Charter Schools Lifetime Achievement Award

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The Charter Schools Lifetime Achievement Award is granted to extraordinary individuals who devote tireless passion in support of charter schools, and dedicate their lives to accomplishing significant results for the charter school movement. This honor is awarded to contributors who have had a lasting and fundamental impact on, not only charter schools, but the education system as a whole. The awardee is someone who has demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to the cause, and whose numerous achievements have been acknowledged by charter school advocates, their professional peers, and the general public.

Senator Lamar Alexander

Twenty years ago, as the U.S. Secretary of Education, then-Secretary Lamar Alexander wrote a letter to all the school superintendents in America urging them to try what a small number of Minnesota public schools were doing in what they were then calling startup schools. These were the first charter schools in America. Later, during his career in the Senate, Senator Alexander continued to support innovation in public education.

Senator Alexander was first recognized by the National Alliance as a “Champion for Charters” in 2007. As Chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee and a member of the Senate appropriations committee, Senator Alexander understands the value of charter schools and works hard to ensure more students have access to a high-quality public-school option. He has championed charter schools since they were created and his clarity around providing high-quality education options today makes him an invaluable leader in education equity.

Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker

Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker is the former chief of staff to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also served as executive director of the Southern Leadership Conference, and from 1970-1980 as special assistant for urban affairs to New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. Walker was essential to the civil rights movement, working as the first full-time executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He helped organize the 1963 “March on Washington,” and the 1963 protests in Birmingham, Ala., which led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. His pioneering work extended beyond the borders of the United States as Walker worked to fight apartheid in South Africa by organizing the International Freedom Mobilization in 1978, and was later inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Serving 37 years as pastor of Harlem’s Canaan Baptist Church of Christ (1967-2004), he was named Pastor Emeritus in 2004, and remains an integral part of the community.

His concern for educational excellence as a continuation of his civil rights activism led him to advocate for a charter school in the Harlem community, where he co-founded the Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem, the first charter school in New York approved by the State University of New York.

President Bill Clinton

President Clinton championed public charter schools throughout his career, most especially with the establishment of the federal Charter Schools Program, which has allowed thousands of charter schools to open and will give millions of students a chance at a better education. This award recognizes President Clinton’s ongoing support of public charter schools spanning more than 20 years. President Clinton established the federal government’s interest in supporting the development of the charter school movement in 1993, when he proposed the Charter Schools Program (CSP). This program was enacted through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1994. The CSP is a discretionary grant program, administered by the U.S. Department of Education. It supports the planning, development and start-up process for new charter schools. When President Clinton was elected in 1992 there was only one charter school open. By the time his administration left office, there were over 2,000 charter schools across the nation.