The Charter Blog


Andrew Schantz


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Charter schools fuel the conversation at SXSWedu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nora Kern


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CSP Funding Profile: Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women

A Mission to Serve

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

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

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

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

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

Principal’s Office

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

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

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

Heard in the Halls: Teacher and Student Perspectives

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


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National Alliance February Newsletter

A Note From Nina

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

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

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

Happy Presidents Day!


Nina Rees
President and CEO

The Charter Schools Program in Action

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

Reauthorizing ESEA and the Charter Schools Program

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

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

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

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

How Does Your State Stack Up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working Together to Improve Services to Students with Special Needs

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

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

Innovation Buzz

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

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

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

National Charter Schools Conference

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

Support the National Alliance

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

Nora Kern


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

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

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

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

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

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

Todd Ziebarth


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What You Need to Know About the State Charter School Laws Rankings Report

Last week, we released the sixth edition of Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws. This report evaluates each state’s charter school law against the 20 essential components from our model law, which includes items such as “No Caps,” “Performance-Based Charter Contracts,” and “ Equitable Access to Capital Funding and Facilities”.

By serving as an annual benchmark for states, this report recognizes those states that are making progress in creating a policy environment that supports high-quality public charter schools as well as those states that are failing to do so. For example, as high-performing public charter schools look to open in new states, this report lets them know the places that provide the best (and worst) set of policies related to caps, authorizers, autonomy, accountability and funding, among other issues. Also, if charter schools in a particular state feel their flexibility to innovate is being constrained, they can look to this report to see which states provide charters with maximum autonomy and push their lawmakers to adopt similar policies.

We are pleased that charter school supporters have used the rankings and recommendations to drive changes to their states’ charter school laws since 2010. As a result, there are fewer caps on the growth of charters, more non-district authorizers for schools to apply to, more flexibility for schools to innovate, stronger accountability for schools’ performance, and more funding and facilities support for schools – all of which translates to the creation of more high-quality public charter school options for the students who need them the most.

Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president for state advocacy and support for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nora Kern


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CSP Funding Profile: Thurgood Marshall Academy

A Mission to Serve

Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA) Public Charter was founded by law students and attorneys at Georgetown University Law Center’s DC Street Law clinic who wanted to offer underserved students more academic and social development opportunities. The school’s mission is to prepare students to succeed in college and to actively engage in our democratic society. Its challenging academic curriculum is infused with the theme of law and justice. The foundational legal skills—argumentation, negotiation, critical thinking, research, and advocacy—will prepare students for success in any career.

TMA offers specialized programming, including: a Summer Prep program to help transition 9th and 10th graders from other schools to its rigorous academic environment; an annual portfolio assessment process that requires students to examine their academic achievements and struggles and present their plans for the future to a panel of teachers, staff members, volunteers, and parents; and a year-long Senior Seminar with intensive coaching on the college application process.

From Vision to Reality: How CSP Funds Enabled Thurgood Marshall Academy to Open

It is important to remember that for public charter schools, funding from the local government does not kick in until students are enrolled in the school. As Dr. Alexandra Pardo, the school’s Executive Director, notes, “When we got our charter, what we had was a piece of paper. What we didn’t have was a building, furniture, textbooks, any resources for our students. And that’s when CSP funds became critical for TMA.”

Thurgood Marshall Academy received a $540,000 startup grant in 2001 through the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). These funds were used for mission critical, yet basic, operations—like purchasing a curriculum and textbooks, hiring staff, partially funding facilities, and equipping the school with desks and whiteboards. Without CSP funds, the founders would not have been able to build a school from the ground up.

Thurgood Marshall Academy opened in the 2001-02 school year in the annex to the Congress Heights United Methodist Church. The school immediately knew that to operate a full high school program, it would need new facilities.

In 2005, TMA acquired and renovated the long-vacant Nichols Avenue School, a historic building in southeast D.C. The new facility opened in 2005, and over the years, TMA has raised an additional $13.5 million in grants and loans from the D.C. government, businesses, and foundations for full renovation.

Principal’s Office

Dr. Pardo was drawn to TMA due to its mission and its ability as a public charter school to have the flexibility to make choices for its students that have immediate impact. She notes that the most rewarding part of her job is, “Seeing our students every day in the hallway, seeing their struggles, seeing their success when they hold a Thurgood Marshall diploma. And most importantly when they hold a college degree four years after leaving us.”

Dr. Pardo believes that Congress plays an integral role in supporting public charter schools. First, this is done through its protection of charter school autonomy at a national level. The second piece is looking at equal funding for charter schools. On national average, charter schools receive 20 percent less funding than district schools. As more and more students enroll in charter schools throughout the country, Congress can ensure equity between charter and district school funding because they are all public school students.

Heard in the Halls: Teacher and Student Perspectives

“Our students come from challenging histories, but they are resilient and forward-thinking. It gives me hope for the future and these kids become our leaders in the states and globally. It makes me feel like the world is in good hands.” — Karen Lee, Social Studies Department Chair

“Thurgood Marshall Academy has proven that schools serving the students most at risk can be successful when we lift up all the excuses and barriers.” — Dr. Alexandra Pardo, Executive Director

“Receiving an education helps you answer all your questions. When it’s a great education…you can explore for yourself.” — Sydni Foshee, 12th grade

“We offer our students the opportunity to recognize that anything is possible with hard work. You don’t have to settle for the choices that might be given to you despite your circumstances.” — Sanjay Mitchell, Director of College and Alumni Programs

Nina Rees


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National Alliance January Newsletter

A Note From Nina

Nina ReesHappy New Year! Like many of you, I love the sense of possibility and the opportunity to set new goals that comes with the start of each year. We’re doing just that at the National Alliance, as we celebrate our 10th anniversary and launch our new three-year strategic plan. Our new plan builds on our past work but sets higher aspirations for ourselves and for the movement. Over the next three years, we plan to double the federal investment in the creation and expansion of charter schools, assist states in improving the quality of their charter school movements, and roll out a legal advocacy strategy aimed at enhancing charter autonomy.

We have already hit the ground running, given Congress’s interest in reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). You can see our policy principles here and my blog post on the topic here.

If you are interested in learning more about our work, please click here to get added to our various emails. And if you are not already following me or the National Alliance on twitter, I hope you will check us out – I am @ninacharters and the National Alliance’s handle is @charteralliance.

Thank you for being a part of our family!


Nina Rees
President and CEO

Charter School Enrollment Keeps Growing

The numbers are in and the news is excellent. In the 2013-14 school year, public charter school enrollment continued to grow. About 2.7 million students now attend public charter schools nationwide. At least one in five students attends a public charter school in 43 communities across the country, up from 32 last year. That’s according to A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities, the National Alliance’s ninth annual report measuring charter enrollment.

The report highlights 12 urban communities now enrolling at least 30 percent of their public school students in charter schools, a notable jump from seven last year. New Orleans has the highest percentage of public school students enrolled in charters, at 91 percent. Detroit ranked second with 55 percent, while Washington, D.C., and Flint, Mich., are tied for third with 44 percent. The Los Angeles Unified School District boasts the largest total number of charter school students, with 139,000 – an increase of 15 percent over the previous year – while Clark County School District in Nevada reported the fastest growth in charter enrollment at 36 percent.

We’re thrilled that more parents are choosing public charter schools for their children. Yet the report also reminds us how much work we have to do. Nearly a million student names are on waiting lists across the country. We need to redouble our efforts to create more high-quality charter school spaces to meet the surging demand.

Congress Provides More Charter School Funding

Public charter school advocates ended 2014 on a high note, as Congress increased funding for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) by $5 million, bringing total CSP funding for fiscal year 2015 to $253 million. The CSP provides support for the start-up, replication, and expansion of public charter schools, giving charters the seed funding necessary to open or expand. It also provides a small amount of support for facilities. Nearly all public charter schools across the nation have benefited from CSP funding. An increase in CSP funding means more high-quality public charter schools can open and grow – a huge win for the families who are desperate for better public school options.

While the increase in CSP funding is welcome and will make a big difference for children, even more funding is needed to help public charter schools reach their potential for serving more students. The National Alliance will continue working with new and returning members of Congress to make sure they understand how valuable charter schools are to students and their families.

Sen. Alexander Takes the Helm of the Senate HELP Committee

With Republicans gaining control of the Senate in the 114th Congress, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) becomes the new chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which is instrumental in setting the direction of federal education policy. As a former governor and U.S. secretary of education, Sen. Alexander brings deep experience in education policy to his new post. He also has a long record of supporting charter schools, most recently reflected in the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Act, a bill he cosponsored in the last Congress and folded in his just-released ESEA bill. All of us at the National Alliance look forward to working with Sen. Alexander, his committee colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and their staff to grow and sustain support for our nation’s public charter schools.

Thank You, Sen. Landrieu, for Supporting Charter Schools

Former Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu isn’t a part of the new Congress, but her legacy on behalf of the nation’s students will be lasting. As I wrote in a recent blog post for US News, Sen. Landrieu “seized the mantle of public charter schools like no other senator, even before New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina and jumpstarted its recovery by turning all its schools into charter schools. She pushed hard for myriad projects aimed at supporting the growth of charter schools throughout the nation…. Landrieu used her perch on the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that funds were reaching these innovative schools.” As she moves on to the next stage in her career – which we hope gives her the opportunity to continue her drive for education reform – we offer our deepest thanks to Sen. Landrieu for her steadfast support of public charter schools.

States to Watch in 2015

The National Alliance continues to work with coalitions of state-level charter advocates to build support for public charter schools and pass new laws or strengthen existing laws. After extensive groundwork, we’re eager to move the ball forward this year in several states. Alabama and West Virginia are two of the eight states without a charter law, but with supportive political leadership in each state’s capital, we see an opportunity for a breakthrough. Oklahoma and Wisconsin currently allow charters, but only in a few locales. We’ll be advocating to make charters more widely available in both states. And we’ll be partnering with friends in Indiana and North Carolina to pursue new opportunities to advance the goal of funding equity and quality. Equitable funding, along with the need for effective authorizers and strong accountability – consistent with our Model Law – will be central to all of our state-level work.

We need to build large coalitions in these six states, so if you call one of them home, please contact Todd Ziebarth at to find out how you can help make our message heard.

National Charter Schools Conference

We hope you’ll join us in New Orleans June 21-24, 2015, for the National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15).  This year we are excited to welcome Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada and Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White as speakers. #NCSC15 is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, school leaders, administrators, board members, and advocates from across the country. This two and a half day event provides engaging keynote speeches, more than 135 breakout sessions, and myriad networking opportunities. Register now to join us in New Orleans!

Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on the generosity of friends like you to help us continue our work. We are extremely grateful for your support in 2014. As we begin a new year, please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of charter schools. Thank you.

Nina Rees


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Don’t Throw Testing Out With the Bath Water

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

The start of the new Congress has sparked renewed focus on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known by the name given to it at its last reauthorization, No Child Left Behind. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the new chairman of the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has been vocal about the need to reauthorize the law, and with the pragmatic Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., serving as the committee’s senior Democrat, many education insiders believe this is the year the law could finally be reauthorized.Read more here.

Nora Kern


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Parents’ Perspective on School Choice

This month, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released a report, How Parents Experience Public School Choice, which contains survey findings from 4,000 parents of K-12 students living in eight “high-choice” U.S. cities, defined as those with many non-neighborhood-based schools and with a range of oversight structures. The 500 parents from each location—Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.—answered questions about their ability to access other school options, their impression of the trajectory of their school district, their priorities for selecting a school, and their ability to find a school that fits their student’s needs.

Some key findings include:

  • In districts that offer parents an alternative to their assigned school, parents are utilizing their ability to choose. On the high end, 87 percent of New Orleans parents choose an alternative to their neighborhood school, while 35 percent of Indianapolis parents choose public charter schools.
  • School choice experiences vary for parents in different cities. Sixty percent of Denver parents said they had another good public school option in addition to their child’s current school. Just 40 percent of Philadelphia parents reported another quality option.
  • Navigating school choice options is more challenging for parents with less education, minority parents, and those whose children have special needs.
  • There have been uneven investments in school choice supports—namely, centralized information, enrollment, and transportation systems—among the high-choice cities.

In these eight cities, CPRE found that at least half of the city’s parents were choosing a school other than their assigned district school. This corresponds with the data in our latest A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities report, in which Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. rank among the top ten school districts in the nation for the highest charter school enrollment share, and Baltimore and Denver are both in the top 25.

It’s no surprise that parents in Denver, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. reported more positive results. These cities have been actively investing in developing high-quality school options, closing low performers, developing transportation systems, creating accessible information on school features and performance, and implementing a common enrollment system. CRPE notes “more than half of the parents in these cities reported that their cities’ schools are getting better, compared to less than a third of parents in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.” Further, 80 percent of D.C. parents and 79 percent of those in New Orleans reported that academics are the most important factor in choosing a school—over safety and location. This is a testament that families in these cities have access to safe schools.

The report concludes that “all cities have work to do to ensure choice works for all families.” To improve access to high-quality schools, CRPE recommends expanding the supply of high-quality schools, providing for specialized student needs, providing free and safe transportation to schools, and investing in information systems to help parents make informed choices.

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

Susan Aud Pendergrass


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Public Charter School Enrollment Share Continues to Grow Across U.S. Communities

Twenty years ago, charter schools were a novel idea in most communities. States began passing laws that allowed groups of motivated individuals to create innovative public schools outside of the traditional system. It took some time for parents and students to get to know these new and unique public schools. Now, however, charter schools are a growing, thriving, and integral part of more and more communities. The National Alliance’s most recent report on enrollment share shows that we now have seven major urban school districts with more than one-third of their students attending charter schools. In three of these – Detroit, Mich., Washington, D.C., and Flint, Mich. – about half of all public school students attend a charter school. For school districts that have struggled to “fix” their schools for decades, parents are clearly taking advantage of the opportunity to choose charters instead.

Not only are there more districts with a large charter enrollment share, there are also 30 districts from 19 different states that have more than 10,000 students in charter schools. In these districts, charter schools and their students are simply part of the education landscape. And 23 of those districts with the largest number of charter school students grew by more than 10 percent in just the last year. These districts show that the demand for charters gets stronger as they become more prevalent.

At the National Alliance, we collect data on student enrollment and demographics for every charter school in the US. Our database allows us to track trends in enrollment, school openings and closings, and the unmet demand that still exists in the form of students being on wait lists instead of in the charter of their choice.  Our latest report on enrollment share is the ninth in the series and like the previous editions, demonstrates that the charter school movement continues to grow.