The Charter Blog


Gina Mahony


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The Every Child Achieves Act Update

Consistent with our views expressed to the Senate, the National Alliance strongly supports the provisions under the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) that preserve the annual assessment requirements under current law, including the test participation requirements which will help hold schools accountable for results and provide clear information to parents about school performance.

High-quality statewide assessments provide taxpayers and parents with information on how their tax dollars are being spent and whether these investments are improving our educational system. It is critical that ALL students participate in state assessments to ensure that achievement gaps are identified and that parents have reliable data to determine if a school best meets the need of their child.

The ECAA has made significant changes to current law to address concerns about over testing in public schools today. However, an amendment introduced by Senator Mike Lee (UT) would undermine the quality of the information provided to parents. It would facilitate the manipulation of data to mask the true academic results of low performing states, districts, and schools and it would hinder parents’ ability to use assessment data to determine the best educational options for their children.

The National Alliance supports the Every Child Achieves Act because of the bill’s improvements made to the Charter Schools Program and the common-sense accountability provisions, including annual, grade-level assessments. Therefore, the National Alliance, along with many education, civil rights, and business community organizations, opposes the Lee amendment.

Accountability and transparency is the foundation of the charter school movement, and this amendment rolls back progress on both. A no vote on the Lee Amendment is a yes vote for charter schools and education reform.

Gina Mahony is Senior Vice President, Government Relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


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The Aftermath Series: New Orleans Turns to Charter Schools

A decade ago, New Orleans and surrounding areas were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest storms in American history. Tens of thousands of families were displaced and homes, schools, and businesses had to be rebuilt from scratch.

Determined to make their city even stronger than before, the citizens of New Orleans made education reform a top priority. Following years of poor performance in the city’s public schools, local leaders took bold action to make nearly every school in the city a charter school.

Over the past ten years, New Orleans’ school system has become a model for cities around the country looking to improve their school systems. Charter schooling ignited a burst of innovation and commitment to quality that has produced remarkable results for New Orleans students. Prior to Katrina, 54 percent of students graduated high school; today the graduation rate is 73 percent. The achievement gap in reading and math between students in New Orleans and in the rest of the state has nearly disappeared, shrinking from 23 points to just 6 points. And passing rates among low-income and African-American students in New Orleans have more than doubled since 2003.

New Orleans has shown that school-level flexibility and accountability, community-driven input, and an unflagging commitment to quality can radically improve schools and give all students equal access to a high-quality education.

As we approach the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the National Alliance is launching this series of blog posts to celebrate the way the citizens of New Orleans came together to rebuild their city and dramatically improve their children’s future. These are stories of bold choices, passionate dedication, and tremendous progress.

Ten years ago, the nation offered its help to the people of New Orleans as they struggled to get back on their feet. Today, New Orleans is demonstrating how effective educational reform can bring new hope and opportunity to communities across America.

Gina Mahony


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ESEA Update

Last week, Congress made great progress on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Here’s a brief summary.

House of Representatives

On Wednesday, July 8, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) with a number of amendments that were offered to attract additional votes:

  • An amendment to set the authorization period of the bill for three years, from FY2016-FY2019 passed.
  • An amendment to allow parents to opt their child out of state assessments required under ESEA, and to exempt opt-out students from schools’ participation rates passed. The National Alliance joined other organizations in opposition of this amendment.
  • An amendment to send ESEA funding to states via a block grant, and allow states to use funding for any education purpose under state law (the “A Plus” Amendment) failed. (A similar amendment also failed in the Senate.)

The National Alliance issued this statement on House passage of H.R. 5, which praises the bill for including bipartisan charter school language, but notes that the provisions around accountability, interventions, and funding for school improvement need to be significantly strengthened in final law.


The Senate kicked off debate last Tuesday, July 7, on the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), and have already considered more than a dozen amendments. Through the amendment process, we continue to improve the bill for charter schools. In addition to securing language that will allow charter school leaders representation in Title I discussions at the federal level, we also secured a sponsor for an amendment to ensure that charter school representatives are formal stakeholders in state and district Title I plans. Thank you to Senators Gardner (R-CO) and Carper (D-DE) for securing the inclusion of this amendment in ECAA and kudos to Kendall Massett, of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, for recruiting Senator Carper as a sponsor for this bipartisan amendment!

This memo from our partners at the Penn Hill Group provides a recap of all the Senate amendments adopted last week.

This Week

The Senate will continue to debate amendments and possibly complete its work this week. More amendments will be offered and we anticipate debate on provisions to strengthen accountability and to change the federal-to-state Title I formula. There may also be a parental “opt-out” amendment, identical to the one passed by the House, which that National Alliance will also oppose.

We continue to be optimistic that the long-overdue reauthorization of ESEA will continue and that we will see a bill on President Obama’s desk by the end of year!

Gina Mahony is Senior Vice President, Government Relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Gina Mahony


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High Hopes on Capitol Hill

It’s an exciting time for education advocates in Washington, D.C. – after seven years of fits and starts, Congress is truly making progress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), otherwise known as No Child Left Behind. This effort is long overdue.

Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives completed work on its proposal to reauthorize ESEA. The Student Success Act (H.R. 5) narrowly passed the House with a vote of 218-213. Every Democrat in the House and 27 Republicans opposed the bill. The National Alliance has been engaged through the process (see our floor letter). We are pleased that the federal Charter School Program (CSP) provisions that previously passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support are embedded in H.R. 5, but have concerns that the bill does not include strong accountability provisions that would hold schools accountable for helping all students meet high standards.

In addition, the House added a provision to the bill that would weaken test participation requirements. The National Alliance joined other organizations in opposition to this amendment because we believe that accurate and objective student achievement data is critical for ensuring educational equity. We are disappointed that this amendment passed.

The House passage of H.R. 5 adds momentum to the reauthorization of ESEA. While it would have been possible for a bill to get to the President’s desk even if the House had failed to pass H.R. 5, it makes a bipartisan final bill more likely.

Now, all eyes are on the Senate. We anticipate that we will see the Senate reauthorization bill on the floor for debate through next week. The National Alliance is pleased with the provisions supporting charter schools – see our floor letter—and we are closely watching the amendment process on issues related to accountability and testing.

After seven years and dozens of ESEA waivers, this week has been a long time coming—stay tuned!

Gina Mahony is Senior Vice President, Government Relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nina Rees


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National Alliance July Newsletter

A Note from Nina

We had a tremendous turnout for the 15th annual National Charter Schools Conference in New Orleans! It was great to see so many supporters and so much enthusiasm for public charter schools. If you weren’t able to join us – or if you want to relive the memories – check out our Facebook photo album.

Being in New Orleans was an inspiration because everyone in New Orleans has poured their heart into improving the city’s schools over the past ten years. People are taking notice of what’s happening in New Orleans – America’s first all-charter school district! To help tell the story, the National Alliance released a new report highlighting how New Orleans schools are delivering both higher quality and increased equity in education, and I recently wrote about why New Orleans schools are an example for the nation.

During my speech at the conference, I talked about the need to grow our movement so that we can eliminate the waitlists that are keeping too many children from a great education. I offered three ways to make progress:

  1. By making sure we’re open to every student who comes to us;
  2. By improving the quality of state charter laws;
  3. By increasing federal funding for the replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools. I encouraged attendees to join our advocacy campaign by texting “Charters” to 52886. If you were not with us but want to be a part of our advocacy army, it’s not too late to send a text!

To emphasize how important it is that we support quality growth, the National Alliance joined 40 state- and city-based public charter school support organizations to reaffirm our commitment to growing and replicating the highest-quality schools and closing schools that don’t deliver for students. Please take a moment to read the statement, and share it with your colleagues and friends online.

Thank you so much for all you’re doing to build great schools that make a difference in children’s lives. Enjoy your summer – and we’ll deliver our next newsletter in September.

Nina Rees
Nina Rees

PS – If you weren’t able to join us in New Orleans – or if you want to relive the memories – check out our Facebook photo album!

Noble Network of Charter Schools Wins the Broad Prize

We were honored to announce the winner of the Broad Prize again at our conference this year! The Prize honors the highest performing charter school network in the country with a $250,000 gift to help the schools better prepare their low-income students for college. The year’s winner was Noble Network of Charter Schools which gracefully shared the prize with the 2 other finalists: Achievement First and IDEA. Click here to see a video highlighting the work of this year’s 3 finalists!

30 Days of Grad!

Graduation season is over, but the inspiring stories in our 30 Days of Grad series will keep you pumped up all summer long. Read the stories here – and share them with people who need to know about the awesome power of public charter schools!

Progress on ESEA Reauthorization

This week, the U.S. House passed H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). H.R. 5 would support the growth of high-quality public charter schools but also has some flaws (see our statement here). Meanwhile, the Senate started debate on its own ESEA reauthorization, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA). The National Alliance supports the Senate legislation (you can find our letter here) and continues to work with key Senate offices to strengthen the Charter Schools Program and other provisions that will impact charters. For more details about the National Alliance’s position and priorities on the Senate bill, please click here.

House, Senate Committees Increase Funding for Charter Schools Program

The federal Charter Schools Program received a $22 million (8%) funding increase – to $275 million – in a bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee. The Senate Appropriations Committee followed suit with a $20 million increase for the CSP. The National Alliance is very appreciative of the leadership of Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), who championed the cause of charter schools in this process. While Congress’ work on the spending bills will not be completed until the fall, this is a great first step for charter schools.

Charter Schools Program in Action: Alaska Native Cultural Charter School

This month, our CSP in Action series features the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School (ANCCS) in Anchorage, Alaska. ANCCS was created to offer students a standards-based educational program that incorporates Alaska Native language, culture, history, and traditional practices, including an emphasis on values and community involvement. Learn more about this innovative charter school here.

Mayors Sound the Call for More Facilities Funding

At its annual meeting in June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution calling for more facilities funding for charter schools and other policies to ensure that “all public school children – district and high-quality public charter – have access to adequate school buildings.” Read the National Alliance’s statement on the mayors’ resolution.

Understanding Weighted Lottery Policies

In January 2014, the U.S. Department of Education made clear that charter schools receiving CSP funding may use a weighted lottery to give educationally disadvantaged students a slightly better chance for admission – as long as state law allows weighted lotteries. Unfortunately, only four states explicitly permit weighted lotteries, leaving many schools unclear about whether they can elect this option. A new report from the National Alliance sorts through the federal and state policies that impact lotteries and calls on the federal government to allow CSP-funded schools to conduct weighted lotteries in all cases unless state law expressly forbids it.

Innovation Buzz: NewSchools Venture Fund Launches “Catapult”

Our friends at NewSchools Venture Fund just announced an exciting new endeavor called NewSchools Catapult. Its goal over the next several years is to provide funding and support to help education entrepreneurs launch new schools that enroll significant numbers of underserved students in grades PreK-12. Click here for more details!

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!

Robert Reed


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New Report Provides Clarity on the Use of Weighted Lotteries in Schools That Receive Federal Charter School Funding

This week, the Senate began debating the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Tucked in the law is a program called the Charter School Program (CSP) that provides critical funds to help launch and replicate new charter schools. As a condition of receiving federal funds, these schools must conduct a blind lottery if they receive more applications than they can accommodate. This provision was put in place due to the long-held belief that charter schools are open enrollment schools and to guard against the potential for some schools to cream the best and the brightest. In reality though, this provision has had a negative impact on charter schools that are trying to attract the most disadvantaged students – as every child gets equal weights when they enter a lottery.

To address these concerns, in early 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidance on weighted lotteries for charter schools. Under the new guidance, charter schools receiving CSP funds were allowed to give educationally disadvantaged students slightly better chances for admission through the use of a weighted lottery if state law permits.

That caveat—if state law permits—has some cause for concern because few states have language that clearly permits weighted lotteries. In a new report released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, State Laws on Weighted Lottery and Enrollment Practices: Summary of Findings, we studied state laws and policies to better understand the potential impact of the new guidance. What we found was that most states did not have a clear answer.

Here are some of the key findings from the report:

  • Four states expressly permit the use of weighted lotteries (Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Rhode Island).
  • No states expressly prohibit the use of weighted lotteries.
  • There are 16 states with statutes that may be interpreted to prohibit the use of weighted lotteries (Arizona, the District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin).
  • Seven states are silent on the issue (Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, and Maryland).
  • Nineteen state statues may be interpreted to permit the use of weighted lotteries (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Utah).

Fortunately, both the House and Senate versions of the reauthorization bills include our policy recommendations to ensure that weighted lotteries are permitted unless state law specifically prohibits the practice. Since our findings show that no states expressly prohibit the practice, this proposal would make it significantly easier for schools to take advantage of weighted lotteries to serve more educationally disadvantaged students.


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30 Days of Grad: Devon Haist

Before the Anderson Five Charter School opened, Devon Haist, a student with Asperger’s syndrome, found it difficult to learn in the public school system. He changed schools several times since middle school, trying to find the school that would be just right.

Haist is following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and plans to become an engineer. While at the Anderson 5 Charter School, he took dual enrollment classes at Tri-County Technical College where he studied mechatronics. By the time he graduated high school, he also completed his first year of Tri-County, earning a certification in basic electronics. He plans to graduate next year with his associate degree.

“The public school system was very difficult for Devon,” his mother Cindy said.

Cindy Haist became an advocate for her son, and spoke to the school board when Anderson School District 5 decided to make a decision about starting a charter school in 2011.

Devon Haist found his home at the charter school, which opened in 2012, and graduated in the class of 2015. At the charter school, he was able to take classes in machine technology and robotics.

“The charter school was such a great fit for Devon,” Cindy Haist said. “I don’t know what we would have done without the school.”

Devon Haist received the Principal’s Award for overcoming great obstacles his senior year at the charter school.

“It feels pretty good having overcome everything,” Devon said.

This post was adapted from an article by The Independent Mail. Read more about Devon’s story in the article here.

Devon Haist

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30 Days of Grad: Ellie Northrop

Today’s #30DaysOfGrad post comes from Ellie Northrop, a graduate of Career Path High in Kaysville, Utah. This was originally featured on the Getting Smart blog, and you can read the entire post here.

I started my high school career in a traditional, brick and mortar district school. By the third term of my sophomore year my attendance was at an all time low and my motivation had pretty much disappeared. With nearly 2,000 students it was difficult for teachers and other school staff to really invest their time and attention, even in those students who needed it most. I needed help finding out who I was and what I wanted to be. I was lost in a sea of other students and unmotivated to push myself further in my education. I began missing classes, and it seemed like the teachers didn’t care. I just wasn’t there and, as a result, I wasn’t able to make up the work and move on. I felt as though I had no control.

But all of that changed my junior year when I chose to enroll in Career Path High (CPH).

At Career Path High everything about the model was so different. They knew who I was and genuinely cared about my academic success. My learning path was catered to me. One difference I instantly loved so much was the great level of investment every student received from the teachers, counselor, and even the principal. High school students need personalized attention and caring and the CPH model was designed to give me that. Communication is at the forefront of everything they do. There is a high level of accountability for everyone. If I ever failed to log in to my classes for a specific period of time or I did not make progress, my teachers and Success Coach were on it! They always checked in and were willing to do what it took to keep me motivated and on track.

The flexibility of Career Path High’s blended learning model, including my online coursework, really taught me personal responsibility. During my senior year I had to balance work, school, my program, and a personal life on a very tight schedule. My average day was quite busy. It took good time management, but it has all been worth it because I am graduating with only my externships to complete for my Dental Assisting certification. I’ve already had two job offers even before graduating from high school! During my externship as a dental assistant I’ve learned how critical it is to have multitasking skills in order to be successful. I must stay on top of patient care, sanitizing tools, and assisting the front desk. My chosen career field is really fast-paced but I am able to keep up with the demands due largely to the skills learned from my education experiences at Career Path High.

I’ve come a long way from that frustrated sophomore unsure of whether or not I would even graduate. As I prepared to give my valedictorian speech for graduation, I realized that my personalized pathway made all the difference. I now have a career that I know I love, and I am pushing myself to compete and expand my potential in ways I never imagined. My high school experience definitely helped shape who I am today. Anytime someone asks how I liked my high school, I have to tell them, “It is the greatest decision I have ever made,” and it is so true. My advice, go out there and take control of your own learning pathway. Today’s students have the opportunities available to them to make their high school experience so much more.

Ellie Northrop

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30 Days of Grad: Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids

The support and instruction from teachers and counselors in a safe, structured environment is helping former dropouts, homeless or otherwise at-risk youth earn a high school diploma.

Students at Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids, a year-round charter high school, have aged out of traditional school systems, been kicked out, or have underperformed for various reasons and are two or more grade levels behind.

Thirty-two seniors graduated on Tuesday, June 23, bringing the 2014-15 graduates to 55.

This post was adapted from an article by MLive. Read more about Covenant House in the article here.

Covenant House

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30 Days of Grad: 21st Century Charter School

Joseph Harris stood in his cap and gown Saturday afternoon and hugged his father as tears streamed down both of their cheeks.

“I’m going to the Army June 23,” Harris said. “I’m not going to have much time with anyone before then.”

Harris was among the 30 graduates of 21st Century Charter School in Gary. His father, Jean Harris, said the teen held down two jobs while earning his diploma. “It was a rough journey,” mother Joyce Harris said. “We stayed on him to make sure he got his education.”

Many graduates spoke of 21st Century Charter School as a family. “Today is a day of family because the way I see it, my class is family,” graduate Anthony Benion said. “We fought… but we love each other. [Our relationships] are forever and I’m happy to call each of them my family.”

This post was adapted from an article by The Times. Read more about Century Charter School in the article here.

Lauren Roberge

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