Tag Archives: school choice

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.

 

 

All Parents Like School Choice, For Their Own Children

I haven’t had the opportunity as of yet to meet a parent who would would prefer to not have school options available for their children. To be clear, I run into parents in Kentucky and across the nation regularly who argue, fight against, and curse charter schools and the expansion of other school choice policy measures, but these parents are fighting to stop the expansion of school choice for other people’s children, not their own. Even the most die-hard charter school opponent will usually tell me, without recognizing the irony, how he or she carefully selected a neighborhood, used social and political connections, negotiated as part of an employment contract, or pay tuition at a private school in order to choose the best schools for their children. And what is implied in our conversation is that they believe their middle class and/or professional status qualifies them to be able to exercise school choice.

I don’t know of an American parent who doesn’t want at least a few school options available to their kids, and you likely don’t know one either. So why are charter schools and school choice so controversial if everyone wants it for their own kids? Simple. Some of us continue to put adults and adult organizations above the needs and best interests of children.

Opposition to charter schools and school choice is usually about adults: adults’ jobs and job security; enrollment and financial stability of traditional public school districts; teachers unions and their membership rolls, dues, and collective bargaining agreements; etc. That’s the stuff that makes charter schools and school choice controversial: stability, security, and power for adults and adult organizations.

So what if traditional public school districts can’t keep up with parent and student demand for increased specialization in academic, arts, and career pathways as evidenced by ridiculously long waiting lists at the limited number of programs offered… So what if traditional public school districts have proven to be ill-equipped to meet the diverse needs of learners… So what if the instructional approach used at a particular school is simply not appropriate for engaging and/or meeting the academic needs of a whole population of students… So what if less than a quarter of the kids in a school district who qualify for free or reduced price meals meet the mark of being proficient or distinguished on state standardized examinations in reading and mathematics… That’s just how the cookie crumbles, right? Teachers unions have to fill membership rolls and collect dues. School districts can’t take the chance of parents opting to send their kids to a non-district run public school because the district is counting on the dollars the state sends for their kid (whether the district serves the kid well or not). So no, we can’t afford to deal with this school choice nonsense because the adult business of school is not set up for parents to be able to choose.

It turns out it’s not ‘all about kids’ after all, is it?

Charter Schools Are Public Schools, Period.

The Kentucky Education Association (KEA) has launched a wide ranging media campaign voicing the organization’s support of public schools. What is not explicitly stated but is implied through their messaging is a limited conceptualization of what public schools are. What I believe the organization would like to say is that it supports schools operated by traditional public school districts. If the organization’s stance was truly what the words of its campaign says, it would be supportive of efforts to expand the public school options available to parents in Kentucky through the passage of public charter school legislation. Unfortunately, however, KEA has been a barrier to the expansion of public school options for parents in Kentucky.

To be clear, charter schools are public schools in every way. There are a few criterion that make schools public: (1) They are open to public; (2) they do not charge students tuition; (3) they are publicly funded; (4) there is public accountability. That’s it. Schools don’t have to be operated by traditional public school districts to be public. Schools can contract with and purchase goods and services from both nonprofit and for-profit organizations and still be public (many traditional public schools and school districts do so now). These additional conditions that charter school opponents want to impose on charter schools to support their false claims that charter schools are not public schools are wholly inappropriate. In fact, if any conditions other than the ones I have provided here are required for schools to be considered public, many schools operated by traditional public school districts in Kentucky and across the U.S. could not be considered public schools.

In sum, charter schools are in fact public schools in every sense of the word, period. As such, those who say they love and support public schools should be supportive of efforts to expand the high quality public school options available to parents in Kentucky.

 

Public Charter Schools Consideration in Kentucky: 2017 Legislative Session

As the Kentucky General Assembly enters serious consideration of a charter school bill in the 2017 legislative session, I have taken some time to reflect a bit on the charter school movement across the United States and in Kentucky. With the first charter school law passed in Minnesota now more than 25 years ago, charter schools are now  a permanent fixture in the public education firmament. And while there has been pretty significant variation across the states in the details of charter school laws and some variation in the academic performance of charter schools, very few individuals or groups now regard the additional public school options created by charter school legislation as being anything but positive.

Public charter schools, as schools of choice, provide parents with additional public school options to choose from. It’s really that simple. While teachers unions and some traditional civil rights organizations like the NAACP continue to paint charter schools as something they are not, the demand for public charter schools has never been greater, as evidenced by their continually expanding waiting lists all over the country. When you get down to the truth of this debate, regardless of whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a student, or a concerned community member, there is absolutely no reason to reasonably object to charter schools coming to Kentucky.

First and foremost, charter schools are schools to which parents choose to send their children. Children are neither assigned nor required to attend charter schools. As charter schools provide parents with additional school options, these new or converted schools provide parents with an additional public school choice. Parents who are uninterested in charter schools overall or in any particular charter school simply enroll their kids elsewhere.

Second, our ever-changing economy and demands of the workforce mean education and training must become more specialized than ever before. Charter school legislation allows for the creation of additional public schools capable of providing that needed degree of specialization. And because these are schools of choice, parents are able to choose among the various schools and programs provided both in traditional public school districts and in public charter schools.

Third, if charter schools don’t perform, there is a mechanism built into charter school laws that allows states to close them down. Much different than some traditional public schools and school districts that have been permitted to under-serve children, families, and communities for generations, charters are granted for specific periods of time; and if charter schools fail to meet the performance standards articulated in the charter contract, charter authorizers are called upon to not renew or revoke charter contracts. Those of us who are advocates for high quality public charter schools have no interest in creating additional public schools that will not serve children well. Frankly, Kentucky has too many of those schools already.

Finally, it’s no secret that Kentucky’s traditional public school districts and schools have struggled mightily to improve the academic performance of traditionally underperforming students, including children from low-income families, students of color, and students with disabilities. In fact in some Kentucky school districts, rather than closing achievement gaps, gaps are actually widening. School struggles raising students’ performance is in large part the result to the dominant one-size-fits-all/mass production model of public education. With such a model, students that don’t have typical academic needs and professional aspirations usually end up under-served by a system that caters to the typical student. The problem is very few of our students are typical in terms of their academic needs or career aspirations, so providing more specialized approaches for reaching and serving students should be at the top of our list of education priorities. Research and experience have shown us that public charter schools have been incredibly effective with the very populations of students traditional public schools have struggled to engage most, and that charter boards and operators have used the flexibility provided through charter laws to create schools that deliver the very specialized instruction our increasingly diverse population of students need to be prepared for success in the workplace and in postsecondary education and training programs.

Kentucky parents should be pleased that after years of charter school legislation being stalled in the legislature for political reasons, the passage of a law that will all charter schools to be established in the Commonwealth seems imminent. If the Kentucky General Assembly does in fact pass a charter school law during the 2017 legislative session, it will be first and foremost a victory for Kentucky’s students and parents. A new tool will have been added to the tool belts of state and local education leaders for addressing the Commonwealth’s continuing challenges in education and workforce development.

Public School Options Currently Available in Louisville Are Not Sufficient

WFPL reported this week that Jefferson County Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Donna Hargens has said that a strategy for fighting charter school support is pushing the idea that Jefferson County parents already have a form of school choice. First, you can’t take seriously the argument that there should be no charter schools in Jefferson County because sufficient choice already exists within the system. Jefferson County does in fact offer some programs and schools of choice for families, but the argument that the choices available to parents in Jefferson come close to meeting parents’ demand for high quality school options is simply false. And please don’t take my word for it, ask parents in Jefferson County.

Jefferson County parents will tell you that the JCPS portfolio of schools includes schools that have struggled mightily as well as schools that parents would be willing to pay tuition for their children to attend. Within JCPS, there are schools and programs of choice that parents try to use every available connection to get their children into, and there are other schools that very few parents with means would send their children to. The reality is that the general quality of the school your child attends in JCPS is a function of where you live in the school district, your social and political connections, your child’s academic ability, and sheer luck. There is always the possibility that you could live in a low-income neighborhood in Jefferson County, have no social or political connections to speak of, have a child with average academic ability, yet still have her accepted to one of the schools that parents fight over. But there’s also the possibility that you could win the lottery. We know that people do in fact win the lottery, but most of us will not. And getting your child into a school that you feel good about, ideally a high quality public school, shouldn’t be like playing the lottery.

So While Dr. Hargens is correct that there are some school options in JCPS, there are not nearly enough of them; and that’s not just my position, that’s the position of parents in Jefferson County. JCPS should welcome the creation of additional high quality school options for parents in Jefferson County, and they should be ready and willing to make the case to parents that the school options provided by JCPS are superior to anything else that’s available. The creation of high quality charter schools in Jefferson County would be a small step in the direction of forcing JCPS to compete for the tax payer dollars that fund public education for children in Jefferson County.

The Prichard Committee’s Position on Charter School Authorizing is Shortsighted

I have long been a fan of The Prichard Committee‘s education reform advocacy work in Kentucky. The organization has a rich history of pushing boundaries and challenging both policymakers and the public to consider uncomfortable but needed reform in education. But the Committee’s recent Statement on Charter Schools in Kentucky regarding charter school authorizing is incredibly shortsighted.

As one of the principles for considering charter schools in Kentucky, the Committee has taken the following stance:

  • Authorization of charter schools should be by local boards of education following rules established by the state Board of Education that define processes for creation, conversion, renewal, revocation, closure and dissolution. Training of local boards, provided by the Department of Education, on charter school regulations, procedures and oversight should be required prior to any authorization.  Authorization of charter schools should be allowable only in circumstances of persistently low-achieving schools and/or significant achievement gaps.

Such a stance is particularly problematic for advocates of high quality charter schools in Kentucky, first and foremost because we know from experience nationally that such an arrangement is not likely to lead to the creation of high quality charter schools in Kentucky. Iowa did something similar to what the Prichard Committee has called for and passed charter school legislation in 2002 which requires that charter schools be approved by local boards of education. The result is that there are only three charter schools in Iowa after 13 years. The position that only local school districts may serve as charter school authorizers in Kentucky, just as in Iowa, is nearly the same as taking the position that there should be no charter schools in Kentucky. As evidence, you are likely to find support for the Prichard Committee’s Statement from opponents of charter school legislation in the Kentucky.

Over the last 25 years, we have learned that state charter school laws can be written in ways that guarantee that there will be few if any charter schools in a state. Opponents of charter school legislation work hard to incorporate those types of provisions into charter schools laws wherever possible. Mississippi’s first charter school law is a prime example. Under Mississippi’s former charter school law, the State Board of Education was the sole authorizer for charter schools in the state, and only a local school district could apply to convert one of its persistently low performing schools to a charter school.Even if granted the charter, the operation of a Mississippi charter school would have remained with the local school district. The result was that no charter schools were authorized in Mississippi. In 2013, Mississippi revamped its law, allowing for the creation of start-up and conversation charter schools that may be authorized by local boards of education, or a newly created Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. As a result, charter schools with promise are now being authorized in Mississippi.

Both the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), national organizations with records for advocating for strong charter school laws and high quality charter schools, have taken the position that state legislation should allow for multiple authorizers for charter schools. In measuring how state’s laws stack up to their model charter school legislation, the National Alliance scores states on the extent to which state laws “allow two or more authorizing options (e.g., school districts and a state charter schools commission) for each applicant with direct application to each authorizer.”

NACSA’s position on charter school authorizers is below:

  • NACSA encourages states to establish an alternative authorizer that meets NACSA’s Principles & Standards and which provides all charter school applicants with at least two authorizer options in every jurisdiction. Ideally, the alternative authorizer would be an ICB [independent charter board] and would have the ability to take applications directly, not just upon denial by the local school district. Regardless of the type, all authorizers should be required to implement strong practices in keeping with NACSA’s Principles & Standards, or similarly rigorous state standards for authorizers.

The Prichard Committee’s desire to limit charter school authorizing to local boards of education is out of line with what we have learned nationally about the establishment of high quality charter schools, and with the recommendations of respected charter school policy organizations. Further, the superintendents of Kentucky’s two largest school districts have made it clear that they do not want charter schools in Kentucky. With that understanding, taking the position that charter schools may only be authorized by local boards of education is nearly the same as the Prichard Committee saying that there should be no charter schools in Kentucky. If the Committee’s position is to support local boards of education in their opposition to charter schools in Kentucky, then they should simply say so. If that’s their position, they should make that position clear to the people of Kentucky, and not hide it behind a facade of moderate support for the establishment of charter schools.

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.

Why High Tech High Couldn’t Operate in Kentucky

Over the last few years I’ve seen considerable interest from Kentucky educators in San Diego’s High Tech High School. For those of you who are unfamiliar with High Tech High, here is a brief description from the school’s website:

“Launched in September 2000 by an industry and educator coalition, the Gary and Jerri- Ann Jacobs High Tech High is an independent public charter school serving 584 students in grades 9-12. The school’s mission is to prepare a diverse range of students for postsecondary education, citizenship, and leadership in the high technology industry.”

In the last few years, more than a few Kentucky educators and education leaders have made their way to San Diego to tour the school, and most of them have returned to Kentucky energized about the possibilities for innovation in public education. I saw such enthusiasm on display again just last night. I was invited by my friend and colleague Dr. Justin Bathon to attend a film screening and discussion for “Most Likely to Succeed” at Lexington’s Steam Academy. The film was fantastic and I highly recommend attending or organizing a screening. The film highlighted High Tech High’s approach, students, teachers, and parents. And once again, Kentucky educators, parents, and students were inspired to transform classrooms, schools, and school districts into learning environments with similar characteristics as High Tech High. I wasn’t surprised.

What does continue to surprise me, however, is that in conversations about High Tech High and education innovation in Kentucky’s schools, there is rarely if ever mention of the fact that High Tech High is a charter school. And I’m perceptive enough to know that for educators and education leaders, it’s more than just oversight. It’s no secret that charter schooling is heresy in Kentucky’s traditional public education circles.

To be sure, there are plenty of charter schools in California and across the U.S. that can’t hold a candle to what High Tech High is doing. But it is absolutely the case that High Tech High is what it is because of California’s charter school law. Its leaders have used the flexibility and autonomy granted to it by California’s charter school law to build a school that bears little resemblance to traditional public schools in California or anywhere else. To miss that High Tech High is able to be as different as it is because it is a charter school is to miss something integral to its success.

Policy makers and education leaders in Kentucky should also realize this: If the leaders of High Tech High School wanted to come to Kentucky to replicate the school or create something similar, they couldn’t. Why? First and foremost, because Kentucky has no charter school law; so they couldn’t apply for a charter to do it. But even if it were current education leaders in a Kentucky school district who wanted to build a Kentucky version of High Tech High, they couldn’t; because without a charter school law, there is not nearly the flexibility for schools needed to pull it off in Kentucky.

Here are a few critical elements to the school’s model which Kentucky school leaders should pay closer attention to:

  • There is no tenure for teachers at High Tech High. Their teachers sign one-year contracts which may or may not be renewed at the end of the year.
  • California’s charter school law exempts High Tech High (and all California charter schools) from school district collective bargaining agreements.
  • High Tech High is authorized by the state to credential its own teachers (the first California charter school authorized to do so). Teachers hired are automatically enrolled in its free, two-year credentialing program. That kind of flexibility gives them the ability to recruit teachers who may or may not currently have a teaching credential, and who may or may not have completed formal training in education. High Tech High (and all charter schools in California) are granted further flexibility with the credentialing of teachers who teach “non-core, non-college preparatory courses.”
  • Leaders at High Tech High exercise an extraordinary amount of curricular and instructional autonomy; the likes of which current Kentucky schools do not have. In fact, a principal or superintendent in Kentucky proposing to alter the curriculum to the extent offered there would likely be laughed out of the state.
  • Leaders at High Tech High exercise tremendous budget autonomy in aligning personnel, instructional, and facilities expenditures with the the vision and mission of the school.

These are just a few of the areas where California’s charter school law has provided the legal flexibility that allows High Tech High to do what it does. There was no magic charter school dust that made the school what it is; but without the flexibility provided by the charter school law, the school wouldn’t exist. Education policy does matter. Kentucky’s policy makers and education leaders who have fallen in love with the High Tech High model would be shortsighted to not acknowledge that it does.

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.