The Charter Blog



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An Oasis of “We Can” and “What’s Next”

Four years ago, I found myself living in Kansas City, MO, pregnant, and teaching in a neighboring suburban school district. I felt an impending urgency to find a public elementary school where I would be pushed professionally and my future child would be given a high-quality education. And I didn’t want to move away from the city I had grown to love.

Reflecting on those days of urgent conversations surrounding the state of public education, my passion for providing a high quality public education that I desperately sought for my own child grew to include all of the children of my beloved Kansas City. In one of many conversations about where I would be sending my son/daughter to school, I heard about Crossroads Academy of Kansas City (CAKC), a charter school that was set to open the following school year.

Now as a kindergarten teacher at CAKC, I listen to incoming parents, many of whom had similar stories as mine. “Welcome to Crossroads Academy! How did you hear about us?” I ask. This simple question evokes passionate stories of how families have made the choice to send their scholar to start kindergarten in my classroom. Relief that they don’t have to move, or scramble to figure out how to pay for private school, or take a spot at a school where they do not have a belief that the school will provide the highest quality of education for their child. As I honestly respond, “Me too,” our bond to create a model of change in education is sparked. We are in this together, to show Kansas City that our children are scholars, can exceed any expectation that we set for them, will be raised to serve our community, and prove that the kids of Kansas City can!

We are three years into our mission at CAKC to become the premiere urban school serving Kansas City and as our waiting list grows, so does my passion and drive to serve the scholars who sit in my kindergarten class. My colleagues and I are given the professional freedom to create curriculum, assessments, and pacing guides that fit the needs of each individual class and child; we are encouraged to push forward with project based learning while partnering with the community; and to seek professional development to hone our craft.

To give you a brief look into the heart of what we are striving to accomplish, this spring our scholars were presented with information of an orphanage in Guatemala where one of the orphans had opened a bakery and was in need of many supplies to support his brothers and sisters. The kindergarten scholars decided they would hold a bake sale to raise money and set their goal at $800. When trying to give them an idea on how much that amount was, our Rosie the Riveter stood and passionately exclaimed with an arm raised, “WE CAN DO THIS!” They went on to raise over $1700.

In the age of naysayers concerning educational innovation, it’s refreshing to call a place like CAKC home. Crossroads is an oasis of reform. An oasis of “we can,” and “what’s next?”

Crossroads Academy of Kansas City

Kara Schumacher is a kindergarten teacher at Crossroads Academy of Kansas City.

Nora Kern


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CSP Funding Profile: Namaste Charter School

A Mission to Serve

Namaste Charter School was founded on the belief that healthy children are better learners. Its vision—to change the trajectory of underserved children’s lives—is enacted through holistic education for the children of Chicago’s South Side. Namaste’s daily health and wellness programs include 60 minutes of physical education and 20 minutes of recess, a ten-minute “Morning Movement” stretching and exercise routine set to music, and healthy breakfasts and lunches. Additionally, a peaceful school culture, collaborative practice, and respect of other languages and cultures are among the school’s core values. The public charter school operates on an extended school day and year, offers half of its classes as bilingual education (English and Spanish), and provides support for families through its Parent Center, so that teachers, staff, parents, and neighborhood leaders can work together to provide an exceptional academic environment.

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

The state of Illinois received a federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) State Education Agency (SEA) Grant in 2003. In December 2003, Illinois allocated funds from its CSP SEA Grant to award a pre-planning grant to Namaste Charter School prior to its authorization. Namaste used these funds to plan for the curriculum and structure of the school, as well as research the implementation of best practices.

Namaste opened in 2004 with just a kindergarten and first grade class, and has grown by one grade level each year to now serve K-8. For the first eight years of the school’s operation, Namaste had fixed asset costs for desks, furniture, books, computers, teacher professional development, and “everything under the sun” as founder Allison Slade described it. In addition, the school’s original building needed about $100,000 of renovations to the infrastructure—including building a kitchen, which was essential to provide the healthy meals that are a central part of the school model.

In 2006 Namaste received a second CSP grant, which was crucial to helping the charter school grow. The CSP funds were used to cover start-up costs, as well as seed money for the school library. The library resource center has been crucial for providing high-quality literacy instruction and increasing access to text for students and their families during the school day and on weekends. After three years of operation, Namaste outgrew its original building and needed to renovate a larger school space.

For its future, Namaste has invested in circulating its best practices nationwide instead of replicating the school. It received a $192,000 two-year CSP Dissemination Grant in 2012 from the U.S. Department of Education that helped launch the Learning the Namaste Way Institute, which has trained more than 80 school leaders during two- to three- day seminars that share holistic education best practices and provide ongoing support for implementing them in their own schools. For the future of all public charter schools, Ms. Slade believes that Congress can best support high-quality growth through access to facilities funding and protecting the autonomy that allows a charter school to nimbly allocate its resources to serve student needs.

Principal’s Office

During her career as a teacher, as a Teach for America corps member in Houston and then in the Chicago inner-city and suburbs, Ms. Slade never felt that she really found a place that matched her beliefs about education and had all of the elements in place to propel teachers, students, and families to their highest possible achievement. She was on a volleyball team with fellow educators, and they would discuss what the perfect school would look like. At the same time, Illinois raised the cap on the number of public charter schools allowed in Chicago. So Ms. Slade decided to pull together everything she had talked about with fellow educators, health professionals, and other experts, into a proposal for an innovative public charter school.

As Ms. Slade describes the resulting Namaste Charter School, “We pride ourselves on having this rigorous academic curricula that is tied together with health and wellness and a peaceful school culture. We not only implement that in our school, but now with the CSP funding, we also disseminate those best practices to other schools across the country.”

Heard in the Halls: Teacher and Student Perspectives

  • “What I enjoy teaching most at Namaste is that beyond our health and wellness initiative, I truly think that students, staff, parents are all pushed to be our best selves.”—Veronica Acuna, Special Education Manager 

  • “Seeing students just happy to come to school is a very rewarding thing. Parents come to us and say ‘we’re so lucky we found you. We are so happy that we got a lottery spot for Namaste.’”—Veronica Acuna

  • “I am proud to work at Namaste because I have the freedom to choose a curriculum that fits my students’ lives.”— Milli Salguero, middle school Social Studies

  • “Teachers feel really empowered here to implement what they think is most necessary for their students to achieve at high levels. Now, after three years of graduating classes, we have the great fortune to have our alumni return back and talk to us about how Namaste has impacted their lives.”—Allison Slade, Founder

  • “Really changing the trajectory of underserved children’s lives, which is Namaste’s vision, is a long-term prospect. That is not something you’re going to see after a year or two years. But after 11 years [of operation], we are far into really feeling some very powerful examples of that.” —Allison Slade, Founder

  • “I truly believe that charter schools are houses of innovation that can try things differently and teach public schools, and other schools, ways to do things more efficiently to get better results quicker. And really and truly here at Namaste, that’s what we’re trying to do.” —Allison Slade, Founder


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Operationalizing Systems to Build Better Boards

One of my favorite events of the year is the National Charter Schools Conference. Where and when else do thousands of charter school community members from across the country come together to learn, collaborate, and celebrate? This year’s conference will be especially awesome because it will be in New Orleans—a resilient and innovative city that epitomizes culture, music, and culinary genius. To accentuate the liveliness of the city, NCSC 2015 will kick off with a Mardi Gras welcome reception parade!

As a program committee member, I had the tough role of helping to shape the conference content. This was a challenging process and highly competitive, but the results include an excellent collection of sessions that will elevate the discourse about charter school governance. While the entire Governance line-up will offer thought-provoking and relevant information, I’m specifically thrilled for two sessions that I know I will attend.

In Paradise by the Dashboard Lights: How to Build and Use Academic Dashboards, Simmons Lettre and Carrie Irvin from Charter Board Partners and Susannah Staats from KIPP Foundation will share their unique insights on how to create academic dashboards and monitor progress from a high level. Board members and school leaders will use sample academic dashboards and role-playing to learn how boards can use dashboards effectively without stepping on school leaders’ toes.

In Beyond the Revolving Door: Institutionalizing Board Mindset, Jennifer Dauzvardis from Peak to Peak Charter School is going to make the case for why boards must create systems to manage knowledge over time. She realizes that maintaining quality governance requires institutionalized systems for developing board members, implementing effective governance practices, and interpreting board-level data. Participants in this session will explore strategies and identify solutions to promote appropriate board engagement and processes for board decision-making.

We are each on a journey towards continuous improvement. Just like the students we serve, we should invest in our development through learning opportunities such as NCSC 2015. I’m excited to see you in the Crescent City from June 21-24!


Makiyah Moody is the Governance Initiatives Director, Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and Co-Chair of the 2015 National Charter Schools Conference Program Committee

Susan Aud Pendergrass


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Why School Closures Matter

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has consistently believed that all schools should be held accountable for the performance of their students and any school that isn’t performing should be closed.

But closing a school can be difficult, and the impact of any closure ripples through the community and the lives of the students. Some question whether the disruption is worth it. In the traditional public school system, avoiding this disruption almost always carries the day and, in the rare event that a school is closed, it’s usually due to persistent dwindling enrollment. Fortunately, we have emerging research that sheds light on the effect of school closures on students who attended those schools.

The Fordham Institute has conducted a study that measures the achievement trends of nearly 23,000 students who attended one of 198 urban schools in Ohio, both traditional and public charter schools, that closed between 2006 and 2012. With the use of student-level longitudinal data provided by the Ohio Department of Education, the Fordham researchers were able to determine how the students from the closed schools fared after they were moved to a new school. The study found that school closures had a positive impact on students, with substantial learning gains three years after their schools closed. Students from the traditional public schools that closed achieved learning gains in both reading and math, and students from charter schools achieved learning gains in math.  

Operating under a limited amount of time – usually three to eight years – to meet performance targets is an integral part of the charter school equation and has been from the beginning. This study suggests that traditional public schools and their students would likely benefit from a similar approach.


Susan Aud Pendergrass is the Senior Director for Research and Evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Andrew Schantz


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5 Ways to Make This Year’s National Charter Schools Week the Best One Yet

We still have a few days to go before National Charter Schools Week kicks off, but there are plenty of things you can do to start the celebration early and get in the #CharterSchoolsWeek spirit!

  1. Change your profile picture to one of our official Charter Schools Week badges! Whether you’re a charter school parent, student, administrator, or advocate, we have a badge for you!
  2. Invite elected officials to your school. National Charter Schools Week is the perfect opportunity to show off the great things that are happening in your school. Use our guide to plan a visit for local, state, or federal elected officials. And be sure to let us know if you need any help setting one up by contacting us here.
  3. Tell us why you love charter schools! Print out a template, take a picture or video, and share it with us on social media using #CharterSchoolsWeek.
  4. Set a calendar reminder for Wednesday, May 6 from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET for the #CharterSchoolsWeek tweetup! We’ll be sharing some tweets that morning for you to use, but in the meantime, click here to get the conversation started.
  5. Know a charter school student who loves to write? Encourage them to submit an entry for the first-ever Charter Schools Week Student Essay Contest! Get the details and submit essays by Friday, May 1 at 11:59 p.m. ET by clicking here.

Lastly, are you planning an event for Charter Schools Week in your state or community? Be sure to let us know!

For all the latest news and updates, follow us on Twitter and like our page on Facebook.

Looking forward to celebrating with you next week!


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

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!