Advocates Face Unique Challenges Advancing Charter Schools
March 31, 2017

While a new administration and a proposed federal budget have turned the national spotlight on charter schools and school choice, state advocates continue their thoughtful and strategic—and in many case years-long—advancement or defense of related state policies.

Plans around private school choice continue to evolve, while states have been welcoming, advancing, and defending charter schools for decades. Forty-four states in the country currently have charter laws on the books. While some like Minnesota welcomed charters more than 20 years ago, others like Kentucky are navigating the beginning of charter schools in their state. Advocates are currently working across the spectrum, some pushing for more equitable funding, others for district facilities access and authorizer fees, and many to keep their state’s existing law intact and clarify misconceptions.

The challenges and opportunities facing advocates are unique and highly specific to their state climate, but the lessons learned and tested strategies can be a model for others in the Network.

Advancing Charter Law

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) recently released 2017 rankings, examining how states stack up against the NAPCS’s model charter school law. The findings support the work of PIE Network members in Tennessee—TennesseeCAN, Campaign for School Equity, and SCORE—currently working to advance new charter legislation at their statehouses. The legislation focuses on policy changes related to facilities funding, facilities access, data/budget transparency, authorizer oversight, establishing an authorizer fee, and more.

Advocates in Missouri are working to both advance charter policy and clarify misconceptions for families and legislators. CEAM recently released what they call an “apples-to-apples” comparison of St. Louis and Kansas City charter schools with their respective traditional public district; this in response to misinformation circulating about charter performance in Missouri.

Charter School Funding

State Funding

While many national players debate the merits of the federal budget, state advocates are working to defend and advance charter school funding at the state level—clarifying misconceptions and offering recommendations to move forward. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute-Ohio recently released a video, dispelling the myth that Ohio charter schools divert local money from districts and that charters receive more per-pupil funding than other Ohio schools. This is in line with a new report from the Bellwether Education Partners and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, A Formula that Works, that recommends five ways to strengthen how Ohio funds their charter schools.

Colorado Succeeds is also working to pass legislation; Senate Bill 61 focuses on equalizing student funding for charter school students in the state. As the organization continues to advocate for increased funding, so do their members as shown here and here.

Meanwhile, Democrats for Education Reform – District of Columbia also continues to fight for more funding for charter school facilities. While nearly 50 percent of school-aged children in the district attend charter schools, not all of the city’s lawmakers are charter supporters. The fight continues as DFER D.C. describes here. 

Federal Funding

Many PIE Network policy partners have reacted to the proposed federal budget—some praising the investments in new charters and others questioning the overall impact on the public education system. Regardless of the proposed investment in new charter and choice programs, some warn that existing charter schools could face similar cuts as traditional public schools. The effects of eliminating Title II funding as well as the 21st Century Community Learning Program could be far reaching for all school models.

A group of 18 charter network CEO’s—working across the country— issued a letter to President Trump, urging him to build back up programs cut from his recent skinny budget. While the charter leaders acknowledged the $168 million earmarked for new charter school funds, they cautioned that their students need additional supports to ensure postsecondary opportunities and support during their K-12 career. Specifically, the group urged the President to protect Pell Grants and AmeriCorps. The group wrote, “Budgets are statements of priorities, and this one sends a clear message that public education is not a top priority.”

The ongoing fight for charter school equity touches many areas of the country. Now that 44 states have a charter law on the books, some would argue that charter schools are a mainstay in the education fabric of this country. Could this type of “choice” continue to grow as a viable education option? Or will we see a decline in charter growth as Robin Lake from the Center for Reinventing Public Education described in her opinion piece last month.

Greg Richmond, President and CEO of the National Association or Charter School Authorizers shared concern in a recent blog that the charter movement is moving away from the original principles upon which charters were built—choice for parents, innovation, and accountability. Richmond said, “If we want to create much-needed better educational options for kids, we must recommit to the original principles that have enabled many charter schools to achieve excellence. Then, our conversations with friends and neighbors might be less about who’s at the helm of the U.S. Department of Education and more about how charter schools are providing a good education to millions more children.”

While debates on charter schools and choice will likely continue, one thing is certain—charter advocates will continue their fight for equity and fairness in state capitols for the families and students they serve.

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Tanzi West Barbour

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

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