Successes

 

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Year 1 RTT Reports Reveal Range of Charter Support Efforts

On January 10, 2012, the US Department of Education released the Annual Performance Reports (APRs) for the first 12 states awarded Race to the Top (RTT) funds.  The Department uses the APRs to monitor the implementation of their grant programs by grantees. It allows Department staff and members of the public an opportunity to follow the grantees’ progress and review certain metrics of success. NAPCS has just released our summary and analysis of each state’s APR. In reviewing the APRs, we were pleasantly surprised with the efforts a number of states have made to support charters:
  • In Georgia, the Governor found state funds to support the RTT goal of strengthening charters (after a State Supreme Court decision threatened the operations of a number of schools). The State used RTT funds to support a competitive grant program for innovation, through which a majority of the awards went to support charter-related programs.
  • Rhode Island extended their High Performing Charter Schools project to allow for smaller grants to support four schools, rather than larger grants supporting only two schools.
There are also states with promising opportunities on the horizon:
  • Tennessee created a public-private fund to support charter schools, and kicked it off with $14 million in RTT funds.
  • Florida continues to require LEAs to offer charters within their districts the opportunity to participate in RTT with equity to other traditional public schools.
There are, of course, also states which NAPCS feels have made little to no progress in their support of charters:  In Hawaii, the Department has noted a number of concerns regarding RTT implementation across the board. Since these reports were completed, they have taken steps to address these concerns, most notably by placing the grant on high risk status. Charters are only one of the sectors not receiving adequate support under RTT in Hawaii. In New York, the State used the RTT amendment process to drastically change a program that would have provided a competitive facilities funding to charters. Instead, the State transferred a majority of the funds to a program that encourages EMOs to take over failing public schools and turn them into charters. While this creates new charter schools, it does nothing to support those currently operating in the state. We will continue to monitor RTT implementation in these and all of the RTT states very closely!

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Georgia Charter School Legislation on my Mind

The state of charter school authorizing power in Georgia has been a roller coaster ride. Here’s the summary of the ups and downs: A State Supreme Court ruling last May struck the state’s power to authorize public charter schools. In addition to ending a best practice of having multiple authorizing entities in a state, it left several schools stranded without an overseer of the accountability and operational standards outlined in their charters. Since May, charter school supporters have been pushing for a state constitutional amendment to restore State authorizing power. Two weeks ago, it seemed like victory was within reach. The state House voted on the measure to restore the State’s ability to authorize charter schools, but it fell just 10 votes short of passing with the two-thirds majority required (Tony Roberts, president and chief executive officer, Georgia Charter Schools Association, gave us a candid insider account of the politics behind the vote). The bill might have failed, but efforts continued. On Wednesday, Feb. 22nd, the Georgia House of Representatives reintroduced the bill, and a number of lawmakers changed their votes after working with the bill’s sponsor to make changes, including a provision guaranteeing traditional public schools funding even if large numbers of students chose to attend charters. Ultimately, the bill passed the State House by three votes. “It’s just the first battle won in the war,” said Tony Roberts, “but it’s significant because we can move forward to solve the problem caused by the Supreme Court.” The bill passed out of the Senate Education and Youth Committee on Thursday, Feb. 23rd with a 7-5 vote, and now moves to the Senate floor. Dr. Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, has been an integral player in the on-the-ground advocacy efforts. He wrote a recent op-ed that expressed the need for passage of the charter school amendment, “Every once in a while, life gives us a do-over, a chance to revisit decisions we have come to think better of. The move to reconsider the proposed charter school amendment is one of those rare opportunities. Please take it.”

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Re: “Why states should say ‘no thanks’ to charter schools”

In Tuesday’s Washington Post, Diane Ravitch calls Washington D.C.’s public schools “no model for school reform,” clearly demonstrating that she is in need of a history lesson.  Ravitch may recall that just eight short years ago, prior to the emergence of charter schools, Washington D.C. students scored dead last among every major U.S. city, according to NAEP.  That has remarkably changed, as D.C.’s public schools have made steady gains, with charter school achievement rates rising even faster. D.C.’s regular public schools are improving by mimicking charters’ successes.  Schools such as Achievement Prep Academy, D.C.’s highest-performing middle school, located in the city’s poorest Ward, along with several KIPP charter schools are inspiring broader public school improvements for families that need them most. Across the country, in places like New Orleans – with an educational environment now thriving with 80 percent of students in charter schools, Los Angeles – where 5,000 parents recently gathered with the city’s Mayor to press for more high-quality charters, and even Denver – where a supportive school district is replicating charter innovations into its broader school system, charter schools are a welcome solution. This school year, 200,000 additional students enrolled in charter schools – bringing national charter enrollment above two million students. More families are getting what they have needed for decades, the ability to choose the best public school for their child.  This is why the 42 states that allow them are saying ‘thanks’ to charter schools.

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Charter School Cap Lifted in TN; Quality Remains the Priority

Tennessee is positioned to see a large expansion in the number of charter schools over the next several years. Changes in the state’s charter law, driven by the state’s Race to the Top efforts, effectively removed the artificial cap on charter schools growth, eliminated enrollment restrictions, and created an Achievement School District–which can contract with high performing charter networks for school turnaround efforts. These legislative changes that increase student access to charter schools gave Tennessee a 7 point bump in our Model Law Rankings Database. Moreover, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean launched the Tennessee Charter Incubator to attract high performing charter school operators to the state.  As a result, eleven new charters opened in Tennessee this past fall, representing 38% growth in the total number of charter schools. Perhaps in earlier years of the charter movement, these legislative changes would have led to a massive influx of new charter schools based on the idea of letting a thousand flowers bloom. However, the response in Tennessee demonstrates that policymakers and educators are thinking carefully about expanding charter schools with an eye toward quality. (Check out this article for an engaging read on what’s going on in Tennessee charter schools.) And Tennessee is not alone in its focus on quality for new charter schools. NACSA’s recent report on authorizer acceptance and closure rates suggests that authorizers are getting tougher on charter school applications. Authorizer approval rates have decreased from over 60% a decade ago to closer to 40%. The focus on quality by policymakers, authorizers, and educators in Tennessee reflects a shift in the charter movement and proves that charter school growth and quality can go hand in hand.
Nora Kern

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Protect Charter School Teacher Retirement Funds!

The Internal Revenue Service recently issued a Proposed Regulation titled “Determination of Government Plan Status.” This regulation would force states to prohibit charter school teachers from participating in state retirement plans. Presently, every single state that authorizes charter schools either requires or permits charter school participation in the state’s retirement system. Therefore, this regulation would negatively impact nearly all charter school teachers in the country. In total, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools estimates more than 90,000 charter school teachers – more than 90% of our country’s charter school workforce – will be affected by the Proposed regulations. All of these teachers will be forced to either leave their charter schools or lose their accrued pension wealth. For this reason, we cannot allow these regulations to be adopted in their current form. We encourage you to take action here. And for a more detailed analysis of the issue, check out the excerpted blog below that was co-authored by our Senior Director of Legal Affairs. Flypaper Blog, Thomas B. Fordham Institute Michael Podgusrky, Stuart Buck, and Renita Thukral / January 23, 2012 Charter school teachers would be hit hard by new Treasury Department ruling on pensions When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of public schools were put out of commission and their staff placed on leave. Many charters schools expanded to absorb the displaced students, and these charter schools hired teachers from traditional schools to meet the enrollment demand. A glitch, fixed by state legislation, was to allow the displaced teachers to remain in the state teacher pension plan since some of the charter schools did not participate in the state plan. In 2010 this temporary law expired. Many of these transplanted teachers remain employed in charter schools and wished to continue to participate in the state teacher plan. Legislation was passed to allow these transplanted teachers to remain permanently in the state retirement plan, if—and this is a very big if—the Treasury Department approved. The Treasury Department held off ruling on the Louisiana case while it worked on regulations that would provide new guidance on what it meant for a plan to be a “governmental plan.” In November, the Treasury Department issued proposed regulations on the subject, and the news is not good for charter school teachers in Louisiana, or anywhere, since these new rules would affect charter schools in all states. The legal issues are complex, and in a forthcoming study, two of us (Buck and Thukral) will attempt to sort them out. However, the nub of the matter centers on whether charter school teachers are considered government employees. In particular, are charter schools sufficiently “governmental” that they can participate in state and local pension plans?…Click here to read the full analysis.
Nora Kern

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Seeing is Believing

Across the nation, more than 5,600 high-quality public charter schools are providing 2 million students with revolutionary educational opportunities. While many people know that charter schools are working to close the achievement gap and transform children’s lives, some have never seen these inspiring public schools in action. NAPCS, joined by numerous charter school advocates nationwide, want to change that! Today is National Visit a Public Charter School Day, an event that corresponds with National School Choice Week. Charter schools across the country have invited legislators, reporters and community business leaders to tour high-quality public charter schools. These visits are designed to familiarize visitors with the charter school model and demonstrate the benefits of high-quality public charter schools. It is our hope that because of this experience, participants will be more likely to engage in the charter movement as advocates, board members, and financial supporters to help ensure that all students have high quality education options. In addition to charter school visits, state charter support organizations (CSOs) are providing members of the media and state representatives preparing to kick off their legislative sessions with information on the role of charters in education reform. More than 14 states and the District of Columbia are participating in National Visit a Public Charter School Day activities. To learn more about National Visit a Public Charter School Day, we encourage you to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see highlights from events across the country.
Todd Ziebarth

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Charter Law Rankings Demonstrate Significant Progress in State Policy across the Country

This week, we released the third edition of Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws.  Notwithstanding the positive response the report has received, there were two criticisms of it worth addressing. The first came from Diane Ravitch: “This is a national advocacy group that wants more charter schools. It speaks for the charter industry,” says Diane Ravitch, a prominent education historian and critic of charters. “Asking them to judge your charter law is like asking Philip Morris whether your state is doing enough to regulate tobacco.” We doubt Dr. Ravitch actually read the report because it hardly reflects her critique. We plead guilty to wanting more charter schools, but we also want those that open to be high quality. That’s why this ranking places significant weight on quality-control provisions such as transparent application and renewal processes as well as performance-based charter contracts, while also valuing provisions that support growth such as autonomy, funding equity, facilities provisions and no caps. The second came from the Center for Education Reform (CER), which criticized our report for ranking Maine’s new law at the top.  We acknowledge the complexity of evaluating the strengths of state charter school laws, and understand that the ranking process should undergo scrutiny.  We note, for example, that CER ranks the District of Columbia’s generally good law as #1.  Yet there is a 40 percent funding gap between D.C.’s traditional public schools and public charter schools – the largest such gap in the country according to this study.  This hardly represents true educational justice and equality for kids, which is why Friends of Choice in Urban Schools and the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools are fighting to remedy this significant inequity (and a major reason why D.C. is ranked #11 in this year’s report). By highlighting this point, we believe this report can drive policy makers towards rectifying this inequity. The NAPCS model law, which was developed by a broad group of individuals with deep expertise in public charter school law and is the basis of our rankings report, is grounded in two decades of experience about how good legislation supports successful charters. Maine enacted a law that is well aligned with many of the NAPCS model’s 20 components, receiving the highest scores possible on eight of the 20 components including those related to autonomy, operational and categorical funding equity, and performance-based charter contracts.  Maine’s law is far from perfect – it received 158 points out of a possible 208 – and we will assist state leaders in pressing ahead to strengthen it.  Also, Maine’s law is brand new – which means its impact on Maine’s charter school sector needs close monitoring. This year’s rankings demonstrate the positive momentum for the movement in state capitols across the country. Sixteen states strengthened their charter laws this year, leading to an increase in their scores in our report. Nine states lifted caps, seven strengthened their authorizing environments and 10 improved support for funding and facilities. Indiana, for example, overhauled its charter school law last year, lifting its caps, allowing for multiple authorizers, providing facilities access and increasing flexibility and accountability. As a result, its overall score increased from 97 points to 132 points and its ranking catapulted from #25 to #6 – the largest leap for any state on record. Many states based new legislation on the experiences of those with stronger laws such as CaliforniaColorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York. Some states fell in the rankings simply because other states made positive strides by enacting stronger laws.  These developments represent progress for the movement, not black eyes for any set of states. In addition, four states saw their scores in our report drop this past year.  For example, Georgia’s Supreme Court invalidated its statewide charter school authorizer, causing the state to slip from #7 to #14.  This was a tremendous setback for Georgia’s charter movement, and this report serves as a reminder to Georgia’s policy makers that they need to act boldly to rectify it. Strong laws matter.  They allow good educators to create quality opportunities for more kids.  Weak laws prevent these opportunities from happening.   NAPCS welcomes healthy discussion about what constitutes a good charter law (and how to evaluate them) and will continue to work with charter leaders to drive positive changes in charter school laws across the country – from actually getting them on the books in states like Alabama and West Virginia to significantly improving them in states like Mississippi and Missouri.
Todd Ziebarth

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Actual Autonomy

In advance of the release of our 2012 rankings of state charter school laws against our model law, we are going to chronicle some of the most critical aspects of the model law currently playing across the country.  The second installment focuses on charter school autonomy. To truly be an “independent” public charter school, there are three key components of autonomy measured in the NAPCS Model Public Charter Law:
  1. Charter schools must be fiscally and legally independent entities, with independent governing boards that have most powers granted to other traditional public school district boards.
  2. Charter schools must receive automatic exemptions from many state and district laws and regulations, except for those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information requirements, and generally accepted accounting principles.
  3. Charter schools must be exempted from any outside collective bargaining agreements, while not interfering with laws and other applicable rules protecting the rights of employees to organize and be free from discrimination.
When state law does not explicitly grant these autonomies to charter schools, it fails to set up public charter schools for success.  In fact, it is likely setting them up for hardship, if not failure. An example from Virginia brings this issue to head. As the Virginia law currently stands, charter school personnel are considered employees of the local school board granting the charter and are granted the same employment benefits in accordance with the district’s personnel policies.  In other words, a charter school has little control over one of the key factors that will determine whether it is successful or not:  its employees.  These provisions help make Virginia’s law among the weakest in the nation for creating public charter schools with a high level of autonomy to set their own policies. In a positive sign, the Richmond Public Schools (RPS) has joined the chorus of charter school advocates (including us) that are calling on the state legislature to change the law to allow people who work in a charter school to be employed by the school instead of the district.  RPS has taken this step because of confusion over who oversees the employees at the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, a charter school authorized by RPS.  Patrick Henry’s principal Pamela L. Boyd has taken three months of paid administrative leave as well as numerous personal days off amid questions about her leadership. Yet Patrick Henry is unable to take meaningful action to resolve the issue because Boyd is an employee of RPS, not the school. When a school is not afforded the autonomy to make its personnel decisions, accountability for its performance is also compromised.  Among several changes that need to be made to Virginia’s weak charter school law, NAPCS urges the state to amend its law in 2012 to strengthen charter school autonomy.  These changes will not only help existing schools like Patrick Henry succeed.  They will also lay a strong foundation for the growth of high-quality public charter schools in Virginia in the future.
Nora Kern

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

The Quest for Quality

A recent op-ed by Douglas Thaman, Executive Director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association (MCPSA), makes a strong call for the enforcement of quality in public charter schools operated by Imagine Schools Inc. While the issues generally facingMissouri charter schools—and those specifically perpetuated by Imagine Schools—are extreme, they are problems universally faced by charter schools: high facilities costs, the need for a strong governance body to set policies for sound business operations, and authorizer enforcement of quality and accountability. MCPSA is right to call for a state auditor investigation of the Imagine Schools practices that shortchange its students of a superior education. As a sector, we are only as strong as our weakest link. Whether it is through additional support or ultimately the closure of underperforming schools, or setting a new performance bar for high achievers, the public charter school sector must be vigilant when it comes to enforcing quality. And as MCPSA’s demand demonstrates, enforcement of quality starts in our own back yard.
Nora Kern

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Broad Foundation Announces New Annual “Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools”

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation just announced an annual $250,000 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools which will be awarded starting in 2012. The Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools will mirror The Broad Prize for Urban Education that is awarded to traditional school districts. The prize will be awarded to the public charter school management organization that demonstrates the most outstanding overall student performance and improvement among the country’s largest urban charter management organizations in recent years while reducing achievement gaps among poor and minority students. Check out the Broad Prize webpage for more information about eligible CMOs and the review board. And for one last tidbit: the inaugural Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools will be announced at our 2012 National Charter Schools Conference in Minneapolis, MN!