Our team at the National Alliance is still buzzing from what was undoubtedly our best conference yet. The 2019 National Charter Schools Conference brought together more than 5,100 supporters—a record number—at a time of major challenge for our movement. In my remarks, I spoke about the urgency of the threats facing our schools and the imperative of fighting for our students. I also echoed these themes in an op-ed for The 74. As presidential candidates continue to take potshots at public charter schools that are changing students’ lives, it’s more important than ever that we demonstrate our power to protect our students.
We were honored to have the Majority Leader of the Nevada Assembly, Teresa Benitez-Thompson, and Assemblywoman Jill Tolles open the conference. These two members of the first majority-female state legislature in U.S. history reflect the bipartisan spirit that has led our movement to where it is today. I also joined Pat Hickey of the Charter School Association of Nevada to write about what policymakers in other states can learn from Nevada.
Everyone at NCSC19 was inspired by speeches from Sal Khan and Hadi Partovi, who are igniting revolutions in education through the power of technology, and by Clifton Taulbert, who spoke movingly about how educators can help students transcend humble beginnings and make their mark on the world. We also heard from students themselves whose lives have been changed by being able to attend a charter school. Howard Fuller and Keri Rodrigues fired up the troops with rousing calls for educators and parents to join the fight and tell our opponents that we will not let them take away public schools that are working for kids.
In case you didn’t hear, Pitbull (aka Armando Christian Pérez) made an appearance to induct Fernando Zulueta into the National Charter School Hall of Fame. Fernando and his fellow inductees Joe Nathan and Margaret Fortune all made clear that even though they are now hall of famers, they have plenty more to contribute to the charter school movement.
I leave every National Charter Schools Conference energized for the work ahead. Being able to reconnect with people from across the country who are all working toward the same goal—a better public education for all students—is like a shot of adrenaline. None of us is in this fight alone. As much as our opponents want to portray us as outliers in public education, the truth is—as Margaret Fortune reminded us—we are the leaders in public education. We are the visionaries and the doers, the people who are delivering on promises to students who have been underserved and overlooked for too long. And we’re ready to fight.
Be sure to mark your calendars now for next year’s National Charter Schools Conference, June 21-24, 2020, in Orlando!
President and CEO
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
2019 National Charter Schools Conference
More than 5,100 of our closest friends gathered in Vegas for our annual convening of the charter school movement. In addition to the highlights described above, dozens of breakout sessions and workshops featured charter school educators and experts presenting on topics including early childhood education, student achievement, mental health, social justice, finance, board governance, policy activism, teacher and student diversity, and much more. Our homerooms, wellness center, and Charter Talks were particularly popular this year! And there was plenty of time for informal networking and reconnecting with colleagues from around the country. The best of our movement was on display as people learned from each other and returned home with new ideas for making education more meaningful and effective. If you weren’t able to join us, or you want to relive the magic, you can watch several of this year’s sessions on our Facebook page.
Here are a few pics to give you a flavor of the event:
The National Alliance has been working with a network of grassroots activists to educate the 2020 candidates on charter schools. Together with our partners at La Comadre, we are proud to support the relaunch of the #ChartersWork campaign at charterswork.com. The campaign features a petition directed at the candidates to make sure they know that black and Hispanic families support charter schools. More than 5,000 parents, families, teachers, and school and community leaders across all 50 states have already added their names. Please sign the petition to tell 2020 candidates to end attacks on our children’s education. And help us share this campaign as widely as possible!
In conjunction with the relaunch of #ChartersWork and the 2019 National Charter Schools Conference, the National Alliance released an open letter, signed by 244 leaders of color, imploring Sen. Bernie Sanders to withdraw his call for a moratorium on public charter schools. We urge Sen. Sanders and all candidates for public office to listen to what these families are saying and act to support the growth of high-quality charter schools.
Last week, Nina Rees appeared on Fox and Friends to push back on 2020 candidates siding with special interests over students. During the segment, she pointed out that the two top teachers’ unions have spent nearly $200 million influencing elections since 2012—including $30 million to federal candidates in 2016.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a fiscal year 2020 appropriations bill that would reduce funding for the Charter Schools Program (CSP) by $40 million, or 9 percent, to $400 million. The Senate still has to act. We submitted testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee, though it’s unclear when the Senate will take up the bill. Our funding request in the Senate remains $500 million and we are hopeful that the Senate will, at the very least, reinstate CSP funding at its current level of $440 million.
The House Ways and Means Committee passed a one-year extension of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) allocating $5 billion, the highest baseline level allocation in the program’s history. Among other purposes, the NMTC can be leveraged to help charter schools finance facilities. For more information, see the New Markets Tax Credit Coalition statement and the committee press release. The House bill is an important first step in a process that may take until December to become law.
The U.S. Department of Education published a notice inviting applications for grants to Charter School Developers for the Opening of New Charter Schools and for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools. Charter school developers in states that do not currently have a CSP State Entity grant are eligible to apply. Read more information about this grant competition, including a webinar recording for interested applicants, or contact the CSP team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications are due August 2.
Applications are also currently open for the State Charter School Facilities Incentive Grants Program (SFIG) and Grants for Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities (Credit Enhancement). If you were unable to attend the live pre-application webinars, you can view recordings of the SFIG webinar and Credit Enhancement webinar and access other application materials on the program websites. Applications for both competitions are due July 19.
The Department of Education released final non-regulatory guidance on the new supplement not supplant requirement under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act. The guidance makes several clarifications about the implementation that are helpful to charter schools. Most importantly, it clarifies that single-school LEAs do not have to demonstrate compliance. For more information, contact Christy Wolfe.
Additional grant applications charter schools may be eligible for include:
- Educational Technology, Media, and Materials for Individuals with Disabilities—Stepping-up Technology Implementation, through the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. The purpose of these grants is to improve results for children with disabilities through the use of technology, captioning, and video description, accessible educational materials, and specialized educational activities. Charter schools that operate as their own LEAs are eligible to apply and applications are due July 22.
- Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant Program. The purpose of this program is to support and demonstrate innovative partnerships to train school-based mental health service providers for employment in high-need schools and LEAs. Charter schools that are their own LEAs and meet criteria are eligible to apply in partnership with one or more eligible institutions of higher education. See all the details in the notice. Applications are due August 5.
West Virginia passed a bill that, in theory, will allow public charter schools in the state. Unfortunately, because of political pressure from special interest groups, the bill was written to actually discourage the creation of high-quality public charter schools. Two provisions are particularly problematic: county boards are the only entities that can authorize charter schools and a cap on growth effectively only allows one charter school per year. Regardless, the teachers’ unions have vowed to fight the law in the courtroom. Read the National Alliance’s full statement.
In Alabama, which has a young charter school sector, we worked with our state partners to ensure that the state’s budget bill included an allocation of $400,000 to provide pre-planning grants to help founding groups write strong applications.
Florida continues to set the pace for promoting charter school funding equity. Lawmakers there provided almost $160 million to the state’s charter school capital outlay fund, in addition to giving charter schools equal access to future local property tax referendums run by districts. Indiana also made progress on funding equity, bumping up its charter school facilities allotment from $500 per pupil to $750 per pupil.
Two anti-charter school bills continue to move through the legislature in California. AB 1505 and 1507 were passed out of the Senate Education Committee this past week. They now move to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Among other damaging provisions in the bills, they would allow districts to consider fiscal impact when making decisions about charter school applications and would significantly restrict the ability of charter school applicants to appeal district denials.
The First District Court of Appeals in Florida heard oral arguments on a constitutional challenge to a bill that ensures all of the state’s public school students receive more equitable funding. The National Alliance’s Charter School Legal Action Fund has supported efforts to uphold the law, which requires school boards to share capital outlay dollars with charter schools. Read our statement.
In Mississippi, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit in 2016 attacking the constitutionality of the funding mechanism for state-authorized charter schools. The trial court upheld the constitutionality of the system, and we’re hopeful that the Mississippi Supreme Court will affirm the trial court’s decision. The National Alliance filed an amicus brief to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on June 18.
Charter School Facilities Update
Using moral obligations in the charter school sector is relatively new, but their use may be growing because of their benefits: significant interest savings for schools without the addition of debt to a state’s balance sheet. In a recently published report, Lowering the Cost of Capital for Public Charter Schools: A Closer Look at Moral Obligation Bonds, Peter Schaeffing looks at how and why some states are turning to moral obligation bonds to fund charter school facilities.
A new campaign led by the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools is designed to get the DC government to follow its own law and give charter schools the "first right of offer" on surplus schoolhouses to buy or lease them before developers can bid for them. Watch the campaign video and read an article by the association’s executive director, Ramona Edelin.
Christy Wolfe, the National Alliance’s senior policy advisor, responded to the majorly flawed analysis put out earlier this year from the union-funded Network for Public Education, accusing the Department of Education of being “asleep at the wheel” when it comes to oversight of the Charter Schools Program.
National Alliance senior director of research and evaluation Nathan Barrett, Ph.D., also knocked down misconceptions about charter schools from a recent article in The Nation. In a separate article, Nathan explained why claims levied by anti-charter school advocates are unlikely to create better opportunities for historically underserved students.
A recent report from the Fordham Institute, Student-Teacher Race Match in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, finds that black students in public charter schools are about 50 percent more likely to have a black teacher than their traditional public school counterparts. Charter schools also employ about 35 percent more black teachers, proportionally, than traditional public schools. The National Alliance issued a statement on the report. Senior director of government relations Ron Rice noted in an article for the Newark Star-Ledger that research shows having teachers that reflect their students’ diversity reduces the probability of dropping out of high school.
A new study of schools in Newark, New Jersey, shows city students making strong gains over the past 12 years, with particularly strong results in charter schools. Meanwhile, in South Jersey, new research from CREDO finds that charter schools in Camden are outpacing traditional district schools, with students matching or exceeding statewide gains in math and reading.
A new CREDO report on Maryland finds that, in a year's time, the typical charter school student has stronger growth in both reading and math compared to the educational gains the student would have had in a traditional public school. This equates to 30 extra days of learning in reading and 35 extra days in math, with greater academic progress for black and Hispanic students.
A study of charter school students in North Carolina looked at social measures beyond academics and found that students who switched to a charter school in 9th grade from a district school, were, compared to peers who remained in district schools, “less likely to be chronically absent, suspended, be convicted of a crime as an adult, and more likely to register and participate in elections.” This is the latest of several studies showing that attending a charter or choice school reduces the likelihood of being incarcerated.
From The Charter Blog
Over the past six weeks, we’ve featured the inspiring stories of charter school graduates from around the country. Read and share all the 2019 #CharterGrads stories!
Also be sure to read a recent New York Daily News op-ed by Nina Rees, explaining why blocking access to charter schools would close off a route many students are using to get to college.
Welcome to the National Alliance!
Reed Mitchell is the National Alliance’s new communications coordinator. Reed earned her bachelor of arts in elementary education at American University’s School of Education, with a concentration in fine art. She did her practicum and student teaching in Maryland elementary schools and worked as an intern with our development team last summer. Reed is originally from Massachusetts and currently resides in Virginia.
We also want to give a big thank you to our fellows and interns: Brittany Harris, a policy and government relations fellow; Christina Johnson, an intern working with our operations and HR team; Aliyah McNeely, a research and data fellow; Sarah Pierre, a UNCF Fellow working with our communications team; and Cynthia Xu, our research and data intern. We’re grateful to these four outstanding team members with bright careers ahead of them!
Great Talent Needed!
Don’t forget to visit our Charter School Job Board, which includes job openings for a variety of positions across the country. It’s a great resource for organizations looking to hire and for individuals looking to make a difference in the lives of students.
Support the National Alliance
The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on generous partners like you. Please consider supporting the growth and sustainability of charter schools by making a tax-deductible gift or adding your name to our advocacy list. Thank you!