offers an accelerated college-prep curriculum and boasts both a 100% graduation rate and 100% college acceptance rate. Nameste Charter School in Chicago, IL also received a CSP grant and is known in the community for offering half of its classes in both English and Spanish and for providing support to families through its Parent Center. Students at Crossroads Academy in Kansas City, MO have 37 percent more instruction time than the state standard. These schools are meeting the unique needs of the students and families in their communities—and CSP grants helped get them started.

The deadline to submit an application is July 16. Interested applicants can attend a webinar hosted by the Department on Wednesday, June 17 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Click here to learn more about how CSP grants are helping to open exemplary schools nationwide.

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Federal CSP Replication and Expansion Grants Now Available

Applications are now available for the FY 2015 Charter Schools Program (CSP) Grants for Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools. The program awards grants to non-profit charter management organizations that have demonstrated success in increasing student academic achievement for educationally disadvantaged students. Applicants can use grant funds to expand enrollment at an existing school or by opening a new school. Applications may also propose to use CSP funds to provide preschool education in a charter school.

In addition to the requirement that grantees serve educationally disadvantaged students, applicants may also choose to address one of the following priorities in their applications: serving high need students, promoting diversity, or identifying as a ‘novice applicant’ that has never received a replication or expansion grant. Applicants are also encouraged to describe how they will conduct rigorous evaluations of their proposed projects.

Applications are now available by request to the U.S. Department of Education. On June 16 from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Eastern, the Department is hosting a pre-application webinar for interested organizations. The final deadline to submit an application is July 15. For more information, visit the Federal Register website to view the notice posted by the Department.

To learn more about how charter schools that have received Replication and Expansion grants are making a difference in student lives, check out these stories:

Nora Kern

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CSP Funding Profile: Namaste Charter School

A Mission to Serve

Namaste Charter School was founded on the belief that healthy children are better learners. Its vision—to change the trajectory of underserved children’s lives—is enacted through holistic education for the children of Chicago’s South Side. Namaste’s daily health and wellness programs include 60 minutes of physical education and 20 minutes of recess, a ten-minute “Morning Movement” stretching and exercise routine set to music, and healthy breakfasts and lunches. Additionally, a peaceful school culture, collaborative practice, and respect of other languages and cultures are among the school’s core values. The public charter school operates on an extended school day and year, offers half of its classes as bilingual education (English and Spanish), and provides support for families through its Parent Center, so that teachers, staff, parents, and neighborhood leaders can work together to provide an exceptional academic environment.

From Vision to Reality: How CSP Funds Enabled Namaste to Open

The state of Illinois received a federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) State Education Agency (SEA) Grant in 2003. In December 2003, Illinois allocated funds from its CSP SEA Grant to award a pre-planning grant to Namaste Charter School prior to its authorization. Namaste used these funds to plan for the curriculum and structure of the school, as well as research the implementation of best practices.

Namaste opened in 2004 with just a kindergarten and first grade class, and has grown by one grade level each year to now serve K-8. For the first eight years of the school’s operation, Namaste had fixed asset costs for desks, furniture, books, computers, teacher professional development, and “everything under the sun” as founder Allison Slade described it. In addition, the school’s original building needed about $100,000 of renovations to the infrastructure—including building a kitchen, which was essential to provide the healthy meals that are a central part of the school model.

In 2006 Namaste received a second CSP grant, which was crucial to helping the charter school grow. The CSP funds were used to cover start-up costs, as well as seed money for the school library. The library resource center has been crucial for providing high-quality literacy instruction and increasing access to text for students and their families during the school day and on weekends. After three years of operation, Namaste outgrew its original building and needed to renovate a larger school space.

For its future, Namaste has invested in circulating its best practices nationwide instead of replicating the school. It received a $192,000 two-year CSP Dissemination Grant in 2012 from the U.S. Department of Education that helped launch the Learning the Namaste Way Institute, which has trained more than 80 school leaders during two- to three- day seminars that share holistic education best practices and provide ongoing support for implementing them in their own schools. For the future of all public charter schools, Ms. Slade believes that Congress can best support high-quality growth through access to facilities funding and protecting the autonomy that allows a charter school to nimbly allocate its resources to serve student needs.

Principal’s Office

During her career as a teacher, as a Teach for America corps member in Houston and then in the Chicago inner-city and suburbs, Ms. Slade never felt that she really found a place that matched her beliefs about education and had all of the elements in place to propel teachers, students, and families to their highest possible achievement. She was on a volleyball team with fellow educators, and they would discuss what the perfect school would look like. At the same time, Illinois raised the cap on the number of public charter schools allowed in Chicago. So Ms. Slade decided to pull together everything she had talked about with fellow educators, health professionals, and other experts, into a proposal for an innovative public charter school.

As Ms. Slade describes the resulting Namaste Charter School, “We pride ourselves on having this rigorous academic curricula that is tied together with health and wellness and a peaceful school culture. We not only implement that in our school, but now with the CSP funding, we also disseminate those best practices to other schools across the country.”

Heard in the Halls: Teacher and Student Perspectives

  • “What I enjoy teaching most at Namaste is that beyond our health and wellness initiative, I truly think that students, staff, parents are all pushed to be our best selves.”—Veronica Acuna, Special Education Manager 

  • “Seeing students just happy to come to school is a very rewarding thing. Parents come to us and say ‘we’re so lucky we found you. We are so happy that we got a lottery spot for Namaste.’”—Veronica Acuna

  • “I am proud to work at Namaste because I have the freedom to choose a curriculum that fits my students’ lives.”— Milli Salguero, middle school Social Studies

  • “Teachers feel really empowered here to implement what they think is most necessary for their students to achieve at high levels. Now, after three years of graduating classes, we have the great fortune to have our alumni return back and talk to us about how Namaste has impacted their lives.”—Allison Slade, Founder

  • “Really changing the trajectory of underserved children’s lives, which is Namaste’s vision, is a long-term prospect. That is not something you’re going to see after a year or two years. But after 11 years [of operation], we are far into really feeling some very powerful examples of that.” —Allison Slade, Founder

  • “I truly believe that charter schools are houses of innovation that can try things differently and teach public schools, and other schools, ways to do things more efficiently to get better results quicker. And really and truly here at Namaste, that’s what we’re trying to do.” —Allison Slade, Founder
Christy Wolfe

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Title I Funding and Charter Schools: How the Dollars Follow (or Don’t Follow) Students

The Title I portability proposals in the House (H.R. 5) and Senate ESEA reauthorization bills have generated a fair amount of debate (and hand wringing) in the last few months. So much so that the President has threatened to veto H.R. 5, and the Senate responded by removing the portability language from its original proposal. For those who are not familiar with the portability concept, the portability proposals would allow states to make an average allocation per-child to public schools based on the number of eligible students choosing to attend that school, instead of using the current Title I formulas to determine allocations to school districts. In doing so, it would flatten out funding and eliminate high per-child allocations to districts and schools with higher concentrations of poverty.

In order to understand how charter schools could be impacted by portability, it is important to understand how charter schools are currently funded under Title I. In the case of a charter school that is a Local Education Agency (LEA), determining Title I allocations is complicated. In some cases funds follow the child from a district to some charter school LEAs, and in other cases charter LEAs receive statewide average per-child allocations. Given how little is generally understood of how Title I funding reaches charter schools, consider this blog your opportunity to get a crash-course in how it works.

Title I Funding Works Differently for Charter School LEAs

First, it is important to understand that all charter schools are public schools and are subject to the same Title I eligibility requirements as district-run public schools. While some charter schools receive their funding through a school district, other charter schools operate as their own school district (LEA), and the state determines their funding share. Many of these charter school LEAs have a type of Title I portability funding their school, because Title I dollars go directly to the school instead of the district. But this doesn’t necessarily lead to equitable funding, or a Title I allocation that corresponds to the actual number or percentage of students in poverty in each school.

Second, under current law, census data on children living in poverty determines the amount of Title I funds that go to the district (in accordance with four complex funding formulas). This is what is called a per “formula” child allotment. After the funds reach the district, there is an entirely different process for determining which schools get funded.

For charter schools that are their own LEAs, understanding how their allocation from their State Educational Agencies (SEA) corresponds to their number or percentage of children living in poverty is even more difficult. This is because, unlike most Title I schools receiving funds from their district, there isn’t a direct or consistent relationship between the number or percentage of eligible children attending a charter school LEA and their average Title I per-pupil allotment.

So, why is Title I charter school funding all over the map? Shouldn’t a charter school serving similar concentrations of students in poverty get the same funding as a traditional public school in the same neighborhood, serving the same students? While that seems logical, charter schools don’t fit neatly into Title I calculations. Since charter school LEAs do not have district boundaries, census data on children in poverty in a geographic area can’t be used (generally) to determine their federal formula allocations. Consequently, SEAs can’t use any of the four funding formulas as it does for traditional public school districts, and must use a different process to calculate what a charter school LEA gets.

Calculating How Much (or Whether) Money Follows the Child

There are two ways to determine how much a charter school LEA receives, and both depend on SEA estimates of census poverty children, using data such as free and reduced-price lunch (FRPL). Once the SEA has this data, the following are the methods prescribed by U.S. Department Education (ED) guidance and regulations for allocating Title I funds to charter schools:

  1. Title I traditional district “per-child” allocations follow the child to a charter school LEA: If an SEA can determine the traditional LEA where the students attending a charter school came from, the charter school LEA receives the per formula child allocation that a state allocates to the “sending” LEA (ie, the school district where the child would otherwise attend school). As a result, charter school LEAs can receive differing amounts per eligible child attending their school depending on where their students live. Due to a bias in the formula in favor of large districts, among other factors, allocations per formula child to districts can range widely—In Texas, for example, from less than $500 to more than $3,000 per student.

    As a result, a charter school LEA’s average Title I grants per child is a function of the percentage and number of formula children in the sending LEAs, not of the charter school LEA itself. In other words, a child can come to the school with their district’s Title I allocation strapped to their back, but not all funding backpacks will have the same amount of funds in them. In a large metropolitan area with multiple charter school LEAs and traditional LEAs, the average Title I grant per formula child may vary widely, depending on the proportions of students from low-income families from different sending LEAs.
  1. Statewide average “per-child” allocations follow the child to a charter school LEA: If an SEA is not able to determine the “sending” school district of charter school students, charter school LEAs are funded similar to the current Title I portability proposals: they receive the statewide formula per-child allocation. Unlike the first option, these allocations are taken from every school district in the state, not just the sending school districts. Under this policy, grants per child do not generally vary among charter school LEAs within the same state—so all those funding backpacks are pretty much the same. Notably these “average” allocations may not be the right size if the school is a high- or low-poverty school.

In either of the two methods described above, the Title I formulas are not directly used to calculate the allocation of a particular charter school LEA, which is why the poverty of the school doesn’t necessarily correspond to the funding it receives. An alternative approach to the two methods could instead allow charter schools to receive allocations based on the formulas, using an option available to states when they allocate funds to areas with fewer than 20,000 people. Under this method, a charter school LEA would receive an allocation from its SEA using the poverty data available for its school, and the per-child allocation would be determined by the four Title I formulas, not by the statewide allocation or the sending LEA. Under this option, increases in the number of students in poverty attending a charter school could increase the amount allocated per child and the amount of funds allocated to the school.

There are other issues in the formulas themselves that affect allocations to charters, including the bias in the formula towards large, urban LEAs, which can mean that some traditional school districts get a significantly higher per child allocation than smaller districts with higher poverty rates. The National Alliance explores these issues in its recently released publication by Wayne Riddle: Issues in the Allocation of ESEA Title I Funds to Charter Schools. In this paper we provide a detailed explanation of current law and how the formulas work in the allocation of funds to charter schools. Our goal is to explore what changes in the law and ED guidance might help improve the transparency of allocations to charter school LEAs, as well as ensure that higher-poverty charter schools receive funds consistent with the Title I formulas’ intent to allocate larger amounts per child to LEAs with higher levels of poverty.

Nora Kern

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CSP Funding Profile: Crossroads Academy of Kansas City

A Mission to Serve

Crossroads Academy of Kansas City (CAKC) strives to be the premier urban school serving Kansas City’s youth and a destination for other educators seeking inspiration and best practices. Based on three pillars—high expectations, 21st Century learning, and community engagement—Crossroads Academy aims to graduate students who pursue their dreams relentlessly and have a positive impact on their family, their community, and the world. Crossroads Academy students utilize their downtown location by walking to cultural amenities like Barney Allis Plaza for recess, the Kansas City Central Library—which serves as the school library—and The Folly Theater for field trips and student performances.

Hiring and developing outstanding teachers is a top priority for Crossroads Academy’s leadership team. CAKC’s instructors have 10 years of teaching experience on average, including experience teaching in urban settings. The school operates on an extended school day and academic year, amounting to 37 percent more instructional time than the Missouri state standard.

From Vision to Reality: How CSP Funds Enabled CAKC to Open

In 2011, Crossroads Academy had an initial fundraising goal of $920,000. The school received a startup grant through the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) starting in May 2012 for $125,000 per year for three years to launch the school. Crossroads Academy operated on a shoe-string budget during the initial five months of its start-up period. A successful first round of fundraising and receipt of the CSP grant enabled the school to begin paying salaries to its founding team and to purchase critical materials like computers, library resources, and curricula.

To meet their overall fundraising goal, additional funds for the school’s building renovation were raised from the local philanthropic community. By having CSP funding to cover initial staffing and curricular costs, the school was able to dedicate $818,000 in funds raised through private donors toward building renovation, which was the most costly part of the startup process. Executive Director Dean Johnson noted that receiving the CSP startup grant was not only a substantial amount of funds, but it also showed that a federal entity essentially endorsed the school’s funding application and vision, which in turned opened more doors in the local philanthropic community. It would have been impossible for the school to meet its fundraising goals and begin serving students in 2012 without the CSP startup funds. Johnson strongly encourages Congress to continue funding the CSP program so that more schools can access these startup funds, which are critical in states like Missouri where state funding does not kick in until there are students in the classroom.

Principal’s Office

Crossroads Academy Co-Founders and Executive Team Leaders Dean Johnson and Tysie McDowell-Ray met while working together on the leadership team of another Kansas City public charter elementary school. During their time working at the elementary school, they achieved significant academic and financial improvements for the school, and also discovered that they had a common vision for a new public charter school. They teamed up in August 2011 to combine their 20 years of educational experience to launch Crossroads Academy. “It was exciting for me professionally to be able to help bring to life something that we hope and we think is having a positive impact in our community by affording parents a choice that they’re really excited about,” Johnson reflected on the experience of launching Crossroads Academy.

Principal Tysie McDowell-Ray noted that, “One of the things that makes our school special is our staff. Through the hiring process, we bring in staff who are highly trained and who can create hands-on and engaging lessons for the students.” She explains that CAKC serves its students by “trying to be a broader school to meet the needs of all the students here.”

Heard in the Halls: Teacher and Student Perspectives

  • “If we’re going to build a better society, a better community in the 21st century, we need great schools that are empowering our kids to master those basic learning standards, but also empowering them and enabling them to become great thinkers, great problem solvers, and great innovators.”—Dean Johnson, Executive Director
  • “A challenge here in Kansas City is that we don’t have a lot of high-quality school options. I have three kids of my own, so I know that struggle. We started this school for those parents who choose to stay in the city.”—Tysie McDowell-Ray, Principal
  • “I’m getting better grades here than at my last school. There are more ways for you to express yourself, and you get many opportunities here.”—Itzel Mendez, 6th grade
  • ““I think we have an obligation within charter schools to set the expectation for public schools all around. It shouldn’t be just high expectations for charter schools. What we have is the ability to be different from the beginning. So we should be the leaders to encourage change, and facilitate change, and demand change across the board for what is happening in classrooms everywhere.”—Kara Schumacher, Kindergarten teacher