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30 Days of Grad: Laura Garcia

Laura GarciaLaura Garcia started as a fourth grader at Aspire. She found a school that encouraged students to dream big, think about college and start planning immediately. For Laura, it was a welcomed message. Since Laura’s first school day, her goal has been to be the first person in her family to earn a college degree.

“Unlike regular public schools, Aspire has pushed its students to be the best in whatever they do. It was not until my first school-wide town hall meeting – where we all chanted, ‘dream it; believe it; achieve it!’ – that I realized how fortunate I was to attend a school that infinitely believed in all their students,” said Laura.

It was people like Mr. Lomas, who teaches sixth-grade English, who really inspired Laura. Mr. Lomas would talk about his side gig of acting and his own dreams. After this introduction into the entertainment world, Laura has discovered his passion. This fall, Laura will be attending Cal State Northridge to study arts and entertainment management as well as theater.

“If I did not grow up attending Aspire Public Schools, I would not be the passionate, driven individual I am today,” said Laura.

Share this story! Click the following link to launch and edit in Twitter: This @aspire grad wanted to be 1st in her family to earn a college degree. Now she’s making it happen: #30DaysOfGrad

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30 Days of Grad: Mario Arteaga

Mario Arteaga was born in McAllen, Texas, and has lived in the Rio Grande Valley his whole life. He is a graduate of IDEA Public Schools and was the President of the Student Council, member of the National Honor Society, National Art Honor Society, and National Hispanic Honor Society, and Editor-in-Chief of the Yearbook. He is headed to Harvard University in the fall and plans to double major in American History and Biochemistry and then moving on to medical school. He hopes to one day become a surgeon and help save lives. When asked about what has contributed to success, Mario was quick to point out his teachers. “[They] have been a huge influence in my academic interests and have helped me discover new ideas and perspectives I never could have seen on my own,” he said. “Also, my family has been the moral support over the years and my friends have inspired me so much and always been my main source of motivation and self-improvement. It is really thanks to them that I am able to take this next step in my journey.”

Share this story! Click the following link to launch and edit in Twitter: Mario is an @IDEAschools grad & hopes to one day become a surgeon and save lives. Read his story here: #30DaysOfGrad

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30 Days of Grad: Chris Rowan

chris_rowan_demprep_WebI shouldn’t be standing here today. The odds say I should be at district high school, and if I graduate from high school I would likely be going to a community college. But that is not MY story. My story really started when I emigrated to the United States from Cameroon and was enrolled in the 6th grade.

I was born in Yaounde, Cameroon and came here when I was 12 years old. I moved to New York not knowing a word of English. This made my first years in school a challenge and made standardized testing really difficult. I worked hard with the help of my mother and family to learn English. By the end of the 6th grade I was reading at a 5th grade level. The hope for a better future is what motivated me to become educated. The American Dream.

I was lucky enough to be selected to Democracy Prep through a lottery in the 9th Grade. On my first day, I remember sitting in a classroom called Columbia, confused about what a demerit was and its implications. I questioned the fact that I was not allowed to wear the nail polish color of my choice. I was disoriented about everything involving Democracy Prep and its immense number of rules. This school was so different from anything I was used to. But coupled with my confusion was amazement. What became obvious to me as I sat in Columbia on that hot August morning, four days before any other school in New York City had even started…. I realized something that has been proven again and again over the past four years: this school is a community that will help you, heal you, pick you up when you fall and celebrate your accomplishments. In this school a common trust exists between teachers and students. This bond is far stronger than the one that I had experienced at any of my other schools. I felt this bond with all of my teachers but especially my 9th grade math teacher Mr. Jones and 10th grade math teacher Mr. Lindquist, who is in the audience tonight. These teachers are among those who have helped me survive high school. They have been through my emotional trials… and there have been a few. They have been there when I needed them. And my experience, it’s not unique. You can ask any of my classmates and each one would have a story about a teacher who has changed their lives.

My classmates and I have also created a community. We have experienced our share of joy and of discord since we became the class of 2015 on that August morning, four years ago. One thing we can agree on is that we represent a unit of individuals that have been marginalized throughout American history. We symbolize a unit of individuals who have been victimized and villainized by many. We represent a unit of individuals who are not expected to succeed. We live in a society where the odds are stacked pretty high against us. But one thing’s for sure: Democracy Prep has never allowed that to be a barrier to our success. In fact it was created in order to help prevent that from ever being our reality. With the help and guidance of Democracy Prep we have achieved great things. We have traveled across the world to Europe, South America, Asia and Africa. With the help of Democracy Prep we have been accepted to some of the best schools in the country: University of Pennsylvania, Duke, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, Williams and Wesleyan to name just a few… proving to the world that we are individuals capable of excellence. Those odds? We beat them. Those stereotypes? We destroyed them.

Graduation is not the end of my story. It isn’t over until I graduate from college four years from now. Frankly, it never ends. The mission of Democracy Prep is that we are prepared for success in the college of our choice and a lifetime of active citizenship. That’s what high expectations looks like.

In a few weeks this chapter of my story, the Democracy Prep Charter High School chapter, will be ending with me graduating as one of the highest achieving scholars in my grade. I can’t wait for the next chapter of my life to begin… in Hanover, New Hampshire where, in September, I will be a freshman at Dartmouth College!

Chris Rowan is a senior at Democracy Prep Charter High School. This post is adapted from a speech she delivered at Democracy Prep’s annual gala, which you can watch below or click here.

Share this story! Click the following link to launch and edit in Twitter: Chris is graduating from @DemocracyPrep and is headed to @dartmouth in the fall! Read her #30DaysOfGrad story here:

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Finding the Right Fit

My mother has always expressed to me that she only wants “what’s best” for me, and this is where my charter school story begins. At 14, I had been attending the same public school for eight years, yet I was unfamiliar with most teachers and students. I often felt invisible, especially during the times where I needed help, and I never knew who to talk to. I didn’t feel comfortable expressing my needs. My mother knew there were better choices for me, places where I could thrive academically and socially.

We found that choice in Perspectives Charter School.

Attending Perspectives was the first time I had ever felt comfortable in school. It was smaller, there were students of many different ethnicities, and everyone took pride in wearing their uniforms. The teachers were dedicated – they seemed to care about my learning experience, made sure I stayed on track, and provided additional help whenever it was needed.

The school taught the importance of self-perception, relationships, and productivity, which gave me the tools to lead a productive and successful life. By senior year, I had participated in two business internships, excelled in my classwork and I was accepted to every college I applied to.

After college, I joined NACSA because I believe every child deserves to receive a quality education. I love working alongside colleagues who are also driven by this belief, and who believe in producing A-level work and setting high bars for everyone’s performance – including their own. It feels great to be part of a team working to ensure students like me will have access to choices that work for them. Choices like Perspectives.


Brittany Brown is the Communications Associate for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Her blog post originally appeared on the Chartering Quality blog.

Nora Kern


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The Debate on Charter School Applications

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) recently release a report, The Paperwork Pileup, that analyzed the various questions and documentation required of public charter schools seeking authorization by state education agencies, higher education institutions, and independent charter boards. The report authors categorized the application questions into four quadrants according to the (in)appropriateness and (un)manageability of the requirement in terms of how the questions could impact school effectiveness. In short, AEI concludes that, “By larding up charter applications and branding those who do not want to or cannot jump through those hoops as not serious or qualified enough to run schools, we risk unjustly narrowing the pool of charter operators and shutting out innovation.”

Common sense says that paperwork for paperwork’s sake is unnecessary, but due diligence to ensure quality is necessary. Yet, the debate opens from there. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and Thomas B. Fordham Institute both issued rebuttals to assertions made in the AEI report. So where do you fall on the authorizing debate? Are regulations overtaking autonomy, or are they necessary gatekeepers to ensure quality school openings? Thanks to AEI for elevating this important conversation, and to NACSA and Fordham for weighing in. Please leave a comment to tell us your thoughts on charter school application requirements.

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


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Increase in Charter School Enrollment According to 2015 Condition of Education

According to the newly released 2015 Condition of Education from the National Center for Education Statistics, the education landscape is shifting. Caitlin Emma and her team at Politico write today that there is a steady growth in charter schools since 1999.

“Since the 1999-2000 school year, the number of charter schools has grown about 300 percent. There were about 6,100 charters in the 2012-13 school year, vs. about 1,500 in ‘99. Over the same time, the proportion of small charter schools has shrunk. Back then, the overwhelming majority of charters had fewer than 300 students; now, it’s only about half. About half of all charters used to be dominated by white students; that’s changed too: Now the student body at only about a third of charters is majority white. More than half of all charters are based in cities, and more than two-thirds are located in the South or West.”

For more data about the prevalence of charter schools, readers can check out our Estimated Number of Public Charter Schools & Students from February 2015 or a state-by-state analysis of the Health of the Charter School Movement from last fall. 


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Be EPIC with REACTOR at the #NCSC15 Brand Impact Workshop

We’re thrilled to be returning to the National Charter Schools Conference to present our Brand Impact Workshop for the second year in a row. We had an awesome time last year working with attendees to evaluate current brands, share best practices and set goals to guide marketing efforts, and we’ve added some new content to this year’s workshop to keep things fresh and fun!

If communications is part of your job description, it may seem unmanageable to find time to plan, post, tweet, publish, produce and create quality content and materials. However, even though your school may not be primarily focused on branding and marketing, they are still critically important to building equity in the form of community support and goodwill. At REACTOR Design Studio, we believe in the power of being E.P.I.C., or Engaging People in Conversation. Your school is designed in a way that encourages all students to thrive, but without a solid brand and effective marketing that gets people talking, you may be fighting an uphill battle to communicate with stakeholders, find success in fundraising or fight stigmas in the community.

The Brand Impact Workshop is a unique opportunity because branding and marketing are traditionally underrepresented as subject areas at the National Charter Schools Conference, but they’re topics that every school needs, whether established or start-up, big or small, urban or rural. We’ll give you the tools to critically assess your current efforts and to bring your ideas to life through concrete goals and strategies. We loved leading last year’s Brand Impact Workshop, not only because we got a chance to share and problem solve with everyone, but also because we enjoyed seeing the connections being forged during peer-to-peer discussion and having authentic conversations about your communications challenges and dreams.

When we’re not hosting the Brand Impact Workshop, where can you find us at #NCSC15? Before the sessions start, we’ll be celebrating at the Welcome Reception Parade to kick off NCSC in fabulous NOLA style. While we want to spend most of our time at the conference hanging out with all of you, we’re also hoping to carve out a few hours to walk through the French Quarter, admire the incredible historic architecture and experience some delicious New Orleans cuisine (jambalaya, gumbo, po’ boys and, of course, beignets… YUM)!

We were honored to receive the #1 workshop rating out of all of the sessions last year, and we hope to see you in our session this year! It’s going to be EPIC!

See you in NOLA!

The REACTOR team (Clifton, Chase, Emily & Julie)


Note: The brand impact workshop covers branding, marketing and PR/buzz, but if there’s something in particular that you want to learn about in the session, let us know and we’ll do our best to incorporate it! You can email us at, message us on Facebook or send us a tweet @reactorkc.


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Thirteen Years Later, I’m Still an Ambassador for Charter Schools

This is the story of my senior year of high school, when I was applying to colleges in the early aughts. I was like a lot of students from my California hometown, applying for some public UCs and a few private schools in-state and back east (also known as “where it snows,” which was generally regarded with skepticism).

But, unlike most of those aspiring freshmen, I was one of twenty kids graduating from my town’s first charter school.

This presented a challenge, as the vast majority of the country didn’t even know what a charter school was back then, including college admissions personnel. My school knew that in some ways this put me at a disadvantage, as my high school experience was going to be approached by admissions officers with a degree of skepticism.

We were a team, me and my school. We had to win those colleges over and convince them not only of my merits as an applicant, but of the merits of my school and the rigor of my high school education. We had to be ambassadors for the charter school movement.

And now, in my career at NACSA, I’m still that ambassador for quality charter schools—but in a different way.

I’m no longer speaking for one great school, but instead speaking for charter school authorizers. In their role as the gatekeepers of the charter movement, authorizers see the best and the worst of the charter sector. They see those schools that are shining stars and changing lives, and those that let our kids down. And while their identities are varied, authorizers are the common denominator in the charter sector. Every charter school in existence now and every charter school that could possibly exist in the future has a charter school authorizer.

This means the impact of authorizing is huge. If an authorizer is doing its job well, it will set the bar high and only great schools will be allowed to open and remain open year after year.

If I can give one authorizer the tools it needs to do its job well, that might mean one more class of high school seniors is preparing for their first day of college.

And, if through policy change I can ensure all authorizers in a state have the tools they need to do their jobs well, that could change a lot.


Amanda Fenton is the Director of State and Federal Policy for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Her blog post originally appeared on the Chartering Quality blog.


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Want to start a charter school and don’t know where to begin? We’re here to help.

Each year, the National Charter Schools Conference serves as a great resource for both veterans and those new to the charter school community. It is a great place to meet with people dedicated to improving lives of children around the country and to learn best practices and helpful tips to improve the quality of your school.

This year’s operations strand will feature great information that will help your school chart a course for success, with sessions on topics like how to effectively engage your community and finance your facility.

Are you applying to open a charter school but a little overwhelmed about where to start? Or have you received a charter and plan to open soon? Maybe you’re in your first year of a new school and hitting some roadblocks along the way. If you’re in any of these situations, plan on attending a roundtable discussion I’ll be leading at NCSC15.

“Three Phases of New Schools: Application, Pre-Opening, First Year” will give you a comprehensive look at what you need to know to start a charter school. The session will bring together experts in a variety of areas. From the initial application process to finance, academics, board governance, media and communications, and staff hiring, we will have you covered.

For instance, you’ll hear from Charlene Reid, Executive Director for the Bronx Charter School for Excellence (BCSE) – a nationally-recognized Blue Ribbon School that has been selected to share best practices with a neighborhood district school in the Bronx. BCSE students are proving that zip code doesn’t determine academic success. Charlene is a friend, but also a role model for other school leaders. If you want to hear a success story, you’ll definitely want to hear from her.

I feel strongly about the charter school movement and have been working with schools for 17 years. I’ve guided hundreds of new schools through the opening process and can tell you without a doubt what you need to know. 

Most importantly, I want you to know you’re not alone. We’re here to help. And we want you to succeed.

A new charter school can literally change a child’s life. That’s why this work is so important and why I sincerely want to impart the best information to new applicants early on. And what better city than New Orleans to share that information.

We hope to see you in June!


Jill Shahen is Managing Director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network

Nina Rees


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National Alliance May Newsletter

A Note From Nina

May is always a big month at the National Alliance. We just celebrated National Charter Schools Week (May 3-9), which gave us the opportunity to tout all the great things that are happening in public charter schools nationwide. And last week we released our 2014 Annual Report, which provides information about the many initiatives the National Alliance undertook last year to strengthen the public charter school movement. Titled The Numbers Add Up, our Annual Report highlights key data about the growth of public charter schools, improvements in federal and state policy, and the National Alliance’s impact as a source of research and information for advocates, journalists, and the public. The report also reminds us of a sobering number – there are more than 1 million student names on charter school wait lists. With so many students waiting for their chance to attend a high-quality public charter school, we have much more work to do. You can read my take on how to reduce the wait in this op-ed in the Huffington Post.


Nina Rees
President and CEO

National Charter Schools Week

The National Alliance joined teachers, parents, students, and advocates across the country in celebrating National Charter Schools Week from May 3-9. Here in Washington, we honored our Champions for Charter Schools – policymakers who are going the extra mile to strengthen public charter schools. Be sure to send a tweet or email to thank them for their support! We also held our first ever National Charter Schools Week essay contest, which produced great essays from students telling us why they love their charter school. Check out our blog for the winning essays at the high school, middle school, and elementary school levels. And #CharterSchoolsWeek was a big hit on social media, generating 24 million impressions on Twitter, including 9 million during our TweetUp! For a full recap of all the National Charter Schools Week excitement, including links to President Obama’s National Charter Schools Week proclamation and pictures from our visit to DC’s Thurgood Marshall Public Charter School, visit our summary page here.

Urban Students Are Waiting for Their Chance

Amid all the excitement of National Charter Schools Week, we also released a new report showing that public charter school wait lists are growing in major cities across the country. The report is an eye-opening reminder of how much work we have to do to ensure that every child who wants to attend a public charter school can do so. As we near the end of the school year, let’s commit to doing everything we can to expand the great work going on in our classrooms so that we can welcome all the students waiting for their chance.

Pressing Congress for CSP Funding

At the end of April, Nina testified in front of a U.S. House subcommittee that will help determine the funding level for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). Nina urged members to support President Obama’s budget request of $375 million for the CSP to help open new charter schools, expand and replicate high-performing charter schools, and support the financing of charter school facilities. Over the next several months, Congress will determine how much funding each program receives, and the National Alliance will continue our work to increase funding for the CSP. Click here to read the National Alliance’s statement and Nina’s testimony.

CSP in Action: Namaste Charter School

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 Namaste Charter School in Chicago. Namaste was founded on the belief that healthy children are better learners. It seeks to change the trajectory of underserved children’s lives through a holistic education program that includes daily exercise routines and healthy breakfasts and lunches, in addition to a rigorous academic curriculum in which half of classes are taught bilingually, in English and Spanish. Namaste used CSP funding at its start-up to plan for the curriculum and structure of the school. It has used additional CSP grants to provide seed money for the school library, and to launch the Learning the Namaste Way Institute, which has trained more than 80 school leaders in holistic education best practices. Read more about this truly innovative public school in this month’s profile.

Senate HELP Committee Approves ESEA Reauthorization

ESEA reauthorization took an important step forward in April when the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions approved the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA) by a unanimous vote of 22-0. The bill now moves to the full Senate. ECAA, which was introduced by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), requires that states continue to administer annual statewide assessments in grades 3-8 in reading and math and once in high school. It also modernizes the Charter Schools Program. Click here to read the National Alliance’s letter to Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray.

Understanding Title I

The federal Title I program provides $15 billion in funding for schools that serve children from low-income families. It’s an important program for many charter schools, but the process for allocating Title I funding to charter school LEAs is complicated and not particularly transparent. To help clarify the issue, we’ve posted two resources that address Title I allocations to charter schools. The National Alliance’s Christy Wolfe wrote this blog post, which provides a “crash course” in how funding reaches charter school LEAs. In addition, education policy specialist Wayne Riddle has written Issues in the Allocation of ESEA Title I Funds to Charter Schools, which goes deeper into the Title I formula and how it works for charter schools. Riddle calls for further exploration and analysis to ensure that charter schools are being funded appropriately.

Indiana and Oklahoma Improve Charter Laws

Great news from two of the National Alliance’s target states this month. Indiana governor Mike Pence and state legislators approved a budget that will provide public charter schools with a new $500 per student allotment and a $50 million loan program to help with facilities costs and other needs, reducing the funding gap between public charter schools and traditional public schools. The state also enacted legislation to improve its already strong authorizing environment. Together, these changes will help Indiana move close to the top of the National Alliance’s annual state charter law rankings. For more details, read our statement here. In Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin worked with a bipartisan coalition of legislators to pass a law that will allow public charter schools to open throughout the state, while also strengthening school and authorizer accountability. Previously, public charter schools could only operate in about 4 percent of the state’s school districts. Our statement has more details. We’re thrilled for students, parents, and our partners in Indiana and Oklahoma, and we urge other states to take notice!

28 Charter Schools Among Nation’s Best High Schools

U.S. News & World Report released its 2015 Best High Schools rankings, and 28 public charter schools are among the top 100. Moreover, two public charter high schools are ranked in the top 10: BASIS Scottsdale (#2) in Scottsdale, Arizona; and Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology (#4) in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Public high schools were evaluated based on their students’ performance on state-mandated assessments, minority and economically disadvantaged student performance, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exam results. The number of public charter schools in the U.S. News top 100 has grown over the past five years from 18 schools to 28. And the 2015 rankings included nine public charter schools that are new to the top 100 this year. Congratulations to these high-fliers!

Enhancing Authorizer Accountability

Maintaining the highest level of quality in public charter schools starts with good authorizing practices. Authorizers are responsible for ensuring that new charter schools have a credible plan for success and that existing charter schools adhere to their plans, deliver a high-quality education to students, and show good stewardship of taxpayer dollars. Given their essential role in maintaining quality and enforcing accountability, authorizers themselves must be held to high standards. A new report from the National Alliance and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) highlights how state policymakers can raise the bar on authorizer quality and examines four states – Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Ohio – that have recently taken action to improve their authorizing environments. Establishing clear and consistently high standards for authorizers is vital to ensuring that public charter schools fulfill our promise to the families and communities we serve.

National Charter Schools Conference

The 2015 National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15) is just a month 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 Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. By attending #NCSC15, you’ll have access to more than 135 breakout sessions and myriad networking opportunities. The full schedule of speakers and sessions is now available – and searchable – online. Registration rates go up after Friday, June 5, so 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 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!