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Pamela Davidson

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The Federal Budget: What it Means for the Charter Schools Program

Yesterday, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) released their topline budget agreement for Fiscal Year 2014, and the House and Senate are scheduled to vote on it in the coming days. While the specifics for programs funded through the Department of Education are not available yet, here is a short summary of what’s at stake and why we must protect funding for charter schools. The new FY2014 budget will include overall spending levels for the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). Funding for USDOE is critical, since so many charter schools receive Title I and IDEA funds. And of course, new and expanding charter schools have prospered under the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), which provides start-up funds and facilities support for new and existing charter schools. While we wait for more details about how the funds will be allocated in FY2014, the Obama administration is already at work on its FY2015 budget request, which is due the first Monday in February. In November, the National Alliance joined with a coalition of charter support organizations, charter school operators, and national partners and advocacy groups on letters requesting $330 million for the CSP in the president’s FY 2015 budget. In the coming months, the charter school community will play a critical role in educating members of Congress about the importance of the CSP.  The CSP, which is currently funded at $241million, serves several functions, including new school start-ups, the replication and expansion of successful charter schools, support for facilities, and dissemination activities. This chart provides an overview of each of these grants within the CSP, their current funding levels, and their purpose:
Federal Charter Schools Program, FY 2013
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  • SEA Grants & Non-SEA Grants: Competitive grants are awarded from the U.S. Department of Education to State Education Agencies to make subgrants to charter schools.  When SEAs do not apply or are denied, individual charter schools can apply. Funding is used to help cover charter school start-up costs.
  • Replication & Expansion Grant: Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to nonprofit charter management organizations that have demonstrated success, including improved academic achievement.
  • National Leadership Activities Grant: Competitive grants provide funding for projects of national significance to improve charter school quality, as well as money to disseminate information about the projects.
  • State Charter School Facilities Incentive Grant: Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to states to help cover charter school facilities costs.
  • Credit Enhancement for Charter Schools Facilities Program: Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to public and nonprofit entities that enhance the ability of public charter schools to raise private capital to acquire, construct, renovate, or lease academic facilities.
Federal funding for the CSP is essential in order to ensure new charter schools can open and meet current demand. With nearly one million student names on waiting lists for charter schools, a strong federal investment is critical for the movement. As we continue our work advocating for charter school funding, we urge the charter school community to join our efforts to educate their members of Congress about the importance of the CSP. Pam Davidson is senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Kim Kober is the federal policy coordinator.
Gina Mahony

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The Latest Charter School News from Washington, D.C.

Congress is in the home stretch for 2013, with the House and Senate scheduled to wrap up business by December 13. We are closely monitoring two actions in Congress that may impact charter schools: negotiations on the FY2014 budget and Senate consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act. Budget Update  The House and Senate budget conference committee charged with reaching an agreement on the FY2014 budget framework, including an alternative to the sequester, continues to negotiate. Regardless of whether the budget conference committee is able to reach a deal, Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution (CR) by January 15, 2014 to keep the government open through the remainder of the fiscal year. We expect more activity and press coverage of the budget conference committee early this month. Continuing the Push in the U.S. Senate on Department of Defense Recruitment of Students Attending Online Charter Schools In June, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would prohibit the Department of Defense from requiring students who attend online charter schools and homeschools to score higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test than students at traditional public schools. Last week, Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) were successful in their efforts to include a similar amendment to the Senate NDAA. We expect further activity on this legislation this month, when the Senate returns to complete its consideration of the bill. National Alliance Leads Coalition of Charter School Leaders, Urges Obama Administration to Increase Charter Schools Program Funding  We are planning ahead for FY2015! Earlier this month, a coalition of leaders in the charter school and education reform community sent letters to the administration requesting $330 million for the federal Charter Schools Program, which is currently funded at $241 million. Sixty state charter support organizations and charter management organizations signed the letter. In addition, nine national education reform advocacy groups, including the National Alliance, sent a separate letter asking for $330 million. Gina Mahony is the senior vice president for government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 
Renita Thukral

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Washington State Should Reject Charter School Opponents’ Failed Tactics

In November 2012, Washington state voters became the first in the country to approve a public charter school law by a ballot initiative. Initiative 1240 authorized the creation of 40 charter schools over five years beginning with the 2014 school year.  Just months after I-1240 passed, however, charter school opponents filed a lawsuit in state court to block the law from being implemented, arguing it violated the state constitution in several ways. This is not the first time charter school opponents have taken their policy disputes to court when they haven’t been successful convincing legislators or voters to block charter schools. In fact, over the past 15 years, arguments similar to those made by Washington charter school opponents have been tried in other states, and they have failed every time. From California to Ohio to New Jersey, the same constitutional claims raised in the Washington case have been raised and rejected by state courts of appeal and state supreme courts. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently released a paper explaining when and where these constitutional claims have been made, what the respective outcomes were, and how the lessons learned from these cases can–and should–be applied to the Washington constitutional challenge. Washington courts should follow the sound reasoning applied by other state courts that have considered and denied similar constitutional arguments.  Each of the arguments raised in the Washington suit have been presented, in one form or another, to other state courts with comparable constitutional provisions, and they have been uniformly rejected. The Washington courts should do the same. This blog is excerpted from the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s publication,  We’ve Been Here Before:  Charter School Opponents Use Same Legal Arguments and Lose Every Time, by Chad A. Readler and Kenneth M. Grose. Renita Thukral is the vice president of legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Kim Kober

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Two Charter Management Organizations Named Race to the Top-District Finalists

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced the 31 Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) competition finalists, including two charter management organizations (CMOs). The 2013 competition will provide nearly $120 million to support strategies developed by school districts (including charter schools that are their own district) that have a direct impact on improving student learning and closing achievement gaps in schools serving high populations of low-income families. The RTT-D’s focus on classroom activities, personalized learning, and the relationships between educators and students is similar to the priorities of many public charter schools—to improve student achievement through innovative learning strategies and engagement between teachers, parents, and students. Two CMO’s, Rocketship Education and the KIPP Foundation, are listed as finalists in the competition. It’s no surprise given that these organizations easily meet RTT-D’s top criteria for strong vision, proven track records, and successful college preparation for students. Rocketship’s elementary schools in the Bay Area, Milwaukee, and Nashville are already making progress closing the achievement gap. The Rocketship model promotes individualized student learning and their efforts are paying off. In California, Rocketship continues to be in the top five percent of school districts serving low-income children. The model rotates students through a learning lab each day where students use online adaptive software to tailor their lessons. The Rocketship proposal includes a plan to provide students with computers so that they can work at home and over the summer to prevent learning loss. KIPP’s TEAM Academy, with schools in Newark and Camden, was also selected as a finalist. At TEAM Academy, everything is earned. Students start each year earning their chair and uniform for doing the right thing, and they soon move on to earning trips and activities. The Academy’s founding principle—that together, everyone achieves more—has become a reality in student achievement. If selected to receive the grant, their plan will allow the charter to develop a personalized college readiness plan for each student to help families manage the path to and through college. ` While the final list of this year’s RTT-D awardees has not yet been announced, last year three CMOs–Harmony Public Schools,IDEA Public Schools, and KIPP DC–were awarded funds and set a strong precedent for the inclusion of public charter schools in the grant competition. By the end of the year, the list of 31 finalists will be narrowed down to five to ten winning applicants for the four-year awards. Funding will range from $4 million to $30 million per awardee, with the amount determined by the population of students served. View the full list of finalists for the 2013 Race to the Top-District competition. Kim Kober is the federal policy and government relations coordinator.

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Thank a Teacher

CharterSchoolsFBGraphic_turkey_final2Dear Friends, All of us have had phenomenal teachers in our years of K-12 schooling and beyond; and we’ve all had some lousy ones. It’s the great teachers, though, that stick with us, and whose memories continue to fill us with joy. For me, thinking about my 3rd-grade teacher, Ms. Schweickert, always puts a smile on my face. I would go to school in Chicago trudging through blizzards to make it to class to have another amazing day of learning, camaraderie and joy with her and my classmates. I also remember seeing a long division problem for the first time in Ms. Schweickert’s room, and feeling a pit in my stomach, thinking there was no way I’d ever remember all of those steps to solve the problem. My teacher, though, broke it down into simple steps and made it easy and fun to do. My brief moments of hating and fearing math were replaced with confidence and hunger to learn more, thanks to Ms. Schweickert. And as an adult, learning never stops. In my first year as a 5th-grade bilingual teacher in 1992, I had that same pit in my stomach as I had no idea how to teach 32 5th graders. It was Ms. Harriett Ball, the “teacher of teachers,” who took me under her wing, along with Dave Levin, and taught us how to teach. Ironically, one of the first things she taught me was how to teach long division. Harriett broke the lesson cycle down into simple steps and made it fun to teach. Once again, my brief moments of fearing being a teacher were replaced with confidence and hunger to learn more, thanks to Ms. Ball. Whether it’s one of your preschool teachers, K-12 teachers, college professors or professional mentors, we all can remember and appreciate great teaching coming from great teachers. Here’s to the most noble and memorable profession in the world: teaching! To help celebrate Thanksgiving and our teachers, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools created a graphic you can share and thank the teachers who meant the most to you. Click here to share this graphic on Facebook to thank your favorite teacher! Happy Thanksgiving and Plow on, Mike:) Mike Feinberg Co-Founder KIPP
Pamela Davidson

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The President’s Pre-K Proposal: How Charter Schools Fit In

Last week, the president’s proposal to expand access to full-day, high-quality pre-kindergarten programs for four-year olds from low- to moderate-income families was introduced in the House and the Senate. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2013 was introduced in the Senate (S. 1697) by Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and in the House (H.R. 3461) by Representative George Miller (D-CA-11), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Representative Richard Hanna (R-NY-22). Under the proposal, states, mostly likely through the state education agency (SEA) would apply directly to the U.S. Department of Education to receive funding for pre-kindergarten programs. The funds would be allocated to states by formula, based on their number of four-year olds living at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. States will be required to match the funds on an escalating basis beginning with 10 percent in the first two years and 100 percent by the eighth year and beyond. Federal funds will be gradually phased out over 10 years. In turn, states must sub-grant funds to local eligible entities (which may include school districts, public charter schools, Head Start programs, or licensed child care providers) to operate these programs. The legislation authorizes $27 billion over 10 years. Public charter schools and traditional public schools would be eligible to apply for a grant from their SEA to open, expand, and operate pre-K programs. Charter school participation could come at a cost, however: the legislation’s requirements could potentially undermine their autonomy and flexibility. For example, the legislation mandates requirements for teacher qualifications and salaries, class size, and required services for children–areas where most public charter schools currently have autonomy to set their own standards. Public charter schools thrive on their ability to be innovative and independent while being held accountable for student academic achievement. They enjoy the freedom to select their staff; create a distinctive school culture, adjust curriculum to meet student needs, and develop new learning models. Public charter schools could benefit from these pre-k grants to create early learning programs, but they should not have their hands tied. Consistent with the terms of their charter, charter schools should be free to innovate while being held accountable for results for any pre-k program they offer. Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nina Rees

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Charter Schools Lead the Way on STEM

As originally posted on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blog for Education and Workforce
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  Over the next decade, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the United States will create 9.2 million jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In order to fill these jobs, experts agree that we must adequately train our students in STEM fields. This is a critical step toward securing our economic competitiveness. It’s encouraging to see some of our nation’s best high schools embracing STEM education. Take a look at the U.S. News 2013 list of “best high schools in America” and you will find a number of schools with a strong focus on STEM workforce preparation – and many of these schools are charter schools. On a recent survey, one-fifth of all American charter schools reported that they have a specific STEM or math/science focus, and this number is growing. Among them are the Magnolia Science Academy, a high school in California, and the Denver School of Science and Technology in Colorado. Both are models of STEM-focused education, and both are public charter schools. At Magnolia Science Academy all students take a computer class every day and technology is integrated into core classes. Students learn how to design websites and effectively use the internet and curriculum that is aligned with National Educational Technology Standards. The school also sets a high bar in mathematics. In 2006, Magnolia student Zarathustra Brady became one of six U.S. students on the gold-medal winning national team at the International Mathematical Olympiad. Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST), a cluster of six public charter schools, focuses on bringing STEM education to low-income and minority students. Despite many incoming students performing below grade level, the school’s high standards foster a culture of achievement. Students take algebra-based physics in 9th grade and are expected to complete college-level coursework in science and engineering by the time they graduate. Thanks to its robust curriculum, the schools boast a 100 percent college acceptance rate. These examples are inspirational, but I believe we can do even more. Neither schools nor businesses can tackle this issue alone, but together we are poised for success. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which represents 2.3 million students in more than 6,000 schools, is working with charter schools across the country to connect them with STEM resources and ensure they are working with their local business communities to craft school curriculums that will prepare students for careers in STEM fields. The charter model is unique because it provides schools with the freedom and flexibility to align teaching to our evolving workforce needs. We’re grateful to chambers of commerce for playing such a critical leadership role in advancing STEM education and look forward to building strong alliances with business partners from coast-to-coast to better serve our nation’s students and their communities. Nina Rees is the president and CEO for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Renita Thukral

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School Spotlight: El Sol Science and Arts Academy Serving English Language Learners Well

Located in Santa Ana, California, El Sol Science and Arts Academy (El Sol) is a dual immersion school using a 90/10 model. When the students enroll in kindergarten, 90 percent of the day is conducted in Spanish. The rate decreases by 10 percentage points each year until the fourth grade when the students reach a 50/50 language ratio. Opened in 2001 with a kindergarten and first grade class, El Sol has added one grade level each year. During the 2012-13 school year, El Sol served 763 students in K–8th grade and 72 students in its part time pre-k program. Ninety-six percent of El Sol students were Latino, many of whom were recent immigrants. Moreover, 70 percent were English Language Learners (ELL), and 80 percent qualified for free or reduced lunch. Here are a few of the ways El Sol is working to serve ELL students: Special Programs 
  • Every student who enrolls must complete a home language survey that is required by the State of California. The answers to the survey determine whether the student must take the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) to determine her/his level of English proficiency. This test helps determine the particular level of instruction the student will need, and El Sol provides targeted instruction in each grade at every needed proficiency level.
  • The students have a longer than normal school day and extended day tutoring programs are available for students who need them.
  • To assess academic progress, students undergo writing and oral assessments in addition to the required standardized exams. Students’ portfolios and grades are discussed by teachers before making decisions to advance the respective students to the next level.
Parent Engagement and Cultural Understanding 
  • To ensure parents understand what is happening in their child’s school, all school correspondence goes home in English and Spanish, and virtually the entire staff can speak both languages.
  • The school offers a full array of family services, including an onsite wellness center, ESL and citizenship courses for parents, and attorneys who come in to do pro bono work.
Bilingual Teachers 
  • El Sol partners with local universities to recruit high-quality teachers. One nearby university, Chapman University’s School of Education, sends student teachers to the school as part of their training program.
  • Teachers at El Sol are required to have a bilingual certificate in language acquisition development in addition to their teaching credential.
  • El Sol seeks out teachers who have taken nontraditional paths to the profession. They often hire staff from other countries who do not have U.S. teaching credentials but do have higher education degrees from other countries. They use them as instructors who supplement the work of teachers.
El Sol’s model is an excellent example for all charter schools. As the charter school movement grows, we must continue to serve all students well, preparing them for academic success and beyond. Renita Thukral is vice president for legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. This blog is excerpted from the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s publication, Serving English Language Learners:  A Toolkit for Public Charter Schools. 
Kim Kober

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Charter School Partnerships among Highest Rated i3 Grant Applicants

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced the top 25 applicants of this year’s Investing in Innovation (i3) competition, which will award more than $135 million to expand innovative practices designed to improve student achievement. The focus on innovation makes the i3 competition a logical fit for charter schools. Funding can provide development for smart ideas that need further research, validation for programs to assess effectiveness and build capacity, or scale-up grants for programs ready to expand at the national level. Previous years’ charter recipients have included the KIPP Foundation, New Schools for New Orleans, The AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation, Aspire Public Schools, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, and IDEA. This year, two charter-focused programs made the i3’s top 25:
  • The San Francisco Bay Area Seneca Family of Agencies, a nonprofit, special education and mental health services provider, proposes to partner with a mix of charter and district schools, including Education for Change, a charter management organization, and the Lighthouse Community Charter School to implement their Unconditional Education program. Rather than focus efforts on a single counselor or only a handful of staff, the program provides academic, behavioral, and social-emotional intervention training to the entire school community and will serve schools with large percentages of high-risk youth.
  • The University Public Schools, a network of charter schools affiliated with Arizona State University, applied for i3 funds to expand their Gathering, Reflecting, Owning our Work (GROW) project that provides STEM immersion for K-12 students. GROW will give students portable technology for use both in the classroom and at home, and provide meaningful data on the effectiveness of mobile learning.
Other applicants in the top 25 are partnering with K-12 schools, including public charters:
  • The Children’s Aid Society (CAS) in New York City is proposing a parent engagement program partnership with schools located in the South Bronx—including the Children’s Aid College Prep Charter School. Schools in this area are often characterized by high levels of poverty, school failure, and crime. CAS’s Parent Leadership Institute will encourage parents to build peer networks, workshops, and one-on-one training sessions to help families find schools that best meet their child’s needs.
  • Expeditionary Learning partners with schools, districts, and charter boards to boost student engagement and achievement. Their i3 application outlines a program to deliver resources, support, and professional development to teachers at select middle schools in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. With an emphasis on both school culture and academic success, their model has a proven track record to markedly improve student achievement in as little as two years.
The top 25 applicants have until December 11 to secure matching funds required to receive federal funds and final awards will be announced by the end of the year. The i3 competition is a great way to reward innovative, collaborative efforts between charter schools and traditional public schools, and we are pleased to see this year is no exception. Kim Kober is the federal policy & government relations coordinator at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Todd Ziebarth

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What This Week’s Elections Mean for Charter Schools

While there were only a small number of elections and referendums at stake on Tuesday, some of them had big implications for public charter schools: 1.  Virginia will likely remain closed to charter schools. When outgoing Governor Robert McDonnell won Virginia’s gubernatorial election in 2009, charter supporters had high hopes that the state would finally enact some meaningful improvements to its weak charter school law. It didn’t. Four years later, Virginia still has one of the weakest charter school laws in the country (it’s ranked #39 out  of 43 in our most recent rankings report). In this year’s election, of the two major party candidates, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli emerged as the lone charter school backer. Unfortunately (for the future of public charter schools in Virginia), he lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday.  Although McAuliffe’s former boss, President Bill Clinton, was an early supporter of charters, McAuliffe himself has failed to show the same kind of leadership for innovations and options in public education. It is likely that at the end of McAuliffe’s four-year term, Virginia will still have one of the nation’s weakest charter school laws. 2.  New Jersey is in a position to move forward on legislative improvements to charter school law. With Tuesday’s gubernatorial and legislative elections in New Jersey behind us, the years-long effort to improve the state’s charter school law may finally gain traction. Governor Chris Christie, a charter supporter, won by a wide margin and in his acceptance speech said that fixing the state’s broken education system is a top priority. With the Democrats remaining in control of the legislature, enacting charter legislation will require a bipartisan effort. Let’s hope that Governor Christie’s possible presidential aspirations propel him to show the country how to get things done with the opposite party. 3.  The uncertain future for New York City’s charters becomes official. Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio won on Tuesday, ushering in what is certain to be a new day for charters in the city. The question is, “how new?” Will he stick by his earlier statements and limit the expansion of charters, stop co-locating charters with other public schools in district buildings, and start charging rent to public charter schools using district school buildings? Or will he define “new” by making some improvements to the city’s innovative co-location process, keeping the city open to new charters, and ensuring public school buildings are rent-free for all public schools? Our hope is that the mayor-elect spends some serious time with the students, parents, teachers, and leaders of the city’s public charter schools so he will see firsthand the important role they’re playing in educating the city’s schoolchildren. 4. Boston will now have a mayor that supports lifting caps on the state’s highest performing charters. In a sign that shows how far the charter school movement has come, each of the two finalists for mayor in Boston supported charter schools. According to the Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Association, as State Representative, now mayor-elect Marty Walshtestified in favor of a bill that would eliminate caps on charter school growth in the state’s lowest performing districts. He also served on the Board of Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester for 17 years, and often cited his experience at Neighborhood House on the campaign trail. While Walsh’s opponent, City Councilor John Connolly, advocated for a more aggressive overhaul of the city’s school system, Walsh has a consistent track record of pushing for meaningful reform of the city’s schools, including the growth of the state’s highest performing charters. Mayor-elect Walsh’s advocating for a lift of charter school caps should provide a boost to the legislative effort to pass a bill. 5. Colorado charter schools will continue to operate under the state’s current inequitable school funding system.Colorado voters made clear on Tuesday that they don’t support raising taxes to provide more funding for public education in the state. By an overwhelming margin of 65% to 35%, they rejected Amendment 66, which would have provided $950 million in new taxes to fund State Bill 213, a significant overhaul of the state’s school finance system. Among other new education spending, Amendment 66 would have better funded charter schools that serve at-risk students and provided significant support for charter school facilities costs. All’s not lost, though. The state has until November 2017 to get the voters to approve a way to fund the overhaul. If not, SB 213 dies. 6. Columbus charter schools won’t receive local tax dollars. Columbus voters soundly rejected a local tax increase that would have funded a planned overhaul of the city’s public education system. The planned overhaul (created by a 25-member task force convened by Mayor Michael Coleman) covered a wide variety of areas, including the sharing of local tax dollars with high-performing public charter schools. Voters in Columbus defeated the tax measure 69% to 31%, meaning charters will still fail to receive local tax dollars. Todd Ziebarth is senior vice president for state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.