A Year in Review: 2020

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Few of us will be sorry to put 2020 in the rearview mirror, but amid the many difficulties we endured this year, we also saw signs of progress, reasons for optimism, and stories of inspiration.

Charter schools went above and beyond to help students, families, and communities through multiple crises. The National Alliance was honored to support schools around the country as they dealt with the effects of the pandemic. In addition to serving as a hub for pandemic-related resources and information, we made sure charter schools were well represented in the pandemic relief legislation that passed Congress.

We also fought to combat negative stories seeded in the media by opponents who simply do not want parents to have the ability to choose their child’s public school, and who refuse to acknowledge the tremendous impact charter schools have on low-income, Black, and Hispanic students.

As the election season kicked into gear, we countered the special interest threat to charter schools with the authentic voices of our movement—school leaders, parents, teachers, and students who know firsthand the value of charter schools. Our “I am” campaign showcased who charter supporters are—Black, Hispanic, Democrat, Republican, moms, dads, and more. By educating policymakers and the public about our movement, we helped to ensure that charter schools secured key wins on Election Day.

Below you’ll find more details about these and other highlights of 2020. We’re proud of what the movement accomplished this year, and, for so many reasons, we’re eager to get started on 2021.

Happy Holidays!

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Nina Rees
President and CEO
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Going Above and Beyond During the Pandemic

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When the pandemic struck, charter schools across America pivoted quickly. They made sure their students stayed connected to the classroom, but they didn’t stop there. As part of National Charter Schools Week in May, the National Alliance honored 10 charter schools with Above and Beyond Awards for their exemplary commitment to their students and communities. Read their stories and watch a video highlighting the honored schools.

To highlight how charter schools were using their flexibility to meet students’ evolving needs, we commissioned a report by Public Impact that found smaller networks and schools representing more than 65% of the charter school landscape were able to respond quickly to respond to families. Vignettes in the report showcase some of the charter school leaders who exemplify the very best of resourcefulness.

For months, we also captured and shared uplifting stories of charter schools rising to the pandemic challenge. Close your year on a high note by revisiting our Uplifting Stories blog series.

Organizing a National COVID Response

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As an organization with nationwide scale, the National Alliance was best positioned to offer a definitive source of COVID-19 resources and information for the charter school movement. In the spring, we launched a COVID-19 webpage that provided school leaders critical links to resources they could tap into as they navigate a quickly changing educational and public health landscape.

We also offered a series of webinars on topics vital to the sector, and our annual National Charter Schools Conference went fully virtual, with presentations on trauma-informed teaching, the urgency of equity and social justice, school reopening, and much more.

As the pandemic ground on, our research team pulled together data from a variety of resources to develop an interactive map showing which communities with high concentrations of charter school students have been most affected by COVID-19. We shared this new resource widely to help inform legislative efforts to direct help to where it’s most needed.

Speaking Up for Justice

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As social justice issues shook the communities in which many of our students live, we had to speak up. When the death of Gorge Floyd shook the nation and set off understandable anger and outrage, the National Alliance condemned the unjust killing and stood with the African American community. We also took a stand in favor of police reform efforts to end practices that destroy Black lives and deepen rifts between police officers and people of color.

Demonstrating the Power of Our Movement

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The 2020 elections posed a unique threat to charter schools. Many of the people claiming to care deeply about social justice and the needs of students of color also had misguided notions about charter schools. Our movement had to speak up and show who we really are. The National Alliance worked with partner organizations and charter school supporters across the nation to elevate the voices of Black, Brown, and other charter school educators, students, parents, and supporters.

Our “I am” campaign included a powerful television ad showing why supporting Black and Brown students requires supporting the charter schools their parents have chosen. We also facilitated a series of radio interviews with Black school leaders, so these innovative educators could talk about the positive difference their schools and the charter school movement are making in their communities. Thanks to these educational efforts, numerous charter-supporting candidates won elections at the local, state, and federal level—and those who don’t support charter schools learned that we won’t back down when our schools and students are threatened.

As a new Administration and Congress prepare to take office, we recently joined a coalition of education and advocacy organizations in publicizing a list of seven criteria President-elect Biden should prioritize when selecting the next Secretary of Education.

Making a Clear Case for the Charter Schools Program

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This year, the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) faced an unprecedented threat. From the left, progressives continued their drumbeat of attacks against the program based on inaccurate and misleading claims. Meanwhile, President Trump’s final budget proposed eliminating the CSP completely, wrapping charter school funding into a larger block grant that would provide no guarantee any of the money would be used for charter schools.

The National Alliance responded vigorously. We issued our first-ever CSP Annual Report, providing a research-driven view of the impact of the CSP. We also distributed success profiles of CSP grantees, so policymakers, journalists, and the public can see what the CSP means in practice. Finally, we commissioned, in partnership with Charter School Growth Fund and Bellwether Education Partners, Clearing the Air: An Analysis of the Federal Charter Schools Program. This in-depth analysis of the CSP was accompanied by a companion toolkit to help state leaders tell the story of how the CSP has impacted students in their state.

The end result: The CSP is still going strong, with the fiscal year 2021 funding level equaling the 2020 funding level.

Providing Research to Drive the Discussion

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The National Alliance has long been viewed as the go-to source of information about the charter school sector. This year, we continued to support strong state policy by producing the 11th edition of Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws. The composition of the top 10 shows that many states are strengthening their laws based on what’s working (and what’s not working), while states with newer laws rely on the experiences of others to create the strongest possible laws right off the bat.

We also published a major update to our Data Dashboard, which serves as a one-stop-shop for charter school data. The new Dashboard showcases national facts about charter schools, management organizations, authorizers, and finance, along with data visualizations of enrollment trends, school growth, locations, student demographics, and free and reduced-price lunch eligibility. This data complements the personal stories of students, families, and educators across the nation in explaining why charter schools are essential to educational justice and opportunity.

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Our work is possible thanks to the generous contributions of individuals like you. Please consider giving a gift to support our work. Your donation will ensure we can continue to push for equitable educational options for all students in America!

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