The Charter Blog

 

Renita Thukral

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A Legal Question for Charter Schools: Can We Operate a Single-Gender Charter School in Delaware?

In early January, a federal district court in Delaware was asked to consider a very tricky question: would closing an academically failing all-girls charter school (as the school’s authorizer recommended) violate the federal constitutional ban against gender discrimination? The all-girls school argued it would; the state of Delaware argued it would not and emphasized the state’s authority and obligation to close failing charter schools. The court sided with the school. As a result, the academically failing all-girls charter school will continue to operate for an additional year.

This feels like an odd result: A court permits a failing school to continue operating, even though the school’s authorizer says it needs to close. What’s going on?

The federal constitution and Title IX require boys and girls to have substantially equivalent access to educational opportunities. Right now, there is an all-boys charter school operating in Delaware. It performs well and continues to be renewed. The failing all-girls charter school in question is the state’s only all-girls charter school.  If it is closed, no equivalent educational option would exist for Delaware girls.  Further complicating matters, new single-gender charter schools cannot open in Delaware because the statutory provision permitting such schools sunset on June 30, 2013.

Taken together, the court determined that closing the only all-girls charter school combined with the state’s statutory ban against opening a new all-girls charter school would indefinitely prevent Delaware girls from accessing a substantially equivalent education, as is required under binding Supreme Court precedent interpreting Title IX in this context (established in 1995 in United States v. Virginia). Even though this means Delaware girls may continue choosing and attending a failing school for another year, the federal district court felt its hands were tied.

Pamela Davidson

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A Changing of the Guard

The announcement by U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA) that he will retire at the end of the year means education reform advocates will lose a faithful friend on Capitol Hill. But his tireless efforts on federal education and workforce policies to improve the lives of children and families will leave an impression that will not soon be forgotten.

Representative Miller has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 40 years. He is the senior democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, serving as chairman from 2007-2010, where he championed education reform issues that have strengthened public schools. As one of the “big four,” he worked with (then) Chairman John Boehner (R-OH), Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) to enact the No Child Left Behind Act. He has advocated for high-standards for all students, especially the most disadvantaged, and fought to hold schools accountable for student achievement.

In 2011, Representative Miller teamed up with Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) to write H.R. 2218, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act. H.R. 2218 updated the federal Charter Schools Program that provides critical start-up funds for new, replicating and expanding charter schools, as well as support for charter school facilities.

During House debate on the bill, Representative Miller stated: “Charter schools have been on the forefront of bold ideas and innovation in education. They have shown that, given the right tools, all students can achieve at high levels. We are learning from great charter schools about what works for students and what students need to be able to compete in the global economy. Replicating this success will help our students, our communities, and our economy.” H.R. 2218 was one of the only bipartisan education bills to pass the House with an overwhelming majority.

In 2013, Rep. Miller was recognized by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) as their “Elected Official of the Year” with the Hart Vision Award, which honors individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in education.

We thank Rep. Miller for his service to our nation.

Pam Davidson is senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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The Facts on Student Attrition in New York City

I wanted you to know the facts from a new report out of New York City, because the results are mostly encouraging, but also require some thought; and because a nationally known charter opponent is sending out an incomplete, rather than full description of the report.

In her blog and on social media, Diane Ravitch asserts that the study shows “NYC charters lose 80% of students with disabilities by the third grade.” But that’s not the full story.

The study from New York City’s Independent Budget Office examined the school transfer rates of one cohort of students from kindergarten through third grade; it did not look at every charter school or every district school. Here’s what they found:

  • On average, student at charters stay at their schools at a higher rate than students at nearby traditional schools.
  • This higher rate of staying at charter schools also is found when students are compared in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, poverty, and English learner status.
  • The one major exception is special education students, who leave charter schools at a much higher rate than either general education students in charter schools or special education students in traditional public schools. Only 20 percent of students classified as requiring special education services who started kindergarten in charter schools remained in the same school after three years.

While this is mostly good news, the last finding definitely deserves more examination and serious reflection by the charter school community. But before we point any fingers, James Merriman of the NYC Charter Center has highlighted the conclusion in this study is reached based on just 25 students with special needs, out of the thousands attending NYC charter schools. In other words, this is a tiny sample and may not reflect what it actually happening across all charter schools in the city.

Because you may hear about the report from pundits who will present only a portion of the report’s conclusions, I wanted you to have all the facts.

Joe Nathan is the director of the Center for School Change. 

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Monthly Newsletter

Friends,

A new year is always the time for setting goals and looking ahead. At the National Alliance, we know where we’re going. We will continue to advance the charter school community’s interests in Washington, D.C. We will also work to pass charter school laws in states that don’t have one and strengthen laws where they are weak. If you have questions about our priorities, or suggestions, please feel free to reach out any time.

I look forward to keeping you posted on our progress this year.

Best regards,
Nina Rees
President and CEO


2014 Federal Spending Details Released  

Late Monday night, Congress finalized the spending details for fiscal year 2014. The Charter Schools Program (CSP) is set to receive $248.1 million, which restores $7 million of the $13 million cut from the program in the sequester. In addition, some of the cuts made to Title I and IDEA under sequestration were partially restored. Both chambers are expected to pass the bills by Saturday.

While this legislation did not restore the full cut to the Charter Schools Program under the sequester, we are pleased with the increase in funding for charter schools, the investment in high-performing charter school networks and facilities, and the increases in Title I and IDEA. Charter schools that want to open but have lacked funding can now get out of a holding pattern and open their doors. We led a coalition of education reform groups and charter support organizations to ask President Obama to include $330 million for the Charter Schools Program in his 2015 budget.

National School Choice Week

January 26-February 1 marks the 4th annual National School Choice Week, when more than 5,500 events will be held throughout the country celebrating school choice. Charter schools are one of the most popular school choice options in the U.S. today and we are proud to be a partner in efforts to spotlight the importance of giving families more school options. On January 22, we are co-sponsoring the kick-off of the School Choice Week Whistle Stop Train Tour in D.C. On January 29, we are co-sponsoring the Put Kids First Rally in D.C. We are also co-sponsoring events in Columbia, SC; Birmingham, AL; and Jackson, MS. All of these events are free and open to the public. Click here to learn more about these events and RSVP to attend. I know many charter schools are hosting their own events and we’d be glad to help you promote what you are doing. Please share your plans with Katherine Bathgate so we can help spread the word.

America’s Biggest Charter School Communities

Just before the holidays, we released our annual report examining charter school growth. Today, one-in-20 American children attend a charter school. The top three communities for charter school student share are: New Orleans, where an astounding 79 percent of public school students attend charter schools; Detroit, where 51 percent attend charters; and Washington, D.C., where 43 percent of all public school students attend charters. In four additional school districts, at least 30 percent of public school students attend public charter schools: Flint, Mich.; Gary, Ind.; and Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo. In 135 American school districts, at least 10 percent of public school students attend charter schools. When given the option, parents coast-to-coast are increasingly choosing public charter schools; and this trend shows no sign of slowing. There are nearly one million student names on charter school waiting lists nationwide.

Charter Schools Upheld in Washington State 

Washington State became the 42nd state to allow charter schools when Initiative 1240 was passed by voters in 2012. Several special interest groups filed a lawsuit to overturn the voter initiative, but in December, a King County Superior Court judge upheld the charter school law. The charter school opponents are basing their lawsuit on legal claims that have been used in many lawsuits before, but have never been successful. In every state where charters have been challenged as unconstitutional, they have been upheld. The National Alliance is working with the Washington State Charter Schools Association and local attorneys to help defend the law. The decision has been appealed to the State Supreme Court, where we will file an amicus brief in support of the law. You can read more about this case and the arguments being made against charter schools here.

Will Kentucky be 43? 

Kentucky is one of only eight states without a charter school law, but we’re hoping that changes this legislative session. After years of laying the groundwork in the Bluegrass State, 2014 may be the year that lawmakers approve a bill that will allow 20 charter schools to open over the next five years. A recent poll found that nearly three-quarters of Kentucky voters favor creating public charter schools, with support crossing party lines and across all parts of the state. Eighty-two percent of voters support providing Kentucky parents with more public school choice options and, in the Louisville area, support for more choices rises to 89 percent. We will continue working with our partners in Kentucky, including the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Kentucky Youth Advocates, and the State Chamber of Commerce, to pass a strong law that will allow high-quality charter schools to serve the state’s children.

Will Mayor de Blasio Keep His Promise? 

During his campaign for Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio pledged to put the brakes on the city’s growing charter school movement. But he also pledged to address inequality. With more data than ever showing that charter schools in New York are closing the achievement gap and addressing racial and income inequality in schools, which promise will the mayor keep? In a USA Today column that ran on January 1, the day he was sworn into office, I encouraged Mayor de Blasio to work with the charter school community to give more children a chance at a great education.

Meet Sal Kahn!

Sal Kahn, the dynamic founder and CEO of the sensational Kahn Academy, will be one of the keynote speakers at the National Charter Schools Conference this summer in Las Vegas. This year’s conference will be better than ever—with inspiring keynote speakers, relevant breakout sessions, and terrific opportunities to network with 4,000 of your peers. Registration rates will increase in mid-February, so I hope you will take a minute to register for the conference today.

Thank You!

2013 was a banner year for the National Alliance and we know we can’t do our work without you. We also know that it is critical for the charter school community to have a strong voice in Washington and in states where we don’t yet have charter schools. Please help us continue to be your voice in Washington with a tax-deductible gift. Thank you.

 

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Media Round Up

News to Know

  • “New Rules Open More Options for Charters in Nashville,” Nashville Ledger, Jan. 17
  • “Editorial: In New York City, Let Charters Bloom,” New York Daily News, Jan. 16
  • “Editorial: Charter Schools Are Public Schools,” Wisconsin State Journal , Jan. 15
  • “Minnesota to Step Up Oversight of Charter Schools,” Education Week, Jan. 14
  • “Thousands of Parents Attend D.C. Schools Festival to Shop for Educational Opportunities,” Washington Post, Jan. 13

Audience Favorites

Facebook— In his guest blog entry, Wisconsin State Representative Dale Kooyenga discusses his bill to reform and strengthen state’s charter law. Read more here: http://bit.ly/1difPuH

Twitter— Put #DCKidsFirst! Join the “Put Kids First” rally on Jan. 29 to celebrate @schoolchoicewk more info: bit.ly/1ayRrTp

You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.

Christy Wolfe

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Feds Miss the Mark Attempting to Define “Quality” in Proposed Federal Priorities for National Leadership Dollars

As part of the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) the Secretary of Education is required to reserve 5 percent of the total appropriation for the National Leadership Activities Grant, which funds specific initiatives to improve charter school quality. For FY 2014, this is approximately $11 million.

In December, the U. S. Department of Education issued a notice of proposed priorities for National Leadership Activity funds that includes a definition a “high-quality charter school” that would apply to grant activities funded in the notice.

The National Alliance is pleased that the department sought input from the charter school community in the development of these priorities, as there are pressing needs and challenges facing the community. The proposed funding priorities are intended to address the following issues:

     

  1. Improving efficiency through economies of scale.
  2. Improving accountability through better authorizing practices.
  3. Improving students with disabilities’ access to charter schools and student achievement.
  4. Improving English learner students’ access to charter schools and student achievement.
  5. Personalized technology-enabled learning.

The National Alliance submitted comments that support these priorities, especially those that improve quality authorizing and help charter schools better serve students with disabilities and English language learners.

However, we are very concerned about the use of a definition of high-quality charter school. The definition the department intends to use was developed for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools program, which is focused on the replication of schools serving mostly disadvantaged students, and has only been used to score those grant applications. We have extensive concerns that the department may intend to use it more broadly, making it the de facto definition of quality for all federally-funded charter school activities.

There are some basic technical issues with how the department applies the definition to the approval of new charter schools. For example, the definition requires achievement data, but schools that are haven’t opened yet will not have that information. The definition also fails to take into account the critical role of authorizers and state accountability systems and numerous other factors that constitute a quality school.

After reviewing public comments, the department will issue a Notice of Final Priorities, which will include a response to all comments. We expect that to happen sometime this spring.

Click here to read the National Alliance’s submitted comments on the proposed priorities and use of the “high-quality charter school” definition.

Christy Wolfe is senior policy advisor for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nora Kern

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A Busy Month for School Choice and New Reports

Later this month, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and other organizations across the country will celebrateNational School Choice Week (SCW). Leading up to the event, several organizations are releasing analyses of policies impacting the growth and quality of public charter schools.

Last week, the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution released its Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI) for 2013, which looks at more than 100 U.S. school districts and ranks the policies and practices that impact the quality of choices and level of competition created by school choice. Not surprisingly, nine of the top ten districts on the ECCI are also featured on our recently released top charter school communities report, showing the integral role public charter schools play in school choice.

Today Students First is releasing  its state policy report card. Public charter schools play a prominent role in the scores related to parent empowerment. In order to receive a high rating, states must:

  • Promote charter establishment & expansion. Several states received higher scores for not having a cap on charter school growth, having non-district authorizers, a fast track authorization process for proven charter operators, and a high bar for replication/expansion for all schools.
  • Establish accountability for charters. States were recognized for requiring a performance-based contract and clear protocols for closing low-performing charter schools. Authorizers are required to submit an annual report to an oversight body for each school they oversee, and are in turn required to undergo an annual review by an outside entity—and low-performing authorizers will be suspended or sanctioned.
  • Enable equitable access to facilities; and
  • Finance charter facilities.

Finally the National Alliance will be releasing our fifth annual model law ranking that scores each state’s charter school law based on 20 essential components, including measures of quality and accountability, equitable access to funding and facilities, and whether or not they cap charter school growth.

Follow @charteralliance for the latest in charter school news and breaking reports and keep an eye on @schoolchoicewk to receive even more information on the contributions charter schools are making toward providing every family with a quality public school option.

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

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Media Round Up

National Alliance in the News 

  • “5 Key Education Stories to Watch in 2014,” op-ed by Nina Rees (President & CEO), U.S. News & World Report, Jan. 9
  • “Independent charter school debate highlights ideological divide,” National Alliance Mentioned, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 9
  • “De Blasio should embrace charter schools: Column,” op-ed by Nina, USA Today, Jan. 1
  • “Nation’s educators watching new NYC mayor’s moves on charter schools,” National Alliance mentioned, Aljazeera America, Dec. 26

News to Know

  • “Study: Students More Likely to Stay at Charter Schools,” New York Times, Jan. 10
  • “Charters Add Competitive Twist to District Governance,” Education Week, Jan. 9
  • “Bill Before House Would Boost Funding for New Hampshire’s Charter Schools,” New Hampshire Public Radio, Jan. 8
  • “The Future: What 32 Ed Leaders Are Excited About,” Education Week, Jan. 7
  • “Houston’s Public Schools are Primed for Success,” Houston Chronicle, Jan. 6

Audience Favorites

Facebook— Tomorrow, Senior VP of State Advocacy, Todd Ziebarth will be testifying before the Wisconsin assembly on a bill to strengthen the state’s charter school law. More: http://publiccharters.org/pressreleasepublic/default.aspx?id=1239

Twitter— #Charterschools bring competition and innovation to school operations, read @educationweek take bit.ly/1aceShC

You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.

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Strengthening Wisconsin’s Charter School Law

Across the country, support for public charter schools comes from both Democrats and Republicans. Like presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, President Barack Obama has praised public charter schools.

Opposition to charter schools also sometimes comes from both parties. In fact, there are still portions of the country where “do not rock the boat” Republicans lock arms with Democrats that oppose charters to block common sense proposals for the expansion of high-quality public charter schools. Unfortunately, that’s the case in Wisconsin.

As some of my fellow legislators continue to fight against proven reforms like charter schools, it’s clear to me that the boat needs rocking. During a recent discussion in the Wisconsin Assembly Education Committee, I was astounded when one of my colleagues (who is an educator, no less!) stated that education policy changes are unnecessary in Wisconsin because we outpace many states on our reading, science, and math scores. To me, this logic is flawed. Finding comfort in the fact we outpace other states while the country falls further behind in international rankings does a significant disservice to our students.

Despite these hurdles, Wisconsin’s Senator Alberta Darling and I have introduced a bill that makes important changes to our weak charter school law (currently ranked #37 out of 43 by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools). The changes we are proposing will provide more opportunities for Wisconsin’s students.

The Assembly version of this bill, AB 549, will be heard in the Assembly Urban Education Committee on Thursday, January 9th. While the bill makes a number of changes, here are two of the most important ones:

First, the bill will expand the types of entities that can serve as charter school authorizers.  

Right now, the only entities allowed to authorize a charter school are the City of Milwaukee (in the Milwaukee Public School district only), the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Milwaukee (in Milwaukee County or an adjacent county), UW-Parkside (only one school in Racine County or an adjacent county), Milwaukee Area Technical College (they have never exercised the option and can only create a charter school in the Milwaukee Public School district), and local school boards.

The bill would expand the authorization agents to also include any of the other 11 UW institutions and campuses, any of the other 15 technical colleges, and any of the state’s 12 Cooperative Educational Service Agencies. This change will better facilitate the creation of autonomous and accountable public charter schools across the state.

Second, the bill will revise and clarify Wisconsin’s charter school categories.

Currently, Wisconsin has three types of charters:

      1.    Those that are authorized by the City of Milwaukee, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, and the Milwaukee Area Technical College. These schools have autonomy and are similar to charters in most other states. They are referred to as “2r charters.”
      2.    Those that are authorized by local school boards and employ their own teachers.  These schools have autonomy and are also similar to charters in most other states.  They are referred to as “non-instrumentality charters.”
      3.    Those that are authorized by local school boards and that have their teachers employed by school districts. These schools don’t have much autonomy and are different from charters in most other states.

They are referred to as “instrumentality charters.”

This arrangement has created a lot of confusion within the state about public charter schools. In an effort to clarify what a charter school is, our bill requires instrumentality charters to either become non-instrumentality charters or magnet schools, leaving the state with two categories of true charter schools.

My passion for education reform stems from my experiences in the military, the business world, and as a father of four. As a military intelligence officer in the United States Army, I am convinced that our greatest national security risk, in the long term, is the complacency with the educational status quo. Charter schools offer innovation and focus on science, technology, engineering and math that can enhance the life experiences of our children. These innovative charter schools can propel our economy beyond the 21st century and ensure our nation’s defenders are not only America’s best and brightest, but also represent the world’s best and brightest.

Representative Dale Kooyenga was elected to represent the 14th District for the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2010.

Pamela Davidson

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A Win for Graduates of Virtual Charter Schools

Enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces is a tremendous opportunity for many young people to serve their country. However, for graduates of non-traditional high schools (virtual charter schools, online and blended learning schools, and home schools) this opportunity has been stymied due to a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) policy that limited the ability of students who attended non-traditional high schools to enlist in the military. Recently, the National Alliance was successful in working with Congress to secure a provision in federal law to change DOD’s current policy and make clear that all students that receive a state-issued diploma must be treated equally for the purposes of military enlistment.

For many years, based on outdated data, DOD has treated students attending non-traditional high schools differently than those who attend traditional “brick and mortar” schools. In 2011, the National Alliance worked with congressional supporters to change this unfair policy. A provision in the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required DOD to give all graduates with a state-issued high school diploma, including graduates of non-traditional high schools, the same opportunity to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, in June 2012, DOD announced a new policy requiring students who graduated from non-traditional high schools to score higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) than students who attended traditional high schools in order to be eligible for military service. Thus, creating a disadvantage for non-traditional high school graduates.

In June 2013, U.S. Representatives John Kline (R-MN), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Rob Andrews (D-NJ), and Jared Polis (D-CO) offered an amendment to the House FY2014 NDAA bill to prohibit DOD from requiring different levels of attainment on any assessment or screening tool for all graduates, and prohibiting DOD from creating different standards on any assessment or screening tool based on the type of high school a student attended. In November, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) offered the same amendment to the Senate NDAA bill. In the end, this provision was included in the final NDAA bill, which was signed into law by the president last month.

This change to DOD recruitment and enlistment policy is a big victory for the charter schools community—particularly graduates of virtual charter schools—because it ensures equal treatment for graduates who wish to join the U.S. military and serve their country. The National Alliance appreciates the work of these members of Congress who championed this effort on our behalf to ensure all graduates who want to serve in the U.S. military have an equal opportunity to enlist.

Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools