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Guest Blog: Rally at the Georgia State Capitol in Support of Georgia Charter Schools Commission

Nearly 500 charter schools supporters rallied on the front steps of the Georgia State Capitol Building on Tuesday, May 17, in support of the 16 charter schools approved by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, an entity that was ruled unconstitutional by four of the seven judges on the Georgia Supreme Court on Monday. The event was highlighted by spirited remarks from influential politicians such as Georgia House Speaker Pro-Tem Jan Jones, Sen. Chip Rogers and Rep. Alisha Morgan, as well as Nina Gilbert, head of school, Ivy Preparatory, Ivy Prep sixth grader Lauren Williams, Peachtree Hope Principal Kendra Shipman, Museum School mom Annemarie Eades and Tony Roberts, president and CEO, Georgia Charter School Association. The rally garnered scores of media coverage. Here are some of those clips: Hundreds protest overturning of charter school law Gwinnett Daily Post Hundreds Rally Against Charter School Ruling WSB-TV 2 Atlanta Supremes say charter schools out, Senate says not so quick The Fayette Citizen Hundreds protest Ga. charter school ruling Seattle Post Intelligencer

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National Charter Schools Week Round Up

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

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Celebrations, Proclamations and Acknowledgements of National Charter Schools Week

President Obama officially proclaimed May 1 through May 7 to be National Charter Schools Week saying, “In communities across our country, successful public charter schools help put children on the path to academic excellence by harnessing the power of new ideas, ground-breaking strategies and the collective involvement of students, parents, teachers and administrators. During National Charter Schools Week, we recognize these institutions of learning and renew our commitment to preparing our children with the knowledge and skills they will need to compete in the 21st century. “ Click here to read the complete proclamation. Legislators across the country are also recognizing this week’s events. Senator Mary Landrieu (D – La.) introduced a resolution congratulating the students, parents, teachers, and administrators of charter schools across the United States for ongoing contributions to education, and supporting the ideals and goals of the 12th annual National Charter Schools Week. U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., this week is joining the Georgia Charter Schools Association in promoting National Charter School Week to emphasize the important role charter schools play in education in both Georgia and across the nation. “I am pleased to join the Georgia Charter Schools Association in commemorating National Charter School Week because charter schools play an important role in education,” said Isakson. “Charter schools create a learning environment where students, teachers and parents are afforded the flexibility to make decisions in order to maximize students’ success. I will continue to support charter schools because there is tremendous value in investing in our children’s education, which is critical to the future of America.”

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It’s Advocacy Day – National Charter Schools Week Continues

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

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U.S. Rep. Kline Recognizes National Charter Schools Week

U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) released the following statement in recognition of National Charter Schools Week (May 1st – May 7th): “Charter schools epitomize innovation and flexibility – not only do they raise the bar for student achievement, they also encourage parents to play a more active role in their child’s education. Best of all, the success of any given charter school hinges on results – in this performance-based education system, teachers and officials are held accountable for the achievements of every student. “Washington leaders on both sides of the aisle recognize high-performing charter schools as a valuable subset of the public school system that should receive our unwavering support. As we forge a new path for education in America, we must learn from the accomplishments of these schools and promote federal policies and initiatives that encourage choice, innovation, and excellence.”

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Happy National Charter Schools Week

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

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Washingtonian Disses Board, Misses Point

It’s good to see the GAO’s new report giving a high-five to my alma mater, the DC Public Charter School Board. The PCSB is a standard-setter in its field, recognized as such by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. But Alyssa Rosenberg’s Washingtonian blog about the report includes an odd take on the PCSB’s tough accountability record: “Since the board began granting charters in 1996, it has closed down 24 of the 76 schools it’s opened. Of those 24, three gave up their charters voluntarily and four gave them up after they couldn’t attract enough students to stay financially viable….” Noting a higher closure rate than the national average, the piece concludes: “The problem, it seems, isn’t oversight after the fact—it’s picking the proposals for schools that have the best chance to succeed during the application process. And if the Public Charter School Board could find a way to weed out schools that were likely to fail, the organization might need fewer of those outside performance review consultants that are driving up its personnel costs.” (Homework needed here: The PCSB has actually been quite parsimonious in awarding charters, for example approving just four of thirteen applications in the 2010 cycle.) But here’s the big, unmentioned factual gap: Of the 24 charters closed since 1996, 14 were chartered not by the PCSB but by the now-defunct DC Board of Education, commonly acknowledged as one of the nation’s worst authorizers (so bad that its charter officer went to the slammer for diverting school funds to a sham contract operation set up by her daughter). The old Board handed out charters at random and did no oversight; by imposing some serious standards and giving schools close scrutiny, the PCSB is thinning the herd. It’s closed six of the schools inherited when the DC Board was put out of its misery in 2007. You wouldn’t know from the blog the report is actually titled “District of Columbia Charter Schools: Criteria for Awarding School Buildings to Charter Schools Needs Additional Transparency.” GAO’s major recommendations are aimed not at the PCSB but at the mayor and the city, faulting them for failing to fulfill the spirit of DC’s public education facilities laws, which give charters right of first refusal on excess school-district property. In a response included with the report, Mayor Vincent Gray commendably sets out new rules for accommodating charters in the decision process.

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Money can’t buy success. Or explain failure.

I recently suggested to a group of education researchers they should develop some kind of algorithm to inflate charter school test scores according to each state’s gap in public funding between charters and district-run schools. I was kidding, but trying to acknowledge an elephant in the room. Whatever charter schools are accomplishing, they’re doing it on far less than district schools. Yet, because we believe all public school students should be funded equitably, we don’t argue that “we can do more for less” and we avoid blaming  chronic underfunding for performance problems. Not so in the other sector, it seems.  For a new Fordham/NSBA study, Rick Hess and Olivia Meeks surveyed school board members and found this: “More than two-thirds of boards report that the budget and funding situation is extremely urgent, and nearly 90 percent think it is extremely or very urgent…By far, board members in this study report that the most significant barrier to improving student achievement is a lack of funding. Over 74 percent indicate that finance/funding is at least a strong barrier to improvement, with 30.2 percent going so far as to label it a total barrier.” Wow. How long do you think the charter movement would last if nearly a third of our leaders just said nope, no can do, not without more money?

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Are You Walking Away from a Chance for Funds?

It’s well-established charter schools get less public funding than their district counterparts. But charters may also be ignoring some competitive-funding opportunities.   So said the Government Accountability Office in a report issued last December. GAO identified 47 federal discretionary grant programs for which charter schools are eligible, but found a lot of confusion among charter operators and advocates about who could apply for what. Very few charter schools that are part of district-LEAs have stepped up, apparently believing the district itself had to apply. Yet two-thirds of the federal programs explicitly specify public schools or non-profit organizations are eligible. Adding to that confusion is a real catch-22: Among the charter respondents, 44 percent said they didn’t apply for federal grants because they lacked the resources. Translation: They’re too poorly-funded to hire grant writers. The good news is at least one-quarter of the charters that applied during the 2008-2009 school year received an award, which the Department of Education noted is a higher win-rate than that of average applicants. In fact, the Department said it’s been working to make sure charter operators know their rights. In a formal response to GAO, Jim Shelton of the US Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement pointed out the Department has already put language making charter-eligibility explicit in most of the grant competitions they run, and is working with other agencies like the Justice Department and Housing and Urban Development Department to make sure they do the same. (We forget too often it’s not just “Education” that makes funding available for schools!). Also, the National Charter School Resource Center will post notices like this one on its site and is developing a direct e-capacity to get word directly to schools.   Discretionary grants won’t make up for the full gap charters experience, but let’s not make it worse by leaving available dollars on the table.

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David Kearns

We lost a giant last weekend. David Kearns blazed a trail of innovation as CEO of Xerox and then answered a plea from former President George H.W. Bush to serve as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education. There, among many other accomplishments, he created New American Schools, the non-profit that fostered “whole-school” models such as Expeditionary Learning and Modern Red Schoolhouse – and in doing so, served as a seedbed for the charter movement.  Here is yesterday’s eloquent floor statement by his former boss, now U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander. Note the history he traces, as well as his testimony to the respect and fondness Kearns inspired in everyone who knew him.