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Nora Kern

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The Debate on Charter School Applications

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) recently release a report, The Paperwork Pileup, that analyzed the various questions and documentation required of public charter schools seeking authorization by state education agencies, higher education institutions, and independent charter boards. The report authors categorized the application questions into four quadrants according to the (in)appropriateness and (un)manageability of the requirement in terms of how the questions could impact school effectiveness. In short, AEI concludes that, “By larding up charter applications and branding those who do not want to or cannot jump through those hoops as not serious or qualified enough to run schools, we risk unjustly narrowing the pool of charter operators and shutting out innovation.”

Common sense says that paperwork for paperwork’s sake is unnecessary, but due diligence to ensure quality is necessary. Yet, the debate opens from there. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and Thomas B. Fordham Institute both issued rebuttals to assertions made in the AEI report. So where do you fall on the authorizing debate? Are regulations overtaking autonomy, or are they necessary gatekeepers to ensure quality school openings? Thanks to AEI for elevating this important conversation, and to NACSA and Fordham for weighing in. Please leave a comment to tell us your thoughts on charter school application requirements.

Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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The Facts on Student Attrition in New York City

I wanted you to know the facts from a new report out of New York City, because the results are mostly encouraging, but also require some thought; and because a nationally known charter opponent is sending out an incomplete, rather than full description of the report. In her blog and on social media, Diane Ravitch asserts that the study shows “NYC charters lose 80% of students with disabilities by the third grade.” But that’s not the full story. The study from New York City’s Independent Budget Office examined the school transfer rates of one cohort of students from kindergarten through third grade; it did not look at every charter school or every district school. Here’s what they found:
  • On average, student at charters stay at their schools at a higher rate than students at nearby traditional schools.
  • This higher rate of staying at charter schools also is found when students are compared in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, poverty, and English learner status.
  • The one major exception is special education students, who leave charter schools at a much higher rate than either general education students in charter schools or special education students in traditional public schools. Only 20 percent of students classified as requiring special education services who started kindergarten in charter schools remained in the same school after three years.
While this is mostly good news, the last finding definitely deserves more examination and serious reflection by the charter school community. But before we point any fingers, James Merriman of the NYC Charter Center has highlighted the conclusion in this study is reached based on just 25 students with special needs, out of the thousands attending NYC charter schools. In other words, this is a tiny sample and may not reflect what it actually happening across all charter schools in the city. Because you may hear about the report from pundits who will present only a portion of the report’s conclusions, I wanted you to have all the facts. Joe Nathan is the director of the Center for School Change. 
Pamela Davidson

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The Federal Appropriations Process: More of the Same?

Congress is tasked with appropriating funding for all federal programs, including education programs such as the Charter Schools Program, Title I, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. There are 12 separate appropriations bills that cover the different U.S. departments and the programs they administer. For the past seven years, Congress has not reached an agreement on most of these spending bills by the end of the fiscal year on September 30. When this happens, Congress passes a continuing resolution (CR) to keep federal programs operating at their current funding levels when the new fiscal year starts. When programs are funded on continuing resolutions, they do not receive even modest increases to keep up with inflation and enrollment growth in programs. Once again, Congress seems to be on this same track this year. Congress has recessed for the summer, and to date has not finalized one of the 12 spending bills, including the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education Act, which funds federal education programs. The House has passed four of the 12 spending bills; the Senate none. While the Senate Appropriations Committee did pass their version of the Labor, HHS and Education bill, the House Appropriations Committee postponed its consideration with no new date announced. Since Congress will only have nine legislative days to finalize the remaining spending bills by the end of the fiscal year when they return from recess, they are expected to agree to a short-term CR. The clock is ticking outside the Beltway, too. As a new school year gets underway, funding for federal education programs is critical to ensure that schools and students have the resources they need to succeed. It’s up to Congress to make this happen. Pamela Davidson is senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
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 $248.1 million, 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
csptop2
  • 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 Government Shutdown and the Impact on K12 Federal Education Programs

As we go into week two of the government shutdown with no end in sight, many people are wondering what will happen to schools. While there shouldn’t be significant impact at the school or school district level at this stage, this memo from the Penn Hill Group provides a comprehensive outline of the impact of the shutdown on U.S. Department of Education programs.  Key highlights include: Elementary and Secondary Formula Programs Title I, IDEA Part B, and other formula programs are forward-funded, meaning the funding for a fiscal year is provided to states in July. So, school districts shouldn’t have any issues drawing down these funds. In addition, the Department of Education’s contingency plan made clear that funding available to states for these programs in October will be allocated as originally planned. There are several programs that are funded on a “current-year” basis and could be affected if the shutdown becomes prolonged. One such program is Impact Aid, which assists schools whose local sales or property tax funding is adversely affected because the school is on land owned by the Federal Government or land that has been removed from the local tax rolls by the Federal Government. Many schools on Indian reservations are aided by this program and could face funding issues if the shutdown last more than a couple of weeks. Competitive Grant programs Many federal grant program awards are made in the spring, so a government shutdown of a few weeks is unlikely to have significant consequences. However, a lengthier shutdown could cause delays in grant-making, especially for Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation and Promise Neighborhoods. The Department is still processing the FY2013 competitions and must award grants by December 31. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a path forward for a quick resolution and the stakes only get higher over the next ten days, as Congress must also act to increase the debt ceiling by mid-October. It is likely that government funding and the debt ceiling will be negotiated in one package.  If lawmakers can’t make that happen, there could be major implications for school districts, states, and the overall economy. That could be much worse than the shutdown. Gina Mahony is the senior vice president of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Nick Fickler is a staff assistant at the Alliance. 
Nora Kern

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The Indy 1,000,000

The Mind Trust is looking for teams of great people to start public charter schools in Indianapolis, and they’re offering up to $1 million for folks who can make it happen! For more information, check out The Mind Trust’s Charter School Incubator page. If you’re interested in learning more about charter schools in Indiana (or nationally), you can find detailed information about network operators, school performance, growth and more on our data Dashboard.

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The Instructional Strategies Charter Schools Use [Infographic]

This past spring, NAPCS conducted a survey of public charter schools across the country. (The national survey provided data for ourestimate of 610,000 students on waiting lists to attend charter schools (see herehere, and here).) There were over 5,600 charter schools operating nationwide when we administered the survey in 2011-2012, and we know that charter schools are not a uniform category of schools. One of NAPCS’ goals through the school survey was to collect information that would help us better understand the wide range of instructional strategies charter schools use. We asked charter schools to select their instructional focus from a list of 44 categories (schools could select more than one area of focus). We started with a list from the 2006 Fordham Institute study,Playing to Type: Mapping the Charter School Landscape and revised the list (adding some categories, deleting others) based on work NAPCS has done work collecting information about charter schools nationwide. Crunching through the survey data, we found that over 40 percent of charter schools responded that their instructional focus is “college-prep.” The term “college-prep” may generate images of a particular type of school: students in uniforms, college and university banners hanging in hallways, a “no excuses” mantra. But when we looked a little deeper at the survey data, we found wide variation in how charter schools go about implementing the focus of preparing students for college. Charter schools use service-learning, project-based instruction, community service, arts, technology, and STEM, among a variety of other instructional methods, to prepare students for college. The survey data reflects the reality that charter schools are not a homogenous set of schools.  The infographic below presents findings from the survey (we have a PDF version of the infographic, too). NAPCS Charter School Instruction Strategies [Infographic]                                                       This week and next NAPCS will use the Charter Blog to feature public charter schools that prepare students for college using a range of instructional strategies. We have asked school leaders to tell us in their own words how they use service-learning, project-based instruction, child-centered methods, etc. to create a “college-prep” focus. By combining data on instructional strategies from a national survey with on the ground stories of the work of charter schools, we hope to show the wide scope of possibilities in how charter schools can provide great learning environments for students.

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The Intergenerational School: Connecting Generations, Building Relationships

NAPCS is using the Charter Blog to feature public charter schools that prepare students for college using a range of instructional strategies. NAPCS asked school leaders to tell us in their own words how they use different instructional methods to create a “college-prep” focus. By combining data on instructional strategies from a national survey with on the ground stories of the work of charter schools, NAPCS wants to show the scope of possibilities in how charter schools can provide great learning environments for students. The mission of The Intergenerational School (TIS) is to connect, create and guide a multi-generational community of lifelong learners and spirited citizens. To teach and live out the concepts of lifelong learning and spirited citizenship, we surround our young students with opportunities to engage with the broader community and to learn with and from individuals of all ages who exemplify this ideal. TIS is located in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the poorest cities in the nation. Over the 12 years that TIS has been operating, we have developed the intergenerational learning model from a seed of an idea into a vibrant and successful school with not only 224 “young” learners (grades K-8) but approximately 300 adults and older adults who participate in a wide range of intergenerational programs each year. A “walk through” at TIS demonstrates the ways in which we operationalize this mission. Walking into one primary classroom, it is reading workshop. Students are scattered throughout the room; some are engrossed in reading his or her own self-selected book, others are reading with a partner, a few are working with the teacher. Looking more closely, you will see that the class includes students of a variety of ages and some of the older students are reading with and helping some of the younger students. This is the first step toward instilling an inclination of “community service” in the children: if you know how to do something and someone younger does not, you have the opportunity to teach what you know. Hence at TIS a fundamental belief is that everyone is at once a teacher and a learner at all times. Meanwhile in the hallway, ensconced in comfortable sofas and chairs are some of our oldest participants, senior citizens who have been trained to mentor our young readers. Together one elder and one child explore the wonderful world of books, which prompts discussion and the sharing of life stories between the two. Over the course of weeks, months, and even years, the elders notice the growth of their mentees as readers, and as poised and thoughtful partners in increasingly rich conversations. Further on, area college students are tutoring math students and developing relationships that will inspire TIS students to see college as a part of their own future. Yet another class is preparing to leave to visit their nursing home partners. That day they will be deepening their own understanding of the civil rights movement by collecting the stories of those residents who were a part of it. These stories will be rewritten into picture book format to be shared with their primary cluster reading partners later on. These are just a few examples of intergenerational learning activities that take place on a daily basis. Intergenerational experiences not only deepen and personalize learning, but have spillover effects on overall school culture and outcomes. From the academic perspective, TIS students consistently post some of the highest test scores in the state of Ohio. The school has had 6 years of Excellent ratings, and 2 years of achieving Excellent with Distinction status out of 9 years of being rated. But test scores do not tell the full story. TIS students develop a profound respect for their elders and benefit from the patience, caring, and consistency that characterize these relationships. The come to value people of all ages and from all walks of life. The presence of older adults contributes to a calm and respectful school climate. Meanwhile the older adults, including some with memory loss, know that they are making a profound contribution to the next generation and leaving a true living legacy. We have coined the term “intergenerativity” to denote the powerful synergy that emerges when the generations learn together. To us, this represents community service at its most profound and personal level. TIS collage 1                             Cathy Whitehouse, Founder, Principal and Chief-Educator, The Intergenerational School www.tisonline.org Find The Intergenerational School on the Public Charter School Dashboard
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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The Newest Charter School Law Under Siege: Washington State Charter Advocates Go to Court

Charter school advocates in Washington State are defending their brand new charter school  law in King County Superior Court. The new law is modest; it opens the door for charter schools in Washington State and gives students, families and communities the opportunity to get acquainted with the charter school model and school choice. It authorizes up to 40 public charter schools over the next five years, with a maximum of eight new schools permitted to open across the state in a single year. The law explicitly seeks to provide alternatives for “at-risk” students or students in low-performing public schools. The initiative’s drafters put two decades of national experience to good use, writing one of the nation’s best laws; the National Alliance ranks Washington State’s law as the third strongest in the country. Nevertheless, opponents of the law, including the League of Women Voters of Washington, the Washington Association of School Administrators and the Washington Education Association, allege charter schools are unconstitutional on three grounds:
  • Charter schools are unconstitutional under the Washington state constitution’s mandate for the state to provide a “general and uniform” system of education;
  • Funding for charter schools is unconstitutional because charters receive monies earmarked for “common schools” and charters are not “common schools” under WA state law;
  • The statewide charter school authorizer is impermissible because the State Superintendent does not have supervisory authority over schools authorized by the independent commission in violation of the WA constitution.
Similar constitutional challenges have been filed in several other states – California, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Utah – and all have failed. Charter advocates in Washington State are aggressively defending their law, and it is expected this battle eventually will land in Washington State Supreme Court. The National Alliance applauds the team of charter advocates in Washington State for their tenacious and unshakeable commitment to the students of their state. Renita Thukral is the vice president of legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.