Eric Paisner


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Urban Prep Achieves 100% College Acceptance Rate

We write a lot about education reform and charter school policy on this blog. It’s our bread and butter at NAPCS; we advocate for better policy support at all levels of government. Why? So we’ll see more schools like Urban Prep. For the third straight year, Chicago-based Urban Prep is sending 100 percent of its kids to college. And, equally as important, it’s keeping them there. For the class of 2010, the first graduating class at Urban Prep, 83 percent of the students are still enrolled in 4-year schools. The Chicago Tribune gave Urban Prep some prime real estate on Friday’s editorial page, and we’re proud to showcase the their accomplishments on our blog too. Congratulations to Urban Prep, it’s teachers, leadership staff, and most importantly, its 2012 graduating class. You keep doing what you’re doing, and we’ll keep fighting for you in Washington.

Nora Kern


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March Madness: Player of the Year attended a Chicago public charter high school

University of Kentucky star Anthony Davis has won the Naismith Trophy for men’s college player of the year. Davis, who is the second freshman to earn the Naismith Trophy, has another unique line on his resume; he attended a Chicago charter high school that didn’t have a gym.

Perspectives Charter School is an award-winning Near South Side school designed by Chicago architect Ralph Johnson. The absence of a gym is one of many ways that Johnson and his clients kept costs down. In an interview, Davis explained why he chose Perspectives despite its notable absence of athletic facilities: “I didn’t go there for basketball. The academic program was great. They have a 95 percent rate of kids graduating and going to college, so my dream was always to go to college, so I decided to go there.”

We wish Davis and the Wildcats the best of luck tonight. We love to see successful charter graduates (and a KY win will give me official bragging rights for my bracket)!

Eric Paisner


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Charter Autonomy and Waivers: Can they coexist?

Last month, Greg Richmond, President & CEO of NACSA warned us in a guest blog about the potential losses of charter autonomy that could result from the state plans offered to the Department of Education in return for the first round of NCLB waivers.  Mr. Richmond wondered what might happen to low performing charter schools and the role of charter authorizers.

As we approach the second round of waivers, we continue to be concerned that charter schools could lose some of their flexibility, this time as it relates to staffing.  The ability to create and manage a team is a critical element of charter autonomy.  Todd Zeibarth, our VP of State Advocacy & Support stated the issue clearly in EdWeek: “Ensuring that charters preserve autonomy over teacher evaluations in the face of these statewide system overhauls has been an increasing challenge across the country…Some state policymakers… either overlook or don’t care about preserving charter autonomy over these decisions in the process.”  This issue has come up outside of the waiver process (see here in Virginia where charter employees are considered district employees), and it has had an impact on charter growth.

Whether value-added-type measures proposed by some states for teacher evaluation are good solutions is still an open question.  But, either way, let’s make sure charters aren’t compelled to use these new state plans.  On top of being a threat to autonomy, it might actually be a step backwards for charter schools.  Many charters have done a really good job of figuring out how to hire, evaluate, reward and retain teachers.  Check out the Teacher Talent Toolbox released by the New Teacher Project this week to see what I mean.

Renita Thukral


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Protecting Charter School Employee Retirement Funds

Understanding the Threat

NAPCS has been the leading voice in the effort to amend the Internal Revenue Service’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) titled “Determination of Government Plan Status.” Released on November 8th, 2011, this draft proposed regulation, if adopted as currently drafted, would lead states to prohibit charter school employees 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 employees in the country.

We persist in our efforts to educate law- and policy-makers on this issue, and we are committed to mobilizing our sector and our supporters.  The public comment period, originally set to expire on February 6th, has been extended and now will close on June 18th.  Additionally, the IRS will convene a public hearing in Washington D.C. on July 9th.  Anyone can submit a request to testify on July 9th; click here to submit a public comment in which you can ask for an opportunity to be heard (Note: submitting a request to testify does not guarantee that you will be chosen).

The Sector and Its Supporters Voice Opposition

To date,

  • NAPCS has filed public comment, signed by 34 city- and state-level charter support organizations across the country;
  • Chairman John Kline, House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Chairman Duncan Hunter, House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, have submitted a letter in support to IRS Commissioner Shulman;
  • Senate Republicans have submitted a letter in support to IRS Commissioner Shulman;
  • A coalition of 17 Members of the House has sent a bipartisan letter in support to IRS Commissioner Shulman;
  • The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), a national organization that represents state superintendents of education across the country, has submitted comments in support; and,
  • In February, more than 8,300 individuals voiced opposition to the IRS’s draft proposed regulations.  More than 43,000 emails were sent to Congress, Secretary Geithner, Secretary Duncan and IRS Commissioner Shulman!

Moving Forward

Between now and the July 9th public hearing, we will update our webpage devoted to this issue to spotlight the latest developments—including media coverage, public statements made by lawmakers, position statements issued by our supporters, white papers, and data.

It is imperative that the final regulations be amended to protect public charter school employees and allow public charter schools to continue to recruit and retain veteran public school employees.  Failure to do so will risk the retirement security of charter school employees, interfere with charter schools’ ability to reach their educational goals, undermine both state and federal education policy and reform initiatives, and subject some states to potential financial liability.  We urge the Internal Revenue Service to clarify the draft proposed regulations such that public charter schools will be treated as agencies or instrumentalities of the state under Section 414(d) of the Internal Revenue Code.


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Winners Announced for federal Charter Schools Program SEA Grants

U.S. Department of Education (U.S. ED) recently announced that they have awarded grants totaling $54.8 million to support the growth of public charter schools in MinnesotaNew Jersey and Massachusetts. Minnesota will receive a five-year grant and New Jersey and Massachusetts will each receive three-year grants under the Charter Schools Program state educational agency (SEA) competition.

Altogether, the administration will invest $255 million in fiscal year 2012 through several grant programs administered by the Charter Schools Program to:

  • support charter school efforts to find suitable facilities
  • disseminate information about successful charter school practices, and
  • replicate and expand high-quality charter schools

President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request also includes $255 million to expand educational options by helping grow effective charter schools and other autonomous public schools that achieve positive results and give parents more choices.


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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!


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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.”


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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.


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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


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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.