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Happy National Charter Schools Week

Activities for National Charter Schools Week 2011 are well underway! In Washington we’ll be celebrating the announcement of the 2011 Champions for Charters and meeting with the largest group of charter school advocates from schools and charter support organizations ever assembled for this week. On Tuesday May 3rd, we will be conducting an Online Advocacy Day. We will be urging people throughout the day via Facebook, Twitter and SMS text to contact their senators and representatives with a personal message about the difference high-quality public charter schools are making in the lives of kids.   We’ll also be collecting stories from National Charter Schools Week events nationwide and sharing them here on the Charter Blog. Here is a glimpse of some ongoing events:   Arizona: The Arizona Charter Schools Association hosts its Annual Business Conference this Thursday and Friday. They will honor business leaders for supporting high-quality charter schools while helping school leaders to improve business operations. District of Columbia: Georgia: Georgia Charter Schools Association kicked off National Charter Schools Week with “Charter Schools Rock,” an informational session, on Sunday. It was a terrific opportunity to put the charter school community front and center and build awareness for our movement.   South Carolina: River Charter School in Beufort is celebrating all week long by hosting a Waitinf for Superman screening and conducting school tours all week long.   Texas: On Wednesday, May 4, Texas will have more than 2,000 charter school parents rallying at the State Capitol in Austin. The Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) has helped coordinate parents from Houston, the Valley, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin as well as students and families from KIPP Houston and Austin will have a strong showing, as will YES Prep, IDEA in the Valley and Uplift in Dallas.   Tell us about your Charter Schools Week activities and we’ll highlight them here! E-mail pressroom@pubiccharters.org

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It’s Advocacy Day – National Charter Schools Week Continues

Today a core group of charter school advocates join NAPCS staff members in meetings on Capitol Hill, but all of us can take part in advocacy today – whether or not we’re in Washington. On Facebook and here on the Charter Blog, we’re asking our social networks to take a few minutes out of their busy schedule to call (202) 609-8587 and let your Representative in Congress know why YOU support charters! If you prefer to take action online, you can do it at the United States House of Representatives web site by entering your zip code. Just as you make your voice heard in the House, some of our national charter leaders will be speaking up in the Senate. Today in the U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education Labor & Pensions Hearing Room, the following panelists will discuss the merits and opportunities for charter schools. •         Jessica Cunningham, Chief Academic Officer, KIPP D.C. •         Peter Groff, President and CEO, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools •         Lisa Graham Keegan, Principal Partner, Keegan Company (Moderator) •         David Hansen, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, National Association of Charter School Authorizers •         Scott Pearson, Associate Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Innovation and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education •         Sarah Newell Usdin, Founder and CEO, New Schools for New Orleans

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National Charter Schools Week Round Up

Thanks to all who joined us in celebrating charters during the 12th annual National Charter Schools Week!   Our advocacy efforts, both online and on Capitol Hill, were a great success this year:
  • 75 participants from 35 states participated in nearly 200 meetings with Members of Congress and their staff;
  • Nearly 100 advocates used our text campaign to contact their elected representatives to express support for high quality charter schools;
  • The NAPCS honored Rep. “Buck” McKeon (CA-25) with his [Champion for Charters Award] at a reception in the House of Representatives;
  • President Obama formally acknowledges National Charter Schools Week by issuing an official Presidential Proclamation.
  Participants came to Washington D.C. from as far as Hawaii and as close as Maryland to meet with policymakers to discuss how the federal government can better support the growth and development of high-quality charter schools.  In addition to the Washington based activities, National Charter Schools Week was marked across the nation by supporter-hosted rallies, school tours, student competitions and various acknowledgements of charter school success by state level officials. Charter Rally_NCSW_May2011               In Texas, more than 1700 parents of charter students returned rallied to encourage lawmakers to complete their work and send the bills to the Governor’s desk. GeorgiaGovernor_2011NCSW_ChildrenPhoto             In Georgia, charter students pose with Governor Nathan Deal and the National Charter School’s Week proclamation.
Todd Ziebarth

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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

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Mississippi Builds Up Charter School Association and Authorizer

Over the past two months, Mississippi has started taking steps to implement the overhaul of its charter law that it enacted during this year’s legislative session there (an overhaul pushed by a broad coalition of organizations, including NAPCS). On June 25th, the newly formed Mississippi Charter Schools Association hosted a charter schools forum in Jackson. More than 70 attendees showed up to learn more about what charter schools are, what the provisions in the new law require, and how the authorization process will work in Mississippi. They also got firsthand accounts about starting and running charter schools from operators from Arkansas and Tennessee. Then last week, Governor Phil Bryant appointed three individuals and the State Board of Education appointed the Interim State Superintendent of Education to serve on the seven-member Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves will soon appoint the remaining three members (the law requires that all appointments be made by September 1st). Once the Board is in place, the law requires it to meet as soon as possible after September 1, 2013 and to send out a Request for Proposals before December 1, 2013. It is great to see the work underway in Mississippi. As in other states, the Association’s and the Board’s actions will be critical to the success of the charter sector in Mississippi. Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president of state advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Learn More: Gulf Live: Mississippi charter school advocates form association with law going into effect Clarion Ledger : Gov. Bryant appoints Mississippi charter school board members
Todd Ziebarth

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Wisconsin Public Charter Schools Gain Access to Public Buildings

This week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed SB 20 into law, an important piece of legislation that will increase public charter school access to surplus district school buildings in Milwaukee.  What is most significant about SB 20 is that it transfers the ownership and decision-making about these surplus buildings from the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) to the City of Milwaukee.  Not surprisingly, MPS has been extremely resistant to providing charters approved by entities other than MPS with access to MPS buildings.  The City of Milwaukee, on the other hand, is one of three charter authorizers in Milwaukee, and has expressed its desire to put these abandoned buildings to their original purpose – educating the city’s schoolchildren, no matter which type of school is serving them. This legislation is notable because only a handful of states and school districts have policies and practices that promote the use of available district facilities by public charter schools.  Through legislation such as SB 20, charter school students will have a much better shot at the quality facilities they deserve and taxpayer monies will be used more effectively.  You can learn more about the facilities challenges charter schools face, as well as innovative ways that seven school districts are sharing public education facilities with charter schools, here.
Todd Ziebarth

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Getting better all the time: state charter laws show improvement

Yesterday, we released a report that examines the evolving state policies for public charter schools. Using the National Alliance’s model law and annual state charter laws rankings reports between January 2010 and January 2013 as the basis for the analysis, we found that there has been significant improvement to public charter school laws during the past few years.
  • Thirty-five states have made policy improvements that resulted in increases in their scores in our annual charter laws rankings reports. Seven of these 35 states essentially overhauled their laws.
  • Three states have enacted brand new legislation. Maine and Washington enacted laws relatively well aligned with the model law, while Mississippi passed a weak law. Mississippi later enacted sweeping reforms to its charter law in 2013 that are well aligned with the model law; these changes aren’t reflected in the data used for this report, but will show up in the 2014 annual rankings report.
  • States made the most progress in lifting caps, with 16 states doing so. States also made significant progress in strengthening charter school and authorizer accountability, with 21 states enacting such policies.
Even with all this improvement, the highest scoring state in our most recent annual state charter laws rankings report received only 75 percent of the total model law points. Most glaringly, there is still much to do to improve state policies giving public charter schools operational and capital funding equity with their district school counterparts. State charter laws have yet to catch up to the demand for high-quality public charter schools, as more than 520,000 individual students linger on charter school waiting lists across the country. To help meet this demand we will continue to work in partnership with charter supporters across the country to advocate for stronger state charter laws. Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Learn More: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools: Assessing the Increasing Strength of Charter Laws Between 2010 and 2013 Strength of charter laws
Todd Ziebarth

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What You Need to Know About the State Charter School Laws Rankings Report

Last week, we released the sixth edition of Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws. This report evaluates each state’s charter school law against the 20 essential components from our model law, which includes items such as “No Caps,” “Performance-Based Charter Contracts,” and “ Equitable Access to Capital Funding and Facilities”.

By serving as an annual benchmark for states, this report recognizes those states that are making progress in creating a policy environment that supports high-quality public charter schools as well as those states that are failing to do so. For example, as high-performing public charter schools look to open in new states, this report lets them know the places that provide the best (and worst) set of policies related to caps, authorizers, autonomy, accountability and funding, among other issues. Also, if charter schools in a particular state feel their flexibility to innovate is being constrained, they can look to this report to see which states provide charters with maximum autonomy and push their lawmakers to adopt similar policies.

We are pleased that charter school supporters have used the rankings and recommendations to drive changes to their states’ charter school laws since 2010. As a result, there are fewer caps on the growth of charters, more non-district authorizers for schools to apply to, more flexibility for schools to innovate, stronger accountability for schools’ performance, and more funding and facilities support for schools – all of which translates to the creation of more high-quality public charter school options for the students who need them the most.

Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president for state advocacy and support for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Todd Ziebarth

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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.
Todd Ziebarth

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Moratorium Lifted on New Hampshire Charter School Growth

At the end of last week, the New Hampshire State Board of Education lifted its almost year-long moratorium on public charter schools and authorized three new charter schools to open (a fourth application will be heard next month). These actions brought to a close (at least for now) the latest attempt to halt the growth of public charter schools in the state and have revived the state’s steadily growing charter movement. As of this fall, there will be 21 charters open in the Granite State, up from 10 schools in the 2010-11 school year. Kudos to all of the charter supporters there, led by the New Hampshire Public Charter School Association and the New Hampshire Center for Innovative Schools, for achieving this hard fought and important victory. NH blog               Image via Charter Pulse