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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
Nora Kern

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CSP Funding Profile: Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women

A Mission to Serve

The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW) was founded on a simple goal: to give public school students the same quality education and opportunities as their peers in private schools. The school’s all-girls environment prepares the young women of Baltimore city for success in college and life through a strong school culture and innovative teaching practice.

BLSYW cultivates strong habits of mind and a sense of community by educating the whole young woman—emotionally, physically and academically. Its college preparatory model emphasizes science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM); fields in which women are underrepresented. Other specialized programming at BLSYW includes small class sizes, leadership opportunities, Peer Group Connection mentoring to ease the transition from middle to high school, a week-long Bridge program in the summer to get new students acclimated to the culture at BLSYW, and annual college visits for every student.

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

BLSYW was approved to open in 2008. Its plan was to start with a single 6th grade class comprised of 120 students, and there were over 200 applications for the inaugural class. The school received $550,000 in startup funds through the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), which was used to supplement the funding for the first year of the school. The funds were used to pay teachers during the planning year of the school, to develop curriculum, purchase textbooks and technology, and recruit new students.

Even starting the school with just one grade, the startup funds were not enough to sustain a school. That said, Executive Director Maureen Colburn noted that without the CSP startup funds, the school would not have been able to open. The startup funds were used for basics as well as bringing the initial staff—six teachers and two administrators—together around BLSYW’s mission and develop the school culture. The school received a second $200,000 CSP grant in 2011 to help align mathematics and English language arts curriculum with Common Core State Standards.

Principal’s Office

All of the senior leadership at BLSYW—Maureen Colburn (Executive Director), Brenda Hamm (Principal), and Heather Skopak (Assistant Principal)—attended all-girls schools. So for them, the school mission is personal. Ms. Colburn helped found three all-girls public schools in New York City during her seven-year term as the Executive Director of the Young Women’s Leadership Network. On the all-girls learning environment, she notes that, “I believe so much that this is a choice that should be available to parents and families in the public school system,” and should not just be accessible to those who can afford private single-gender schools. “It’s been my career to make that possible for underserved, under-resourced kids.”

Principal Brenda Hamm came to BLSYW as a career educator and administer in all-girls private schools. She said that the ability to provide this quality of educational experience in the public school setting is, “…an opportunity that should be available to all kids. Why is it that we can’t somehow create that environment for every single for every single young man and young woman at least from the perspective of having great teachers, great courses, high expectations, great support system, bringing people together and saying ‘you can do this!’ and we will provide you with a wonderful environment.”

Heather Skopak, Assistant Principal, speaks to her connection to the school model: “I went to an all-girls school myself, and the environment and the academics provided me and with really everything that I have today. And I attribute it to that. So being able to provide our girls in Baltimore with the option of a single-gender school was really important for me.” Ms. Skopak further notes that the single gender model, “helps teachers target instruction to the ways girls learn best. Our teachers become very qualified in being able to identify the different strategies and techniques that they can use in the classroom just for girls. We’re also able to look at incentives for girls and what makes them work hard to get to college.”

Heard in the Halls: Teacher and Student Perspectives

  • “Here at BLSYW, they promote leadership and sisterhood. And in the classroom, teachers show us how to become leaders globally, and our sisters are there to influence each other and remind each other that we’re going to transform Baltimore one young woman at a time.”—Cyrena Lawrence, 10th grade
  • “I learn something every day from the students. I also teach something every day which is a reward itself to know that I have affected some students’ lives in some way.” —Atom Zerfas, Algebra I and Geometry Teacher
  • “2016 will be our first graduating class. It’s exciting and scary all at the same time…Being a new school, there’s a lot that has to happen with this senior class. They will actually put us on the map. So it’s exciting when talking to colleges; and colleges are excited because it’s a whole new crop of students.”—Paula Dofat, Director of College Counseling
  • “I like schools where people know me by my name. And I found that ever since [my daughter Cyrena] started, people know me as Mrs. Lawrence.”—Donnet Lawrence, parent
Nora Kern

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CSP Funding Profile: Thurgood Marshall Academy

A Mission to Serve

Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA) Public Charter was founded by law students and attorneys at Georgetown University Law Center’s DC Street Law clinic who wanted to offer underserved students more academic and social development opportunities. The school’s mission is to prepare students to succeed in college and to actively engage in our democratic society. Its challenging academic curriculum is infused with the theme of law and justice. The foundational legal skills—argumentation, negotiation, critical thinking, research, and advocacy—will prepare students for success in any career.

TMA offers specialized programming, including: a Summer Prep program to help transition 9th and 10th graders from other schools to its rigorous academic environment; an annual portfolio assessment process that requires students to examine their academic achievements and struggles and present their plans for the future to a panel of teachers, staff members, volunteers, and parents; and a year-long Senior Seminar with intensive coaching on the college application process.

From Vision to Reality: How CSP Funds Enabled Thurgood Marshall Academy to Open

It is important to remember that for public charter schools, funding from the local government does not kick in until students are enrolled in the school. As Dr. Alexandra Pardo, the school’s Executive Director, notes, “When we got our charter, what we had was a piece of paper. What we didn’t have was a building, furniture, textbooks, any resources for our students. And that’s when CSP funds became critical for TMA.”

Thurgood Marshall Academy received a $540,000 startup grant in 2001 through the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). These funds were used for mission critical, yet basic, operations—like purchasing a curriculum and textbooks, hiring staff, partially funding facilities, and equipping the school with desks and whiteboards. Without CSP funds, the founders would not have been able to build a school from the ground up.

Thurgood Marshall Academy opened in the 2001-02 school year in the annex to the Congress Heights United Methodist Church. The school immediately knew that to operate a full high school program, it would need new facilities.

In 2005, TMA acquired and renovated the long-vacant Nichols Avenue School, a historic building in southeast D.C. The new facility opened in 2005, and over the years, TMA has raised an additional $13.5 million in grants and loans from the D.C. government, businesses, and foundations for full renovation.

Principal’s Office

Dr. Pardo was drawn to TMA due to its mission and its ability as a public charter school to have the flexibility to make choices for its students that have immediate impact. She notes that the most rewarding part of her job is, “Seeing our students every day in the hallway, seeing their struggles, seeing their success when they hold a Thurgood Marshall diploma. And most importantly when they hold a college degree four years after leaving us.”

Dr. Pardo believes that Congress plays an integral role in supporting public charter schools. First, this is done through its protection of charter school autonomy at a national level. The second piece is looking at equal funding for charter schools. On national average, charter schools receive 20 percent less funding than district schools. As more and more students enroll in charter schools throughout the country, Congress can ensure equity between charter and district school funding because they are all public school students.

Heard in the Halls: Teacher and Student Perspectives

“Our students come from challenging histories, but they are resilient and forward-thinking. It gives me hope for the future and these kids become our leaders in the states and globally. It makes me feel like the world is in good hands.” — Karen Lee, Social Studies Department Chair

“Thurgood Marshall Academy has proven that schools serving the students most at risk can be successful when we lift up all the excuses and barriers.” — Dr. Alexandra Pardo, Executive Director

“Receiving an education helps you answer all your questions. When it’s a great education…you can explore for yourself.” — Sydni Foshee, 12th grade

“We offer our students the opportunity to recognize that anything is possible with hard work. You don’t have to settle for the choices that might be given to you despite your circumstances.” — Sanjay Mitchell, Director of College and Alumni Programs

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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Put Money Where Your School Choice Mouth Is

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

One of the outcomes from last week’s midterm elections was the success of school choice. According to the American Federation for Children, “the 2014 midterm elections will go down in history as the election cycle in which parents rose up in support of educational choice.” Despite more than $80 million dollars of expenditures by the teachers’ unions, choice advocates saw supportive governors re-elected in states such as Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, and newly elected in Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland.

Never before has there been more momentum behind efforts to expand school choice – a reform that places parents in charge of their child’s education. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge for Republicans at the federal level. On one hand, congressional Republicans generally support efforts to give parents more authority to decide which school their child will attend. On the other hand, many Republicans oppose federal investments and mandates in education as a violation of their principles of spending restraint and local control of education….Read more here.

Nina Rees

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A Real Threat to the Status Quo

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

Campbell Brown, the journalist-turned-education-reformer, has been in the news a lot lately. Her Partnership for Educational Justice recently filed suit in New York, challenging the city’s teacher tenure laws. The organization is chaired by David Boies, who represented Al Gore in the contested presidential election of 2000 and recently argued against California’s ban on gay marriage. Brown and Boies have pledged to file several other suits around the country, focused on upending the status quo in education.

Opponents have already cried foul, questioning Brown’s credentials and the motives of her funders. But what Brown brings to the table is not only an ability to fight in the court of law but to win in the court of public opinion. That explains why her advocacy has attracted such vitriol by opponents – they see it as a real threat. For education reformers, the work is encouraging, since she has the potential to galvanize public support…. Read more here.

Nina Rees

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Charter Schools Deserve Equal Funding

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

While all eyes in New York are on a lawsuit challenging teacher tenure, another suit stands to have an even larger impact on the future of the state’s low-income and minority students – and it could set a precedent for other states. Five families in Buffalo and Rochester have filed suit challenging the state’s persistent underfunding of public charter schools. The Northeast Charter Schools Network is assisting the families with the suit, which seeks equal funding for all public school students, whether they attend a charter school or a traditional district school.

The gap in funding between the two types of public schools is sometimes startling. In Buffalo, charter schools receive about $9,800 less per pupil than district schools; in Rochester the gap is about $6,600. This difference is largely due to the fact that charter schools, unlike district schools, have to pay for their facilities costs. Renting space, changing light bulbs and keeping the plumbing in working order all diverts money that should be used for instruction….. Read more here.

Nina Rees

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School Improvement Done Right

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

Today, 15,000 U.S. schools are considered persistently low-achieving. The Obama administration has invested heavily in a portion of these schools through a program called School Improvement Grants. Since 2009, nearly $3 billion in improvement grants has been directed at about 1,700 schools. (Fiscal year 2014 funding for the grants is $506 million, and the same amount is expected in fiscal year 2015.) But the grant program’s record has been underwhelming: A third of schools that were given major cash infusions to boost student achievement actually regressed.

While disconcerting, the results shouldn’t be entirely unexpected, nor should they put a nail in the program’s coffin. Overhauling an institution is always hard. In fact, 75 percent of efforts at restructuring in the private sector end up failing, partly because changing cultures and habits is difficult and the private sector is not patient enough with many change management efforts. Put simply, it is easier to close and start over than to restructure… read more here.

Nina Rees

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Education Is A Primary Issue

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

Public charter schools and other education reforms have proven to be pivotal issues in several primary elections from coast to coast, with more to come this summer and fall.

In California, incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will head into a November runoff with Marshall Tuck. Tuck was the first head of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a body set up by former mayor Demcoratic Antonio Villaraigosa to help improve some of the city’s most struggling schools. Tuck is also a former president of Green Dot Public Schools, a widely acclaimed network of charter schools.

The upcoming general election battle will be fierce, with Torlakson benefiting from heavy support by the powerful California Teachers Association, the state’s largest union. Tuck brings a track record of educational innovation in a state that has proven open to reform. And as the Los Angeles Times noted in endorsing him, Tuck successfully worked with unions at both the Partnership for LA Schools and Green Dot. While the superintendent position holds little policy-making power, the race will be an important barometer of the popularity of charter schools and other education reforms in California…read more here.