The Charter Blog


Christy Wolfe


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Title I Funding and Charter Schools: How the Dollars Follow (or Don’t Follow) Students

The Title I portability proposals in the House (H.R. 5) and Senate ESEA reauthorization bills have generated a fair amount of debate (and hand wringing) in the last few months. So much so that the President has threatened to veto H.R. 5, and the Senate responded by removing the portability language from its original proposal. For those who are not familiar with the portability concept, the portability proposals would allow states to make an average allocation per-child to public schools based on the number of eligible students choosing to attend that school, instead of using the current Title I formulas to determine allocations to school districts. In doing so, it would flatten out funding and eliminate high per-child allocations to districts and schools with higher concentrations of poverty.

In order to understand how charter schools could be impacted by portability, it is important to understand how charter schools are currently funded under Title I. In the case of a charter school that is a Local Education Agency (LEA), determining Title I allocations is complicated. In some cases funds follow the child from a district to some charter school LEAs, and in other cases charter LEAs receive statewide average per-child allocations. Given how little is generally understood of how Title I funding reaches charter schools, consider this blog your opportunity to get a crash-course in how it works.

Title I Funding Works Differently for Charter School LEAs

First, it is important to understand that all charter schools are public schools and are subject to the same Title I eligibility requirements as district-run public schools. While some charter schools receive their funding through a school district, other charter schools operate as their own school district (LEA), and the state determines their funding share. Many of these charter school LEAs have a type of Title I portability funding their school, because Title I dollars go directly to the school instead of the district. But this doesn’t necessarily lead to equitable funding, or a Title I allocation that corresponds to the actual number or percentage of students in poverty in each school.

Second, under current law, census data on children living in poverty determines the amount of Title I funds that go to the district (in accordance with four complex funding formulas). This is what is called a per “formula” child allotment. After the funds reach the district, there is an entirely different process for determining which schools get funded.

For charter schools that are their own LEAs, understanding how their allocation from their State Educational Agencies (SEA) corresponds to their number or percentage of children living in poverty is even more difficult. This is because, unlike most Title I schools receiving funds from their district, there isn’t a direct or consistent relationship between the number or percentage of eligible children attending a charter school LEA and their average Title I per-pupil allotment.

So, why is Title I charter school funding all over the map? Shouldn’t a charter school serving similar concentrations of students in poverty get the same funding as a traditional public school in the same neighborhood, serving the same students? While that seems logical, charter schools don’t fit neatly into Title I calculations. Since charter school LEAs do not have district boundaries, census data on children in poverty in a geographic area can’t be used (generally) to determine their federal formula allocations. Consequently, SEAs can’t use any of the four funding formulas as it does for traditional public school districts, and must use a different process to calculate what a charter school LEA gets.

Calculating How Much (or Whether) Money Follows the Child

There are two ways to determine how much a charter school LEA receives, and both depend on SEA estimates of census poverty children, using data such as free and reduced-price lunch (FRPL). Once the SEA has this data, the following are the methods prescribed by U.S. Department Education (ED) guidance and regulations for allocating Title I funds to charter schools:

  1. Title I traditional district “per-child” allocations follow the child to a charter school LEA: If an SEA can determine the traditional LEA where the students attending a charter school came from, the charter school LEA receives the per formula child allocation that a state allocates to the “sending” LEA (ie, the school district where the child would otherwise attend school). As a result, charter school LEAs can receive differing amounts per eligible child attending their school depending on where their students live. Due to a bias in the formula in favor of large districts, among other factors, allocations per formula child to districts can range widely—In Texas, for example, from less than $500 to more than $3,000 per student.

As a result, a charter school LEA’s average Title I grants per child is a function of the percentage and number of formula children in the sending LEAs, not of the charter school LEA itself. In other words, a child can come to the school with their district’s Title I allocation strapped to their back, but not all funding backpacks will have the same amount of funds in them. In a large metropolitan area with multiple charter school LEAs and traditional LEAs, the average Title I grant per formula child may vary widely, depending on the proportions of students from low-income families from different sending LEAs.

  1. Statewide average “per-child” allocations follow the child to a charter school LEA: If an SEA is not able to determine the “sending” school district of charter school students, charter school LEAs are funded similar to the current Title I portability proposals: they receive the statewide formula per-child allocation. Unlike the first option, these allocations are taken from every school district in the state, not just the sending school districts. Under this policy, grants per child do not generally vary among charter school LEAs within the same state—so all those funding backpacks are pretty much the same. Notably these “average” allocations may not be the right size if the school is a high- or low-poverty school.

In either of the two methods described above, the Title I formulas are not directly used to calculate the allocation of a particular charter school LEA, which is why the poverty of the school doesn’t necessarily correspond to the funding it receives. An alternative approach to the two methods could instead allow charter schools to receive allocations based on the formulas, using an option available to states when they allocate funds to areas with fewer than 20,000 people. Under this method, a charter school LEA would receive an allocation from its SEA using the poverty data available for its school, and the per-child allocation would be determined by the four Title I formulas, not by the statewide allocation or the sending LEA. Under this option, increases in the number of students in poverty attending a charter school could increase the amount allocated per child and the amount of funds allocated to the school.

There are other issues in the formulas themselves that affect allocations to charters, including the bias in the formula towards large, urban LEAs, which can mean that some traditional school districts get a significantly higher per child allocation than smaller districts with higher poverty rates. The National Alliance explores these issues in its recently released publication by Wayne Riddle: Issues in the Allocation of ESEA Title I Funds to Charter Schools. In this paper we provide a detailed explanation of current law and how the formulas work in the allocation of funds to charter schools. Our goal is to explore what changes in the law and ED guidance might help improve the transparency of allocations to charter school LEAs, as well as ensure that higher-poverty charter schools receive funds consistent with the Title I formulas’ intent to allocate larger amounts per child to LEAs with higher levels of poverty.

Nina Rees


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National Alliance April Newsletter

A Note From Nina

We’ve had a busy month at the National Alliance: welcoming Alabama to the list of states with charter school laws, preparing for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and getting ready for our annual #CharterSchoolsWeek on May 3-9. This year, we are encouraging every charter school leader to invite an elected official to tour their school – we’ve put together a handy toolkit and a guide to hosting a tour for policymakers. In addition, we are asking students in your schools to participate in our first ever National Charter Schools Week essay contest. We want to hear directly from students about what makes their school awesome. Learn more here.

As always, we’re eager to hear what you have planned for the week, so please call or email me with your ideas and suggestions!


Nina Rees
President and CEO

Charter Schools Are Coming to Alabama!

Alabama recently became the 43rd state to enact a charter school law! The bill, signed by Governor Robert Bentley, allows up to 10 start-up charter schools per year, as well as an unlimited number of charter school conversions. Alabama’s law includes strong accountability provisions and several other essential elements featured in the National Alliance’s Model Law. For all the details, check out our fact sheet.

ESEA Reauthorization Advances in the Senate

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has taken an important step toward reauthorizing the law. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) announced a bipartisan agreement on a draft bill, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. (See our full statement here.) We’re pleased that the proposed legislation would continue to require annual testing in reading and math, and require assessment results to be disaggregated by student subgroups. In addition, the bill would modernize the Charter Schools Program to support opening new charter schools, replicating and expanding the most successful charter school models, and improving facility financing and authorizer quality.

The HELP Committee is considering various amendments to the Every Child Achieves Act this week, and we will continue to work with members of the Senate to reach a final agreement. We also are hopeful that the House will continue work on its own ESEA reauthorization bill – H.R. 5, the Student Success Act. We’ll keep you updated as ESEA reauthorization advances in both houses of Congress.

The Charter Schools Program in Action: Crossroads Academy of Kansas City

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) is critical to meeting the growing demand for high-quality public charter schools. The CSP provides essential funding to help new schools purchase books and equipment, hire school leaders, and finance school buildings. To demonstrate the importance of federal funding, and help make the case for increasing it, each month we’re highlighting a great public charter school that relied on the CSP to get started.

This month we feature Crossroads Academy in Kansas City, Missouri. Crossroads is a K-7 school serving close to 300 students on its downtown campus. Education at Crossroads rests on three pillars – high expectations, 21st century learning, and community engagement – all designed to help students have a positive impact on their family, their community, and the world. Crossroads used a $375,000 CSP grant to purchase critical materials including computers, library resources, and curricula. To read more about Crossroads, see this month’s profile.

A Big Victory for Charter School Students in Los Angeles

Last week the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) won a favorable ruling in its long-running facilities access case against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The California Supreme Court ruled that LAUSD has been violating Prop. 39, the law that guarantees access to school district facilities for charter school students. The ruling requires LAUSD to change its facilities distribution process to ensure charter schools have more equitable access to classrooms in the district. The National Alliance filed an amicus brief in support of CCSA’s position. We applaud CCSA for its unwavering commitment to improving facilities access for charter schools and congratulate them on this victory.

Urban Charter School Students Show Major Gains

According to the new Urban Charter Schools Study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), public charter schools in the nation’s largest urban districts are helping disadvantaged students generate significant achievement gains. Children enrolled in urban public charter schools gained 40 additional days of learning in math and 28 additional days in reading compared to their traditional public school peers. Moreover, the longer a student attended an urban public charter school, the greater the gains. See the complete report here. Read our take on the findings here.

Examining State Policies on Charter School Access to District Facilities

One of the greatest challenges facing the public charter school movement is access to adequate buildings. From state to state, public charter schools receive varying levels of support in acquiring and maintaining facilities. A new policy snapshot from the National Alliance reviews the 27 state laws that provide charter schools with access to district facilities and offers recommendations for how state policymakers can get more charters into district buildings.

The National Alliance Welcomes New Board Members

We are thrilled to announce the addition of two new members to the National Alliance Board.

  • Former U.S. senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) spent 35 years in public service at the state and federal levels, demonstrating her passionate commitment to children and families. Throughout her tenure in Washington, D.C., Senator Landrieu was a public charter school champion, helping to forge a bipartisan consensus in support of charter schools that has endured for two decades. We look forward to benefiting from Senator Landrieu’s keen political insight, her frontline experience with education reform, and her dedication to the well-being of children across America.
  • Chris Cerf is the CEO of Amplify Insight, which helps teachers and other educators use data to improve decision-making and accelerate personalized learning. Prior to joining Amplify, Chris served as New Jersey’s commissioner of education, where he oversaw 2,500 public schools, 1.4 million students, and 110,000 teachers. As a reform leader in New Jersey, Chris led the effort to expand charter school capacity in some of the nation’s most underserved communities. Chris has also worked with Joel Klein as deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, as associate counsel to President Bill Clinton, and as a high school history teacher in Ohio.

Please join us in welcoming Mary Landrieu and Chris Cerf to the National Alliance board, and learn more about them here.

Innovation Buzz

Each month, we’re calling your attention to some of the cool educational technology being developed for students, parents, teachers, and other educators. While we don’t endorse products, we’re excited to let you know about innovations you may find helpful.

This month we feature Edbacker, which won the education division of the D.C. Challenge Cup sponsored by 1776, an incubator of entrepreneurial companies making a social impact. Edbacker will be competing in the nationwide Challenge Festival next month. Developed by teacher-turned-entrepreneur Gary Hensley, Edbacker facilitates online school fundraising, engages parents, and helps PTO leaders manage their many organizational responsibilities. Hensley points with particular pride to an early success – helping parents at one elementary school raise $150,000 to build a new science classroom.

You can meet the leaders of Edbacker – and many other innovative companies – this June at the 2015 National Charter Schools Conference. The Conference will feature an Innovation Alley showcasing leading ed-tech companies, giving educators and entrepreneurs the opportunity to meet and learn from each other. Be sure to check it out!

National Charter Schools Conference

The 2015 National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15) is fast approaching! Join us from June 21-24 in New Orleans, where we’ve lined up inspiring keynote speakers, including Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, and Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. #NCSC15 is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, school leaders, administrators, board members, and advocates from around the country. By attending, you’ll have access to more than 135 breakout sessions and myriad networking opportunities. Register now to join us in New Orleans!

Welcome to the Team!

We are pleased to welcome Precious Jenkins to the National Alliance team as our newest program coordinator! She comes to us from the UNCF where she worked for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. Learn more about Precious by reading her bio here.

Washington State Conference

Enthusiasm for charter schools is building in Washington state, which launched its first public charter school in fall 2014. The Washington State Charter Schools Association is hosting its second annual conference on May 7-8 in Seattle, and regional neighbors from Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and Montana are encouraged to attend. Click here for more information.

Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the high-quality public charter schools serving students across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your contributions. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of public charter schools – and please share our message and our work with your friends. Thank you!

Nora Kern


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CSP Funding Profile: Crossroads Academy of Kansas City

A Mission to Serve

Crossroads Academy of Kansas City (CAKC) strives to be the premier urban school serving Kansas City’s youth and a destination for other educators seeking inspiration and best practices. Based on three pillars—high expectations, 21st Century learning, and community engagement—Crossroads Academy aims to graduate students who pursue their dreams relentlessly and have a positive impact on their family, their community, and the world. Crossroads Academy students utilize their downtown location by walking to cultural amenities like Barney Allis Plaza for recess, the Kansas City Central Library—which serves as the school library—and The Folly Theater for field trips and student performances.

Hiring and developing outstanding teachers is a top priority for Crossroads Academy’s leadership team. CAKC’s instructors have 10 years of teaching experience on average, including experience teaching in urban settings. The school operates on an extended school day and academic year, amounting to 37 percent more instructional time than the Missouri state standard.

From Vision to Reality: How CSP Funds Enabled CAKC to Open

In 2011, Crossroads Academy had an initial fundraising goal of $920,000. The school received a startup grant through the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) starting in May 2012 for $125,000 per year for three years to launch the school. Crossroads Academy operated on a shoe-string budget during the initial five months of its start-up period. A successful first round of fundraising and receipt of the CSP grant enabled the school to begin paying salaries to its founding team and to purchase critical materials like computers, library resources, and curricula.

To meet their overall fundraising goal, additional funds for the school’s building renovation were raised from the local philanthropic community. By having CSP funding to cover initial staffing and curricular costs, the school was able to dedicate $818,000 in funds raised through private donors toward building renovation, which was the most costly part of the startup process. Executive Director Dean Johnson noted that receiving the CSP startup grant was not only a substantial amount of funds, but it also showed that a federal entity essentially endorsed the school’s funding application and vision, which in turned opened more doors in the local philanthropic community. It would have been impossible for the school to meet its fundraising goals and begin serving students in 2012 without the CSP startup funds. Johnson strongly encourages Congress to continue funding the CSP program so that more schools can access these startup funds, which are critical in states like Missouri where state funding does not kick in until there are students in the classroom.

Principal’s Office

Crossroads Academy Co-Founders and Executive Team Leaders Dean Johnson and Tysie McDowell-Ray met while working together on the leadership team of another Kansas City public charter elementary school. During their time working at the elementary school, they achieved significant academic and financial improvements for the school, and also discovered that they had a common vision for a new public charter school. They teamed up in August 2011 to combine their 20 years of educational experience to launch Crossroads Academy. “It was exciting for me professionally to be able to help bring to life something that we hope and we think is having a positive impact in our community by affording parents a choice that they’re really excited about,” Johnson reflected on the experience of launching Crossroads Academy.

Principal Tysie McDowell-Ray noted that, “One of the things that makes our school special is our staff. Through the hiring process, we bring in staff who are highly trained and who can create hands-on and engaging lessons for the students.” She explains that CAKC serves its students by “trying to be a broader school to meet the needs of all the students here.”

Heard in the Halls: Teacher and Student Perspectives

  • “If we’re going to build a better society, a better community in the 21st century, we need great schools that are empowering our kids to master those basic learning standards, but also empowering them and enabling them to become great thinkers, great problem solvers, and great innovators.”—Dean Johnson, Executive Director
  • “A challenge here in Kansas City is that we don’t have a lot of high-quality school options. I have three kids of my own, so I know that struggle. We started this school for those parents who choose to stay in the city.”—Tysie McDowell-Ray, Principal
  • “I’m getting better grades here than at my last school. There are more ways for you to express yourself, and you get many opportunities here.”—Itzel Mendez, 6th grade
  • ““I think we have an obligation within charter schools to set the expectation for public schools all around. It shouldn’t be just high expectations for charter schools. What we have is the ability to be different from the beginning. So we should be the leaders to encourage change, and facilitate change, and demand change across the board for what is happening in classrooms everywhere.”—Kara Schumacher, Kindergarten teacher
Nora Kern


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New CREDO Study Shows Urban Charter Schools Outperform District Peers

A report released yesterday by The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, Urban Charter School Study Report on 41 Regions, found that public charter schools located in our nation’s largest urban districts are showing significant positive performance impacts for the most disadvantaged students. Overall, students enrolled in urban public charter schools gained 40 additional days of learning in math and 28 additional days in reading compared to their traditional public school peers. Moreover, the longer a student attended an urban public charter school, the greater the gains: Four or more years of enrollment in an urban charter school led to 108 additional learning days in math and 72 more days of learning gains in reading. Given that more than half of all charter schools are in urban areas, this is a significant finding.

The study examined traditional and charter public school data in 41 of the largest urban regions in 22 states from the 2006-07 through 2011-12 school years. The same methodology that was popularized in CREDO’s 2013 National Charter School Studymatching students on a variety of factors, including demographics, special needs, poverty level, and prior test scores—was used to create a virtual traditional public school “twin” for each charter school student.

The findings from the 41 regions show that urban charter schools are positively impacting both ends of the performance spectrum when compared to traditional public schools—with more charter schools outpacing (26 regions in math, 23 in reading), and fewer charter schools lagging below (11 in math and 10 in reading). In fact, charter schools outperform traditional schools by a two-to-one margin across these urban districts.

Further, urban public charter schools are serving disadvantaged students particularly well:

  • Hispanic English language learners showed the greatest learning gains of any student subgroup, with 72 additional days of learning in math and 79 in reading.
  • Students living in poverty gained 24 learning days in math and 17 in reading by attending an urban public charter school.
    • Black students in poverty showed gains equivalent to 59 instructional days in math and 44 days in reading.
  • Students with special needs showed learning gains equivalent to nine additional instructional days in math and 13 in reading.

There are districts with especially large gains. Charter school mathematics learning gains in the Bay Area (California), Boston, District of Columbia, Memphis, New Orleans, New York City, and Newark were much stronger than traditional school results. Comparison reading gains were notable for the Bay Area, Boston, Memphis, Nashville, and Newark charter schools. New York City and South Bay, stand out for providing positive gains for their students in both math and reading and serving a student body with achievement equal to or higher than the average achievement within their state.

Public charter schools that are demonstrating marked academic gains for their students deserve every opportunity to flourish. The federal Charter Schools Program Charter Schools Program (CSP) supports the creation of new schools and the replication of charter schools that are producing results. Click here to encourage your Members of Congress to give additional funding to the CSP so that more students can benefit for a great public school education.

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

Nina Rees


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National Alliance March Newsletter

A Note From Nina

One of the things I like most about my job is the opportunity it offers me to meet with dedicated educators who are investing their lives in finding the next best approach to learning. I recently met one such individual: Brian Greenberg, the CEO of the Silicon Schools Fund. The Fund, which helps to launch schools focused on technology, innovation, and student-directed learning, has seed-funded some of the most innovative charter schools in the Bay Area, such as Summit. When I asked Brian what I could do from my perch in Washington, D.C., to best support the growth of his schools, he pointed to the need for more funding for the federal Charter Schools Program. The cost of launching a new school remains steep and the best way for Washington to help seed the growth of innovation is by supporting schools like those launched by the Silicon Schools Fund.

As we champion our schools at the federal level and in states and communities across America, let’s remind policymakers that if they want to find 21st century classrooms that prepare children for the technology and innovation age, they’re most likely to find them in public charter schools. We should also remind our charter school leaders that the freedoms afforded to them in their charter offer the best hope to innovate and push the boundaries of teaching.

And for parents who want to find innovative schools for their children, I recently shared some advice on the Getting Smart blog about what they should look for.

Read on for more info about what’s happening at the National Alliance and throughout our innovative charter school movement.


Nina Rees
President and CEO

Federal Update

Congress continues to work on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In the House, H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, was passed out of the Education and Workforce Committee and started receiving consideration in the full House in late February. The National Alliance issued a letter about the bill, praising the positive aspects of the legislation and recommending ways to improve it. We’re hoping for a full House vote soon. We also expect to see further progress on the Senate’s ESEA reauthorization in April.

In late February, we kicked off our annual advocacy campaign to request Congressional support for increasing funding to the Charter Schools Program (CSP). So far, more than 2,600 charter school supporters have sent more than 8,000 emails and phones calls to Congressional offices, asking their members to specifically request an increase in funding for the CSP. By letting members know that people in their districts are passionate about public charter schools, we’re amplifying our message and increasing our impact. If you would like to join this effort, please click here.

The Charter Schools Program in Action: Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) is critical to meeting the growing demand for high-quality public charter schools. The CSP provides essential funding to help new schools purchase books and equipment, hire school leaders, and finance school buildings. To demonstrate the importance of federal funding, and help make the case for increasing it, each month we’ll highlight a great public charter school that relied on CSP to get started.

This month we’re featuring Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW), a college-prep school that provides emotional, physical, and academic enrichment in an all-girls environment. The school offers a STEAM curriculum – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math – to give young women a strong foundation in areas of study in which they are traditionally underrepresented. Learn more about their story, and let your members of Congress know that we need more CSP funding to open high-quality public charter schools like BLSYW.

Progress in the States

We have been heavily involved in enacting and improving public charter school laws in several states, with especially high hopes for three: Alabama, Oklahoma and West Virginia:

  • Alabama’s Senate just passed the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, which, if also approved by the House, will allow the creation of high-quality public charter schools in the state for the first time. The House Education Committee approved the bill on Friday and the full House will take it up this week. Hats off to Emily Schultz, the Executive Director of the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools for her work bringing the bill to the finish line.
  • In Oklahoma, which allows charter schools in limited locations, we’re pushing legislation that would allow charter schools statewide and beef up accountability. Both the House and the Senate recently passed slightly different versions of our bill. We’re working to ensure one of these bills makes it to the governor’s desk this session.
  • West Virginia came up just short of becoming the next state to approve a charter school law when the legislative session ended there this weekend. While we are disappointed with this session’s outcome, we made considerable headway there in a short period of time. Starting in only December, we were able to get a bill out of a narrowly divided Senate, through two Committees in the House, and to the third and final reading on the House floor.

We’ll continue to provide updates about progress in these and other states, as we support new laws and seek to strengthen existing laws to align with our Model Law.

New York Students and Parents Rally for Better Schools

On March 4th, 13,000 students, parents, teachers, and other supporters rallied at the state Capitol building in Albany, New York, to call attention to New York’s failing schools crisis and insist that every child be given the opportunity to attend a high-quality public school. Using the slogan “Don’t Steal Possible,” advocates mounted a campaign in person and online to ensure that the state’s elected officials heard their powerful voices for educational justice. As you know, New York has been a charter school battleground, with Mayor Bill de Blasio trying to halt public charter school expansion, and Governor Andrew Cuomo protecting charter schools and promoting new legislation to lift caps on the number of charters in the state. For a full rundown of the situation, check out my recent U.S. News & World Report blog post.

Get Ready for National Charter Schools Week!

Mark your calendars for May 3-9, when National Charter Schools Week (NCSW) will be back and bigger than ever. NCSW is an opportunity for the entire public charter school community to come together and share success stories, highlight achievements, and celebrate the power of charter schools in transforming American education. Next month we’ll make available a downloadable toolkit that will include a variety of resources to help you get involved and spread the charter school spirit in your community. We especially want you to invite an elected official to a high-performing charter school so we can show our policymakers the impact that charter schools have on their communities. In the meantime, the National Alliance is looking for guest bloggers who are interested in telling their story during NCSW. If you are interested in sharing why you love charter schools, and the impact they’re making in your community, contact Andrew Schantz at

Innovation Buzz

Last month, we started Innovation Buzz to raise awareness of some of the cool educational technology available to teachers, parents, and students. While we don’t endorse products, we’re excited to let you know about innovations you may find helpful in making your school a success.

This month, we want to introduce you to KickUp, a networked platform that allows teachers to connect with each other, and with mentors, to get advice and solve challenges they face in the classroom. KickUp is built to promote teacher leadership, giving support-seeking teachers the chance to earn professional credit for their engagement, and high-performing educators an outlet and economic incentive to share their expertise. By using videos and web chats to bring educators together, KickUp has the potential to be a great professional development tool for teachers at any experience level. And when teachers have more resources to overcome obstacles, students are sure to benefit.

KickUp co-founder Jeremy Rogoff, a former Teach for America Corps member and KIPP teacher, is getting support from 1776, a D.C.-based incubator of entrepreneurial companies making a social impact. (Read an interview with Jeremy here.) The National Alliance is excited to partner with 1776 to help connect entrepreneurs interested in K-12 education with charter schools across the country.

National Charter Schools Conference

The 2015 National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15) is just three months away! Join us from June 21-24 in New Orleans, where we’ve lined up inspiring keynote speakers, including Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, and – just announced – Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and a widely acclaimed activist and speaker on issues of poverty and social justice. #NCSC15 is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, school leaders, administrators, board members, and advocates from around the country. By attending, you’ll have access to more than 135 breakout sessions and myriad networking opportunities. Register now to join us in New Orleans!

Join Our Team!

The National Alliance is looking for great people who are passionate about educational opportunity to join our team. We currently have openings for several positions. For more information, click here – and please spread the word to people who would be great candidates!

Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the high-quality public charter schools serving students across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your support. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of public charter schools – and please share our message and our work with your friends. Thank you!

Andrew Schantz


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Charter schools fuel the conversation at SXSWedu

Last week I joined 5,000 education pacesetters, practitioners, and professionals at SXSWedu – the world’s premier education innovation conference. Throughout the numerous sessions I attended and the countless people I connected with, one thing stood out – charter schools were the talk of the town in ATX.

For instance, when asked about breakthrough ideas happening in Chicago during a panel titled “Redesigning School as We Know It,” Ben Kutylo from Chicago Public Education Fund was quick to list several charter schools that had broken the mold of traditional school design. He mentioned Intrinsic Schools in particular, which has completely reinvented the physical makeup of a school. Picture Google-esque open floorplans and funky furniture. No neat rows of desks that you typically see in a school. (Edsurge just published a profile on the school if you want to learn more). Kutylo’s fellow panelist Johnathan Tiongcho from Alliance College-Ready Public Schools spoke about the ability of his schools to utilize diverse classroom models that are tailored for delivering instruction most effectively. The unique culture and focus on student-centered learning truly makes Alliance schools a place where students want to be.

The larger school choice community also had a strong presence at SXSWedu. Howard Fuller, civil rights leader, chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and founding board chair of the National Alliance, led an empowered discussion on his life’s work. He spoke about his belief that an education system that utilizes a variety of choices – including charter schools – will benefit our nation’s children by giving them access to what best suits their needs. Our friends from the American Federation for Children hosted a session where Chairwoman Betsy DeVos offered several “inconvenient truths” about education reform. DeVos highlighted the importance that families have a choice in where their children attend school because a system in which student needs are front and center ultimately leads to better outcomes.

Another panel discussion featured Tom Torkelson, founder of IDEA Public Schools alongside Mary Wells from Bellwether Education Partners, and Superintendent of Schools for Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD Daniel King. They led in an informative conversation about how charter schools and independent school districts can become effective partners for the benefit of students they serve. While Torkelson pointed out, “there is no reason for districts and charters to not have these kinds of partnerships,” Wells noted that in order for district-charter partnerships to be successful, there has to be buy-in from everyone involved. And more importantly than being a win-win for the schools themselves, they need to be a win for students.

Finally, during Wednesday evening’s keynote session, Emily Pilloton of Project H gave an inspiring talk about how her organization uses architecture as a lens for teaching youth to be leaders and builders of the future. Currently, her program is housed at Realm Charter School in Berkley, Calif., and gives students the ability to apply core subject knowledge to building “audacious and socially transformative projects.” If you want to get a better idea of the great things that Project H is doing, be sure to check out the documentary that tells the story of the program’s first year.

While the makeup of conference attendees ranged from founders of ed-tech startups to classroom teachers and school leaders, one thing was clear – regardless of their background, SXSWedu attendees recognized that the charter school movement continues to be a true force of innovation. It’s clear that the role of the charter school movement has played in instrumental role in shaping the conference, and will no doubt continue to do so for years to come.

SXSWedu is a true celebration of creative solutions to solve some of education’s largest problems, and it’s exciting to see charter schools at epicenter of this conversation.

Andrew Schantz is the digital communications and marketing manager at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Join us at the National Charter Schools Conference to pick up where SXSWedu left off. Network with thousands of attendees, participate in engaging breakout sessions, hear from inspiring keynote speakers, and discover how charter schools are creating a chance for every child. Find out more information here.


Nora Kern


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CSP Funding Profile: Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women

A Mission to Serve

The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW) was founded on a simple goal: to give public school students the same quality education and opportunities as their peers in private schools. The school’s all-girls environment prepares the young women of Baltimore city for success in college and life through a strong school culture and innovative teaching practice.

BLSYW cultivates strong habits of mind and a sense of community by educating the whole young woman—emotionally, physically and academically. Its college preparatory model emphasizes science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM); fields in which women are underrepresented. Other specialized programming at BLSYW includes small class sizes, leadership opportunities, Peer Group Connection mentoring to ease the transition from middle to high school, a week-long Bridge program in the summer to get new students acclimated to the culture at BLSYW, and annual college visits for every student.

From Vision to Reality: How CSP Funds Enabled BLSYW to Open

BLSYW was approved to open in 2008. Its plan was to start with a single 6th grade class comprised of 120 students, and there were over 200 applications for the inaugural class. The school received $550,000 in startup funds through the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), which was used to supplement the funding for the first year of the school. The funds were used to pay teachers during the planning year of the school, to develop curriculum, purchase textbooks and technology, and recruit new students.

Even starting the school with just one grade, the startup funds were not enough to sustain a school. That said, Executive Director Maureen Colburn noted that without the CSP startup funds, the school would not have been able to open. The startup funds were used for basics as well as bringing the initial staff—six teachers and two administrators—together around BLSYW’s mission and develop the school culture. The school received a second $200,000 CSP grant in 2011 to help align mathematics and English language arts curriculum with Common Core State Standards.

Principal’s Office

All of the senior leadership at BLSYW—Maureen Colburn (Executive Director), Brenda Hamm (Principal), and Heather Skopak (Assistant Principal)—attended all-girls schools. So for them, the school mission is personal. Ms. Colburn helped found three all-girls public schools in New York City during her seven-year term as the Executive Director of the Young Women’s Leadership Network. On the all-girls learning environment, she notes that, “I believe so much that this is a choice that should be available to parents and families in the public school system,” and should not just be accessible to those who can afford private single-gender schools. “It’s been my career to make that possible for underserved, under-resourced kids.”

Principal Brenda Hamm came to BLSYW as a career educator and administer in all-girls private schools. She said that the ability to provide this quality of educational experience in the public school setting is, “…an opportunity that should be available to all kids. Why is it that we can’t somehow create that environment for every single for every single young man and young woman at least from the perspective of having great teachers, great courses, high expectations, great support system, bringing people together and saying ‘you can do this!’ and we will provide you with a wonderful environment.”

Heather Skopak, Assistant Principal, speaks to her connection to the school model: “I went to an all-girls school myself, and the environment and the academics provided me and with really everything that I have today. And I attribute it to that. So being able to provide our girls in Baltimore with the option of a single-gender school was really important for me.” Ms. Skopak further notes that the single gender model, “helps teachers target instruction to the ways girls learn best. Our teachers become very qualified in being able to identify the different strategies and techniques that they can use in the classroom just for girls. We’re also able to look at incentives for girls and what makes them work hard to get to college.”

Heard in the Halls: Teacher and Student Perspectives

  • “Here at BLSYW, they promote leadership and sisterhood. And in the classroom, teachers show us how to become leaders globally, and our sisters are there to influence each other and remind each other that we’re going to transform Baltimore one young woman at a time.”—Cyrena Lawrence, 10th grade
  • “I learn something every day from the students. I also teach something every day which is a reward itself to know that I have affected some students’ lives in some way.” —Atom Zerfas, Algebra I and Geometry Teacher
  • “2016 will be our first graduating class. It’s exciting and scary all at the same time…Being a new school, there’s a lot that has to happen with this senior class. They will actually put us on the map. So it’s exciting when talking to colleges; and colleges are excited because it’s a whole new crop of students.”—Paula Dofat, Director of College Counseling
  • “I like schools where people know me by my name. And I found that ever since [my daughter Cyrena] started, people know me as Mrs. Lawrence.”—Donnet Lawrence, parent
Nina Rees


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National Alliance February Newsletter

A Note From Nina

Nina ReesDid you know that charter schools are the fastest growing form of public school choice in the United States? Over the past five years, student enrollment in charter schools has grown by more than 70 percent. As we recently reported, more than 500 new public charter schools opened in the 2014-15 school year alone. Across the country, more than 6,700 public charter schools now enroll nearly 3 million students. This continued growth demonstrates that parents are eager for more high-quality educational options for their children.

That’s just one of the messages we delivered this year as part of National School Choice Week. And to show how important public charter schools are to the students who attend them, we put together a short video entitled “The Power of Charters.” It shines a spotlight on the students, teachers, parents, and administrators who make up the charter school movement. I encourage you to check out the video and share it online so that more people can see how charters are changing lives.

Sharing the success of public charter schools is especially important now, as we work with federal policymakers to raise awareness and support for the Charter Schools Program (CSP). This brilliant article by Neerav Kingsland and Richard Whitmire in Real Clear Education makes a compelling case for why the CSP is the federal government’s best educational investment – and why Congress and the Administration should “quadruple down” on their commitment to high-quality charter schools.

Happy Presidents Day!


Nina Rees
President and CEO

The Charter Schools Program in Action

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) is critical to meeting the growing demand for high-quality public charter schools. CSP provides essential funding to help new schools purchase books and equipment, hire school leaders, and finance school buildings. To demonstrate the importance of federal funding, and help make the case for increasing it, each month we’ll highlight a great public charter school that relied on CSP to get started. This month’s focus school is Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA) Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Named after one of America’s legal heroes, TMA provides an academically rigorous curriculum built around the themes of law and justice, and emphasizing critical thinking and civic engagement. Find out more about TMA’s mission and how the Charter Schools Program helped make it possible. If you are interested in helping us make the case for additional CSP funding, click here!

Reauthorizing ESEA and the Charter Schools Program

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is taking center stage in Congress. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, has issued a draft legislative proposal, and has started bipartisan negotiations with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). We prepared a letter in response to the chairman’s proposal and secured 40 co-signers. We also signed on to a joint letter organized by the Business Roundtable. And we’ve laid out our policy priorities for ESEA reauthorization.

In addition, Chairman Alexander and Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have re-introduced the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Act, which would modernize the federal Charter Schools Program, prioritize the replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools, promote strong accountability, and incentivize states to provide equal funding to charters and traditional public schools.

In the House, Education and Workforce Committee chairman John Kline (R-MN) introduced the Student Success Act, a bill to reauthorize ESEA that includes the CSP reauthorization language that passed the House last year. We’re pleased with the charter school provisions in the bill. We also strongly support the bill’s requirement that students be tested annually in reading and math, which is vital to giving parents the power to make informed choices about their children’s education. However, we are disappointed that the legislation is not strong on accountability.

We applaud Chairman Alexander, Chairman Kline, and their colleagues for driving education reform forward, and we look forward to continuing to work with members of the House and Senate to get good legislation passed.

How Does Your State Stack Up?

Model Law Rankings report We released the sixth annual ranking of charter laws across 43 states and the District of Columbia (eight states still don’t have charter laws). Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws scores each law against 20 essential components from the National Alliance’s model law. These components favor quality and accountability, equitable access to funding and facilities, and no caps on charter school growth.

Minnesota topped the rankings for the fifth time in six years, and states including South Carolina and Utah made substantial gains. Overall, 14 states moved up in the rankings. We’re excited to see more states working to improve their charter school laws. But states need to make more progress in reducing funding gaps between charter schools and traditional schools. They also need to give charter schools the flexibility to innovate, while holding them accountable for improving student achievement. Be sure to check out this year’s report to see how your state measures up.

Supporting D.C. Charter Parents in their Fight for Equal Funding

Charter school parents in Washington, D.C., are fighting to ensure that the D.C. government provides equal funding for their children’s education – and the National Alliance is right there with them. In the District of Columbia, equal funding isn’t just a desire; it’s a requirement of the 1995 School Reform Act. That act of Congress launched charter schools in the District and mandated that the D.C. government establish a uniform funding formula for both traditional public schools and public charter schools. Yet for years, the District’s charter schools have been receiving less per-pupil funding than traditional public schools – a gap of $770 million since 2008. Despite being shortchanged, D.C. charter schools consistently outperform the city’s traditional public schools.

A group of parents have filed suit in federal court to force the D.C. government to live up to the law. The District has asked the court to dismiss the case. The National Alliance, with a coalition of other reform organizations, recently filed an amicus brief with the federal court explaining why the parents’ case should be allowed to proceed.

While it’s always unfortunate to see education battles fought in court, we maintain a robust network to help advocates stay on top of the legal landscape affecting charters and to weigh in with legal opinions that help courts understand the legal framework underpinning charter schools. To learn more about the network, please contact Rob Reed, our Senior Director of Legal Affairs.

Working Together to Improve Services to Students with Special Needs

Equity at Scale reportPublic charter schools have built their reputation on helping every child, regardless of background or circumstance, reach his or her full potential. This is especially meaningful for students with disabilities, who can benefit from the variety of learning models that charter schools provide. A new report from the National Alliance and the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools showcases some of the models that are proving to be very effective in delivering high-quality services to special-needs students.

The report, Equity at Scale, examines the challenges public charter schools can face when serving students with disabilities, including funding and staffing limitations. The authors then explain how network agreements – from formal CMO networks to looser cooperative affiliations – can help individual schools combine and leverage resources and implement innovative practices to enhance special education delivery. I encourage you to read the report to see some of the great examples of public charter schools working together to serve students with special needs, and to consider whether some of the solutions might be right for your school or network.

Innovation Buzz

One of the great things about working in public charter schools is the opportunity to be innovative. Educational innovation and technology are booming, with a variety of new products and services to help teachers, parents, and administrators meet students’ needs in new, often fun, ways.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to see a cool new game developed by the folks at Zearn (which was co-founded by charter leaders Dave Levin and Norman Atkins). The game is called Impoppable, and it’s designed to help build core math skills in students ages 8-12. You can download the app through iTunes – it’s free, contains no ads, and, fair warning, it’s a little bit addictive. My 10 year old daughter already loves it!

Note: the National Alliance does not endorse products, but we do like to share information about new tools that might spark a love of learning in children!

National Charter Schools Conference

Ready for winter to be over? Our thoughts are already turning to summer and the National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15) in New Orleans June 21-24, 2015. We hope you’ll join us as we welcome Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada and Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White as speakers. #NCSC15 is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, school leaders, administrators, board members, and advocates from across the country. By attending, you’ll have access to engaging keynote speeches, more than 135 breakout sessions, and myriad networking opportunities. Register now to join us in New Orleans!

Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the tremendous progress happening in high-quality public charter schools across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your support, and we ask you to consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of charter schools. Thank you!

Nora Kern


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Students with disabilities transfer out of charter schools less frequently than district schools

The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) released a study last month, which looked at elementary students’ transfer rates out of charter and traditional public schools. This report is an update of the IBO’s report on the same topic, released last year. As we noted in an earlier blog post, this issue is very relevant because researchers have found that changing schools can affect student achievement, and it may be a contributor to the achievement gap for minority and disadvantaged students who change schools frequently.

For the most recent study, IBO monitored a cohort of students starting kindergarten in 2008—with about 3,000 enrolled in public charter schools and 7,200 traditional public school students—and followed these students through their fourth grade year. The study found that on average, students attending public charter schools stay enrolled in the same school at a higher rate (64 percent) than students at nearby traditional public schools (56 percent). Students in charter schools left the city’s public school system at the same rate as students in nearby traditional public schools.

Both the 2014 and 2015 reports included separate mobility analyses for students with disabilities. However, for the 2015 study, the IBO broadened its definition of special needs students to include any student identified as having a disability, while the 2014 report only included students in full-time special education programs. Of the students identified as eligible for special needs services in kindergarten, 53 percent who attended charter schools remained in the same school four years later, while 49 percent of traditional public school students with disabilities remained in the same school through fourth grade.

Fewer special needs students in the initial kindergarten cohort attended public charter schools (8.9 percent) than traditional public schools (12.7 percent). However, the distribution of students by disability type was similar among both types of public schools. The most common disability, speech impairment, was identified in 70.0 percent of charter students and 68.5 percent of traditional public school kindergarteners. Among the kindergarten students identified with speech, learning, and “all other disabilities,”(this category includes: autistic, emotionally disturbed, hard of hearing, intellectual disability, multiply handicapped, orthopedically impaired, preschool disability, and visually impaired), those who started kindergarten in charter schools remained at their schools at a higher rate.

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

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.