Three Under-the-radar Wins for Charter School Policy in 2016
January 26, 2017

Charter school policy is consistently one of the top priorities of PIE Network members and in 2016, advocates made great strides in this policy area. And while recent wins in Washington state, Alabama, and even Louisiana received national attention, several other states advanced charter policies in significant ways. Here are three charter policy wins from 2016 that you might not have heard of. Head to the PIE Network Policy Map if you want to learn about all PIE Network Member charter work in 2016.

Mississippi First Strengthens the State’s Charter Law through SB 2161

There were three significant charter policy wins in Mississippi in 2016. First, students living in rural areas were allowed to cross district lines and attend a charter school of their choice. This was crucial because many school districts in rural regions of Mississippi do not have large enough student populations to sustain charter schools in their immediate area. In order to allow charter schools to expand to rural parts of the state, Mississippi’s law needed to change.  

The second policy change focused on the protection of teachers’ retirement benefits should they choose to leave the traditional public school system and teach in a charter school. Prior to the policy change, charter school teachers did not have access to the state retirement system. With the change, the teachers are now connected with the retirement system and charter schools are able to attract more experienced teachers to their school.  

The third policy change, and perhaps the most important, pushed for a law to allow charters to open in C-rated districts without the possibility of a district school board veto. The initial law only allowed charters to open in school districts rated D or F without a veto. By adding the C-rated districts, the law is broader and allows for more school choice in the state.

The success Mississippi First experienced with this issue was years in the making. Since their founding, they have built important relationships with key policymakers, established credibility as an organization and leader in the charter school and advocacy space, and educated many key people about how charter schools can be a high-quality educational option Mississippi.

Mississippi First  published their recommendations in two policy briefs (found here and here) and shared them with members of the education committees in the House and Senate. They worked with the education policy advisor in the Lt. Governor’s office to draft a bill, which included all of their recommendations. Eventually, SB 2161 passed with a bipartisan vote that was split down party lines.

The bill language is a model for other states seeking to accomplish something similar. Contact Angela Bass, Deputy Director of Policy, if you want to learn more.

Arkansas Learns Works to Secure Charter Facilities Funding for the First Time

Funding for charter school facilities is not easy to come by in Arkansas. Last year was the first time that charters received any money for facilities from the state. By comparison, the state has given over $1 billion in funds to traditional districts for facilities over the past eight years.

In 2016, Arkansas Learns, a new member of the PIE Network, successfully supported two bills related to public charter school facilities funding: a reappropriation of $5 million for facilities loans, and a reappropriation of $15 million for a facilities grant fund. For the second year,  the Arkansas Department of Education’s budget will include $5 million for charter facilities grant funding. The act includes stringent rules about funds being used for facilities only including maintenance and operation. Schools receiving the funds must also be in good standing and cannot be in Academic Distress or rated ‘F.’

Arkansas Learns constantly educates hired, appointed, and elected leadership on the work and success of charter schools and fights for even the most basic funding for charters. Much of their work has focused on increasing the knowledge base around the importance of  funding charter schools and being  part of the process of state education board elections. Because of their hard work, the Arkansas State Board of Education has more charter-friendly supporters on it as members than ever before.

For more information about how Arkansas Learns was able to secure charter facilities funding in Arkansas, contact Gary Newton, President and CEO.

StudentsFirstNY Earns Four Wins to Help Expand Charter Growth in New York

StudentsFirstNY executed a multi-dimensional campaign that included parent mobilization, media outreach, and, most notably, legislative lobbying to deliver important wins for the charter sector in New York. Legislative action focused on the state budget passed at the end of March and the end of session omnibus bill passed in mid-June. They worked in partnership with other state education reform groups, including PIE Network member Families for Excellent Schools, to help make these reforms happen. Their wins included:

  1. Regulatory Relief for High Performing Charters: StudentsFirst NY negotiated a new law that gives broad authority to SUNY (the charter authorizer that oversees most of the high-performing networks in New York) to promulgate new policies that override existing laws and regulations.
  2. $1,000 in Additional per Pupil Funding for all charters next year.
  3. Permanent Extension of Rental Assistance: In a major victory for charters, StudentsFirstNY successfully won a permanent extension of rental assistance for high performing charters that are forced to open new schools in private space. It forces New York City to pay 20 percent of per pupil funding, a major incentive to Mayor de Blasio to find public space for growing charters.
  4. No poison pills: All these wins came without having to accept a single one of the dozens of Assembly bills that would have hurt charters, many of which would have forced virtually every charter school to close.

To learn about the role New York parents played in this work, check out this document. To learn more about these wins, you can contact Glen Weiner, Deputy Executive Director.

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This blog is the fourth of a series highlighting important advocacy work of 2016. All information from this post, plus much more, can be found on the PIE Network’s Policy Map, which contains in-depth information about the campaigns and legislative actions of member organizations dating back to 2013. Additionally, each action includes lessons learned, resources, bill language, and contact information. For a brief overview of what each organization worked on in 2016, view the 2016 Legislative and Policy Brief.


Tanzi West Barbour

Tanzi is PIE Network's Senior Director, Communications, Charters, and Choice


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