Federal Government


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.

Nina Rees


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‘Brown’ at 60: Time to Fulfill the Promise

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

Just as the nation marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which officially barred segregation in public schools, we have new evidence that schools are failing to give all students the best start in life.

Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “the nation’s report card,” show that the performance of high school seniors in reading and math has stagnated in recent years. Only 37 percent of seniors are reading at grade level and only 26 percent of seniors are doing math at grade level. Even worse, the achievement gap between white and black students in reading has widened since 1992. In math, there’s been no improvement.

The stark reality is that despite two decades of education reform efforts, high school students on the whole aren’t registering better results. The effects are potentially catastrophic…read more here.

Kim Kober


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National Alliance testifies before Congress on the importance of the federal Charter Schools Program

Earlier this month, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing, “Raising the Bar: The Role of Charter Schools in K-12 Education,” to highlight the growth of charter schools, their positive impact on K-12 education across the country, and the role of the federal Charter Schools Program. The hearing allowed members of the charter school community to showcase the ways federal policy can impact charter school growth, encourage best practices, and foster district-charter collaboration.

Deb McGriffFive charter school leaders from across the country were invited to testify, including the National Alliance’s Chair of the Board, Dr. Deborah McGriff.

In her testimony, Dr. McGriff stressed the importance of the federal Charter Schools Program. “I don’t believe the public charter school sector’s growth to meet parental demand for educational options would have occurred the way it has without the presence of dedicated federal funding. Let me say that again to be perfectly clear: while public charter schools are inherently local, the movement would not have achieved its current success had it not been for the federal Charter Schools Program.”

Dr. McGriff was joined by other charter school leaders and advocates who added unique perspectives to the hearing discussion:

  • Board Chair of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) Lisa Graham Keegan focused on they ways the charter school authorizing process has improved, as authorizers build and identify best practices. Keegan emphasized the key role authorizers play to ensure quality, and close low-performing schools.
  • Alan Rosskamm, Chief Executive Officer of Breakthrough Schools, highlighted the organization’s collaboration with the City of Cleveland to strengthen public education for all students. As the highest rated charter network in Ohio, Rosskamm attributed much of Breakthrough’s success to their strong partnerships with families—a defining characteristic behind the mission of public charter schools.
  • Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, Chief of Innovation and Reform at Denver Public Schools, provided the perspective of a school district administrator who works to ensure that district schools and charter school collaborate and complement each other to provide families with quality public school options.
  • David Linzey, Executive Director at Clayton Valley Charter High School, spoke of his work in converting a district public school to a charter school and the high demand for this school – with a waiting list of nearly 400 students for the upcoming school year. Last year, the school experienced the most academic achievement growth for a large high school in the state of California, with a 62 point jump on the state’s API in a single year.

The hearing was a great opportunity for the charter school community to share its most promising practices with the committee.

Board Chair McGriff summed up her opening remarks with a request to Congress: “The number one message that I bring you today is that the CSP is working and that both the Congress and the administration should prioritize funding for the program to help us meet the demands of parents and ensure funding equity for students who attend public charter schools.”

Want to build on Dr. McGriff’s request? Make the ask yourself with a quick email to your members of Congress.


To view an archived webcast and all witness testimony, click here.

Kim Kober is the federal policy and government relations coordinator for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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.