Category Archives: Charter School Funding

In Response to “A [Kentucky] superintendent’s concerns about the charter school bill”

The State Journal (Frankfort, KY) recently published an op-ed authored by Chrissy Jones, Superintendent of Franklin County Public Schools. In the piece Supt. Jones shared her concerns about Rep. John Carney’s House Bill 520, the charter school bill currently making its way through the Kentucky General Assembly. With so much misinformation about the bill and public charter schools generally, I thought it would be helpful to her and educators and educational leaders across the state to address some of her concerns here.

  • Supt. Jones said HB 520 would “allow the formation of charter schools” in fall 2017, and goes on to suggest that public charter schools could begin admitting students in fall 2017; but she is mistaken. HB 520 states, “Beginning in academic year 2017-2018, any authorizer may authorize an unlimited number of public charter schools within the boundary of the local  school district“. That does not mean charter schools could open in fall 2017. It means charter school authorizers could begin receiving charter applications and authorizing (approving) charter schools during the 2017-2018 academic year. But even that application and approval process cannot begin until the Kentucky Board of Education promulgates regulations to guide the charter application process. The absolute earliest a Kentucky public charter school could begin serving students is fall 2018.
  • Supt. Jones said that HB 520 would “require that public school districts either transport students to charter schools or lose a portion of their transportation funds to the charter school.” That language, however, is a  mischaracterization of the requirements of the bill. HB 520 gives authorizing local school districts the option of retaining the transportation funds they receive for transporting students if they provide transportation for public charter school students who reside within the local school district’s boundaries. If a local school district chooses not to provide transportation for charter school students, it would be required to send to the charter school the transportation funds they receive for transporting those students. If local school districts will not transport students, public charter schools would be required to provided transportation to students who live within the school district.  It only makes sense that transportation funds would follow students to whatever school district or school is actually providing transportation for the student.
  • ,Finally, Supt. Jones expressed concern about public funds following students to public charter schools, and said that those funds have been “allocated for public schools”, but she is mistaken. First, if the funds in question were actually allocated for public schools all would be fine since charter schools are in fact public schools.  But those funds are not allocated for public schools; they are allocated for students. State funding for public education is disbursed to districts for public school students. That’s why Franklin County Public Schools receives funding from the state based on the number and characteristics of the students the district serves. Public charter schools would be funded in the same manner.

No Kentucky public school or school district has a right to public education funding. Public dollars are allocated for the purpose of educating students at whatever public school their parents enroll them. Franklin County Public Schools has no more right to state education funds than Starbucks has a right to my coffee money. Starbucks gets my coffee money because I choose to purchase coffee there. If I choose to go to McDonald’s, Starbucks doesn’t get a cent from me. Imagine the absurdity of Starbucks arguing that regardless of whether I purchased their coffee, they have grown dependent on my daily $2 payment and thus should have a right to receive it. Starbucks wouldn’t make that claim because they know my $2 payment is tied to my continued patronage of their shops, which is dependent on the quality of my experience there and my satisfaction with their product.  The same shall soon be the case in public education. Like private schools and public charter schools, traditional public schools must begin to come to terms with a new reality of having to compete to earn and maintain the patronage of families.

Public education dollars are for students, not school districts.

10 Truths About Charter School Legislation Charter School Opponents in Kentucky Don’t Want You to Know

The Kentucky General Assembly is carefully considering passage of the state’s first charter school law, and some parts of the traditional public school establishment are in a state of panic. In that panic, lots of half-truths and misinformation are being spread. Here are 10 thing you need to know about public charter schools and House Bill 520, the bill that would bring charters to Kentucky.

  1. Kentuckians want additional public school options.  Polling data from national and local groups including the Kentucky Charter Schools Association, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) show that the vast majority of Kentuckians are (a) supportive of public charter schools, and (b) want additional public school options for students in Kentucky.
  2. All charter schools are public schools. Public schools are public because they are open to the public, cannot charge tuition, are funded by tax dollars, and are accountable to the public. Just like traditional public schools, all charter schools meet these criteria. Charter school opponents like to argue that charter schools are not public because they are permitted to contact with private education management organizations (EMOs). What they fail to acknowledge, however, is that traditional public schools can and do contract with EMOs as well. In fact, the state education agency in MD and local public school districts across the U.S. have enjoyed successful contractual partnership with Edison Learning, Inc., a for-profit EMO. The MD State Department of Education contracted with Edison Learning to manage five persistently low performing schools in Baltimore. Similarly, the Peioria (IL) District 150 contracted with Edison Learning to provide school turnaround services over a five year period. Just as with public charters that contract for services, these schools in MD and IL remained public schools.
  3. Because public charter schools are schools of choice, no students would be assigned to them.  If a parent likes the school her child attends, she would keep her child at that  school. The only students who would attend public charter schools would be those students whose parents believe they would be better served at a public charter. If no students choose to attend the public charter school, the school would not receive public funding and would have to close.
  4. Parents don’t take their children out of schools that are serving their children well. School districts that are meeting the needs of their students have no reason to be fearful of public charter schools. It’s the rare parent who dis-enrolls her child from a school she and her child are happy with just to try something new. On the other hand, school districts that know they are failing to meet the needs of some or all of their students should be in a panic about the healthy competition public charter schools may bring to their communities.
  5. Public education funds are allocated for students; not for local school districts. The argument that charter schools will take funding away from traditional public schools makes no sense. Public education funds would continue to follow students to whatever public schools they attend, regardless of whether that school is a traditional public school or a public charter school. What is absurd is the argument that a local school district is entitled to public funds allocated for a child who no longer attends a school in that district.
  6. Public charter schools inject competition into public schooling, forcing local school districts to work harder to meet the needs of low income students. Local school districts have always had to compete to keep middle income students in their districts. Superintendents and school board members know that middle class parents dissatisfied with public schools will move to another school district or pay tuition for their children to attend a private or parochial school. But regardless of how dissatisfied low income parents are, school districts could typically count on the public dollars that follow low income students to their districts. Why? Because low income parents don’t often have the means to relocate to a school district that better meets the needs of their kids. Public charter schools give low income families additional public school options, forcing school districts to work harder to retain those students and their accompanying state and federal dollars in their districts.
  7. House Bill 520 would make local school boards the only charter school authorizers across most of the state. Only in Lexington and Louisville would mayors also be permitted to authorize and oversee public charter schools.
  8. Kentucky’s traditional public schools need lots of help meeting the learning needs of low income students and students of color. While Kentucky’s public schools have made tremendous progress since the early 1990s, the academic performance of these low income students across the state remains incredibly low. The approaches we have tried in the past and what we are currently doing is not meeting the learning needs of these students. It’s time to try some different approaches.
  9. House Bill 520 would hold public charter schools to higher standards of academic performance accountability than traditional public schools in Kentucky. In addition to public charter schools’ required participation in the state assessment and accountability system, Kentucky charters would be held accountable to performance standards articulated in their charter contracts. Charters that fail to meet or make significant progress toward meeting those goals could be shut down by their authorizer (local school boards or mayor’s offices in Louisville and Lexington only).
  10. Teachers unions’ opposition to public charter schools is about job security for adults, not what’s best for kids. No teachers would be assigned to or required to teach at public charter schools. The only teachers who would teach at a Kentucky charter are those who apply to teacher there. Still, groups like the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) oppose HB 520 because (a) Kentucky charter teachers would be less likely to be dues-paying members of KEA; (b) charter school teachers would be held to higher standards of performance accountability and could be terminated if they fail to meet performance standards; and (c) existing collective bargaining agreements between teachers unions and local school districts would not apply to public charter school teachers.

 

 

Kentucky: Any Charter School Law Just Won’t Do

With Kentucky’s election of conservative Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who included school choice as a part of his campaign platform, and Democrats coming closer by the day to losing control of the state House of Representatives, discussion of the passage of a charter school law in Kentucky has picked up significantly. In fact, I have never heard more discussion of what many education policy movers, shakers, and watchers are saying is the inevitable emergence of public charter schools in Kentucky. As a longtime advocate for the passage of strong public charter school legislation in Kentucky, I greet that conversation with cautious optimism.

It is true that the support of Governor Bevin, the support of newly appointed Education and Workforce Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner, and shaky control of the state House by Democrats, all contribute to a political environment in Kentucky that could be ripe for the passage of a strong charter school law. But even with a more favorable political environment, advocates for high quality charter schools should be more insistent than ever that Kentucky’s lawmakers get charter school legislation right. We have learned from other states successes and challeng

es that the details of charter school legislation matter tremendously.It is the provisions of the statute that set the framework what charter schools in a state will eventually become. Unfortunately, I believe the inclination of some educational leaders and lawmakers in Kentucky is to try to pass a charter school law that is most palatable to the traditional public education establishment, rather than passing a law that gives charter schools in Kentucky the greatest opportunity to be successful. Rather than putting first the academic well-being of children who will be served by Kentucky’s charter schools, I fear that some lawmakers find it preferable to please district and state-level education leaders and the organizations they represent. Make no mistake about it, the interests of children and the interests of education organizations are not always one in the same.

I have gone on record previously and I do so again in saying that I will not advocate for the passage of a weak charter school law. A charter school law in Kentucky that leads to the creation of no high quality public charter schools, or worse, leads to persistently low achieving public charter schools, would do more harm to children than good. As such, Kentucky would be better served by forgoing the passage of a weak charter school law, and having no charter school law at all.

There are many elements of a strong charter school law to be decided on, but there are a few essential elements that must be a part of Kentucky’s charter school law if it is to lead to successful public charter schools. Based on research, the successes and failures of other states, and good old fashion common sense, here are a few of those essential elements:

  • Multiple Paths to Authorization. Kentucky’s charter school law must include more than one path to authorization for schools. Local school districts may serve as one of the charter authorizers, but groups applying for a charter must have at least one additional path to apply for charter authorization. Others states have experienced success with additional routes to charter authorization through independent charter school commissions, state boards of education, state commissioners or superintendents of education, city governments, and state-supported universities. All of these options should be considered in Kentucky. Providing charter schools with only one route to authorization through local school districts would leave the establishment and success of charters schools in Kentucky solely in the hands of organizations that have opposed the passage of charter school legislation.
  • Academic Accountability. Kentucky’s charter school law must hold charter schools to the highest standards of academic performance accountability. Authorizers must be held accountable for granting charters only to groups that have a comprehensive plan for the success of the school. Authorizers must be held accountable for monitoring the academic performance of charter schools in their charge, intervening when needed, and not renewing or revoking schools’ charters when necessary. Public charter schools in Kentucky cannot be allowed to fail children and families year after year, generation after generation, as some of our traditional public schools have.
  • Collective Bargaining. Kentucky’s charter schools must not be bound by collective bargaining agreements between teachers unions and local school districts. The provisions of such agreements limit the human resources autonomy of administrators in some of Kentucky’s traditional public schools. Specifically, provisions of such collective bargaining greatly limit school administrators’ ability to recruit, hire, supervise, evaluate, and if need be, terminate school personnel. As the charter school concept is based on providing schools with greater autonomy in exchange for higher levels of academic accountability, binding public charter schools with those restrictions would be counterproductive. A charter school law would not and could not, however, prevent teachers at Kentucky charter schools from forming their own unions if they so chose and collectively bargaining with their schools.
  • Funding Equity. Kentucky’s public charter schools must receive funding that is equitable to traditional public schools. Public charter schools in some states have been crippled by receiving as little as half the per pupil dollar amount that would be allocated for a child attending a traditional public school. Such funding inequity would be unacceptable in a charter school law in Kentucky. Funding for public charter schools should be allocated in the same manner that funding for traditional public schools is allocated, on a per pupil basis. For every child whose parent chooses to enroll her in a public charter school, the same state, local, and federal dollars that would follow her to a district school should follow her to a public charter school.

The Washington State Supreme Court’s Charter School Ruling: What it Means and What it Doesn’t

If you have paid much attention to school choice news from across the country, you’ve heard that the Washington State Supreme Court delivered a monumental ruling on September 4th regarding the state’s new charter school law. In a 6-3 decision, the state’s high court ruled that the state’s charter school law (Proposition I-1240) violates the Washington State Constitution. At issue was whether charter schools in Washington may be characterized as “common schools”. This is important in Washington because the state’s constitution requires that state public school funding only be used to support common schools. In its decision, the Court deemed that because the boards of Washington’s charter schools are appointed and not elected, they may not be considered common schools, and thus are ineligible to be funded by common school funding.  

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia now have charter schools in operation. The nation’s first charter school law was passed in Minnesota in 1991. The Washington Supreme Court’s ruling marked the first time a state court has found charter school funding be be in violation of a state constitution. So as you can imagine, the ruling has sent shock waves through the charter school and school choice communities, not only in Washington, but across the United States.

What Does the Future Hold for Charter Schools in Washington State?

While charter school advocates and parents of children attending the new charter schools in Washington are working around the clock to save their new schools, in the short term, the likelihood of saving them is slim. While fundraising efforts of charter school supporters in Washington and nationally have been valiant, it”s not likely to be enough. Further, if the schools are not tax-payer funded, in my estimation at least, they may no longer be considered to be public schools.

There is no appeal’s process for the court’s decision. The Washington Supreme Court has spoken and their word is final. Just as with the U.S. Supreme Court and matters relating to the U.S. Constitution, the Washington Supreme Court is as far as it goes in Washington. In short, the Washington state constitution says what the Washington Supreme Court says it says.

All is not lost, however; at least not in the long term. Charter school advocates in Washington intend to revisit the state’s law. The Washington Supreme Court’s ruling was that charter schools in the state cannot be considered common schools because their boards are appointed and not elected. Charter advocates are now gearing up for another ballot initiative (Washington’s charter school law came as the result of a ballot initiative) which would amend the law to have charter schools boards as elected rather than appointed. Such a change would likely/maybe/possibly satisfy the Washington Supreme Court. As we saw with this case, however, the Washington Education Association is an extremely formidable foe for charter school advocates. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Implications for Charter Schools Across the U.S.

Outside of Washington state, education leaders, and policymakers, and parents are asking what the implications of the Washington Supreme Court’s decision might be for charter school policy and charter schools in other states. While the Washington state ruling does not apply to charter schools or charter school laws in other states, I do expect to see teachers unions lead (with renewed vigor) campaigns in other states to challenge the constitutionality of charter schools. My guess is the vast majority of those efforts will be unsuccessful, but there is definitely the possibility of success in some places. Charter school laws are different from state to state, and state constitutions have different provisions from state to state. Further complicating the issue is the reality that state courts have different political leanings from state to state; some which lean Right and tend to be more supportive of choice policies, and some which lean Left and tend to be much less supportive of school choice policy.

In short, the Washington ruling doesn’t signal the beginning of the end for charter schools in the U.S. As I’ve said many times and in many places before, charter schooling is now a permanent fixture of the public education landscape in the U.S. The ruling does, however, highlight a potential strategy for charter school opponents in other states. The politics of school choice has always been interesting, and it promises to remain that way.

“Race to the Top” Drives Charter School Consideration in Alabama

The latest example of Race to the Top driving education policy change in the states may be the Alabama state legislature’s consideration of a charter schools in the state. Alabama’s governor, Bob Riley, is making a strong push for allowing the creation of charter schools in the state. The push comes as a result of the state bid for federal education funding in the Race to the Top competition. The US Department of Education’s guidelines indicates that some degree of preference will be given to states that allow for the creation of creation charter schools as a school reform strategy. 

As would be expected, there is some resistance to the creation of charters in Alabama, and it comes from the expected places. The Alabama Education Association (AEA), the state’s largest professional educators association, does not support the creation of charter schools in Alabama. AEA opposes the creation of charter schools charging that charter schools will take money “from every student enrolled in the public schools of our state (a total of 740,000) and use it to create charter schools to serve only a relatively few students.” AEA’s argument is one that we’ve heard from profession education association’s around the nation now since the passage of the first charter school legislation in Minnesota in the early 1990s. But to be honest, it’s not a very good argument. There are valid arguments to be made against the establishment of charter schools, but AEA’s argument is not one. Funding for public schools, both charter and traditional, is allocated based on the number of students that a school serves. If Birmingham City Schools is serving a student, then they receive the applicable funding for that child. In the same way, if a charter school is serving a student, the charter school receives the per pupil allocation for that student. AEA is not being honest about their real issue, which is that the presence of charter schools within a school district forces the traditional public schools to compete for that student and the funding that follows him/her, whereas without charter schools, traditional public school districts have a virtual monopoly on public education. But I digress. This is another topic.
My point here is to again highlight the impact that the Obama Department of Education is having on education policy through the Race to the Top competition. The George W. Bush Administration’s handprint on education came with the passage and implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The Obama Administration, however, before even taking up the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), has used the enticement of record amounts of federal education funding to drive states to make substantive overhauls of their education systems. Alabama’s consideration and probable adoption of a charter school policy is a case in point. The US caught charter school fever in the early 1990’s, and as of today, 40 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some form of charter school legislation. Alabama is one of only 10 states that have not. The charter school reform strategy has floated around the US for nearly 20 year now, and for various reasons, many political, Alabama had chosen not to adopt it. I argue that were it not for the Race to the Top competition, Alabama would not be seriously considering the measure now. What we can take away from this is that the scent of federal dollars, especially during difficult economic times, has the power to coax states into doing things that they would not have otherwise done. Money makes things happen; even education reform. And whether you are a supporter, opponent, or indifferent toward the Obama Department of Education’s priorities, you have to admit that their strategy has been masterful thus far in getting states to march to their beat.