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Modernizing the Federal Charter Schools Program

Re-posted from an online column posted by the Center for American Progress and dated October 28, 2019.

By Neil Campbell

Twenty-five years ago, Congress created the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) as part of 1994’s Improving America’s Schools Act, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. Just a few years earlier, in 1991, the country’s first charter school law was enacted in Minnesota, with the idea quickly spreading to California in 1992. The very next year, six additional states passed laws allowing the creation of public charter schools. With bipartisan support in Congress and requested increases from each presidential administration since 1994, the program has grown from an initial $4.5 million appropriation to $440 million in fiscal year 2019.

There are now more than 7,000 charter schools educating more than 3.2 million students in 43 states and the District of Columbia—a significant jump from the fall of 1994, when there were only 64 charter schools in operation. The aim of the CSP was to open up new charters and then evaluate how schools described as “a mechanism for testing a variety of educational approaches” fared. States with charter school laws could apply for funding to make “grants to charter school developers to plan their education program around the results the school aims to achieve.” Even as the number of charter schools has grown significantly, the program’s focus on opening new schools has continued into the present day, with as much as $377 million—or 85 percent of CSP funding—in FY 2019 being dedicated to the operators of new charter schools.

However, the charter sector in 2019 is much different than it was back in 1994. Policymakers should acknowledge this change and modernize the CSP accordingly to reflect the current strengths and challenges of the charter sector. In addition to grants to open new schools and facilities financing assistance, the CSP should reflect a balanced approach to charter school policy focused on encouraging the smart growth of excellent schools, improving the quality of existing charter schools, and confronting challenges in the charter sector. Using this approach, federal policymakers can support states and local communities in reaching the goal of public schools having a good seat for every child.

Encouraging smart growth

While only 6 percent of public school students nationwide are enrolled in charter schools, the percentages tend to be much higher in the country’s largest cities. For example, in Los Angeles, more than 25 percent of public school students are enrolled in charters; in Philadelphia, nearly a third of public school students are enrolled in charters; and in Washington, D.C., slightly less than half of public school students are enrolled in charter schools. These significant market shares—coupled with stagnating growth in total K-12 school enrollment in cities such as Denver and declining overall enrollment in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit—raise the political and educational stakes for communities when they open new public schools. Charter schools do not operate in silos, and the decision to open new schools can have an impact on both traditional public schools and charter schools already in operation. At the same time, charter schools in urban areas have shown achievement gains when compared with traditional public schools, and for this reason, increasing the number of high-quality charters can be an important strategy for providing every student with a great school. Yet it is critical to take a smart approach to growing the charter sector.

In addition to providing grants to open new charter schools and for facilities financing assistance, the CSP should make investments to support smart growth, including the following:

  • The CSP should create communitywide analyses spanning traditional school districts and the charter sector in order to project enrollment patterns and research what kinds of educational programs parents want for their children. As deemed appropriate, these grants could be made to mayors, to districts that serve as charter authorizers along with representatives of the charter sector, and to consortia of districts as well as charter authorizers and operators. The analyses should apply an explicit equity lens based on race, income, disability, and home language in order to help districts, charter authorizers, and charter school operators understand whether there are unmet needs in particular neighborhoods and whether there is a need for specialized programs to improve equitable access to opportunities for underserved students. For example, this could highlight significant interest in dual-language offerings or programs that focus on career and technical education.
  • The CSP should provide grants to consortia of districts and charter schools in order to launch and support unified enrollment systems and therefore improve equitable access to charter schools and other public schools of choice. By using fair and efficient algorithms, conducting extensive outreach, and using carefully considered lottery rules, unified enrollment systems can simplify the enrollment process for both families and schools.
  • The CSP should invest in programs to support early-growth charter networks. Nearly two-thirds of charter schools are independently managed, but many philanthropic and federal investments in these schools are focused on the growth of successful nonprofit charter management organizations (CMOs). Helping interested independent schools strengthen their organizations to prepare for growth is not just about providing school start-up funding; federal funding should also build on initiatives such as the Emerging CMO Fund and the Charter Network Accelerator to widen access to resources and build capacity at community-created schools and charters led by Black, Latinx, and Native leaders.

Helping existing charter schools improve

Researching the impact that charter schools have on student outcomes is challenging. Study  results that look at charters using enrollment lotteries may not be generalizable to schools that are not oversubscribed and thus do not use lotteries. Moreover, studies that compare seemingly similar students could miss important differences between them. Yet a theme common to all of these studies is that there is marked variability in the success of charter schools, with some seeing tremendous success and others failing to outpace traditional public schools.

One response to this variability has been to invest in expanding the most successful schools. While such expansion is important, there are also thousands of other schools that could be serving students better. Therefore, another strategy for improving the quality of existing schools should be to target investments so that they address some of the unique challenges that charter schools face. Millions of students are already enrolled in charter schools. Many of these schools are independently run and are in communities that want an increased say in how their schools operate. These investments could include the following recommendations:

  • The CSP should provide grants to consortia—including districts, charter schools, associations, and authorizers—in order to support special education cooperation. Developing the expertise to successfully serve students with disabilities is a challenge for all schools but can be particularly acute for charters and small school districts that may not enroll many students with low-incidence disabilities, who require highly specialized services and supports. Cooperation agreements with local districts, regional service providers, or collaboratives with other charters could help charters to access expertise that would help improve outcomes for such students. In 2017, the Center for American Progress published a report with the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) that profiled examples of districts and charter schools pursuing similar efforts.
  • The CSP should provide grants to consortia of charter schools or charter school associations in order to improve economies of scale for small charter operators. In addition to the special education challenges detailed above, many charter operators are not able to access the same pricing for curricula, supplies, support services, or technology as larger districts and networks. Developing partnerships with institutions of higher education or other community partners could also prove challenging. However, by creating or expanding the capacity of collaborative organizations, charter schools could free up resources to invest elsewhere in their programs.
  • The CSP should provide grants to states in order to make curricular resources from the most successful charter operators widely available. Many small charters and schools may not be able to develop their own high-quality curricular resources. A number of charters have already shared their expertise. However, grants to states could allow them to develop and share resources as well as best practices from the most effective charter operators across a wider array of subject areas and grade spans. 

Confronting challenges in the charter school sector

The founding premise of charter schools is that they have increased autonomy. By committing to meeting the academic requirements and other goals in their charters, these schools free themselves from many of the rules and regulations that exist for traditional public schools. Many have used this flexibility, for example, to lengthen the school day or year and to develop specialized programs for high-need students; however, some operators have taken advantage of this flexibility for financial gain. A 2018 CAP report on for-profit virtual charter schools highlighted academic underperformance at these schools and the exorbitant executive compensation at the largest operator in the sector. Another troubling example comes from two Indiana virtual charter schools with inflated enrollment data that were shut down this past summer. The state is possibly seeking the return of up to $40 million in funding the schools received for students who were not actually enrolled. 

These gaps in policy can allow bad actors to damage the reputation of the entire sector. They need to be addressed in order to protect taxpayer resources as well as the educations of current and future students. To confront these challenges, state-level requirements could be added to the CSP State Entities competition, including the following: 

  • The CSP should ban incentive compensation for student recruitment and enrollment, similar to legislation and regulations in place for institutions of higher education. Families should be able to select schools that are the right fit for their children without receiving high-pressure sales pitches from people with money on the line.
  • The CSP should establish clear conflict of interest requirements so that the leaders of charter schools and their board members cannot enrich themselves through real estate, management, or other contracts with the schools they are responsible for leading.
  • The CSP should require that management contracts for charter schools ensure that critical decision-making authority remains with the school’s board. They should also ensure that the school’s board has transparent access to financial and other data; that contracts are severable so that a change in management companies does not mean that the school has to close; and that equipment and supplies bought with public funds are owned by the school. 

Conclusion

As the federal Charter Schools Program enters its second quarter-century, it is supporting a very different charter sector than when it was launched in 1994. There are now more than 7,000 charter schools—although net growth in the sector has slowed noticeably in recent years for a range of reasons, such as caps on the number of charter schools in some states and difficulties finding and affording suitable facilities. During the past 25 years, high-performing CMOs have grown to educate hundreds of thousands of students, but so have much lower-performing for-profit virtual charter schools.

Fortunately, using the recommendations outlined above, policymakers can modernize the CSP by taking a balanced approach to charter schools that focuses on encouraging smart growth, helping existing charter schools improve, and confronting the challenges in the charter sector.

Neil Campbell is the director of innovation for K-12 Education at the Center for American Progress.

 

 

 

FCPCS Honors 2019 Champions at State Conference

PHOTO: Winners of 2019 Florida Charter School Champions Awards, Presented by the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS).

ORLANDO, Fla., (November 15, 2019) -- The Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS) has honored winners of its 2019 Florida Charter School Champions Awards, which were presented at the recent Florida Charter School Conference in Orlando.

For the eighth consecutive year, FCPCS received nominations in several categories, including charter school teachers, charter school leaders, charter school governing board members and charter school preferred partners.  A new category, “Charter School Innovators” was added for 2019.  Winners received their awards at an evening awards reception and presentation.

Winners of Champions Awards for charter school teachers were Alan Androski of James Madison Preparatory High School in Madison, Fla., Lorna Cohen of Countryside Montessori Charter School in Land O’Lakes, Jennifer Gay of Hope Charter School in Ocoee and Karima Grayson of SunEd High School in Margate.

Champions Award winners in the category of charter school leaders were Kim Guilarte-Gil, Principal of Somerset Academy South Miami, Alan Hall, CEO and Principal of San Jose Schools in Jacksonville, Victoria Laurrari, Principal of Pinecrest Academy North in Miami, Carla Lovett, CEO of Palm Bay Education Group in Panama City, Dee-ette Naukana, Principal of SunFire High School in Fort Lauderdale, Corey Oliver, Principal of Somerset Jefferson K-12 in Monticello and Allen Quain, Principal of Hope Charter School in Ocoee.

Champions Awards for charter school governing board members were presented to David R. Kraner, President of the Board of Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto and Brent Appy, Treasurer of Burns Science and Technology Charter School in Oak Hill.

Winning Champions Awards in the new category of “charter school innovators” were Raquel Espinosa, valued consultant to FCPCS, Dana Greatrex, Community Coordinator for Burns Science and Technology Charter School in Oak Hill, Marianne Keller, Board Chair of Building Hope in Washington, D.C., Julio Robaina, founder of the City of Hialeah Educational Academy, and Henry Rose, Chair of Parents for Charter Schools.

Awards were given to two preferred vendor partners of Florida charter schools. The two Preferred Partner Award winners were E-Rate Advantage and Curriculum Associates.

Finally, FCPCS President Robert Haag presented a special Champions Award to Becky Katz for “her exemplary service and support to the Florida Consortium and all of our member schools.”  Becky Katz is the longtime Director of Operations and Marketing for FCPCS.

About the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary as an organization driving the charter school movement in Florida, the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS) is the leading charter school membership association in the state, with a membership of nearly 75 percent of all operating charter schools.  Since its inception in 1999, FCPCS has been dedicated to creating a national model of high quality, accredited public charter schools that are student-centered and performance-driven.  FCPCS provides a wide array of technical support, mentoring, training, networking, and purchasing services to its membership, as well as serving as an advocate for all Florida public charter schools.

 

U.S. Department of Education Honors Four Member Schools of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS)

FCPCS Congratulates its Member Schools Honored as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C., (October 7, 2019) -- Four member schools of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools have been recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2019 by the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C.

Three of the award-winning schools are located in Miami.  They are Mater Academy East Charter Middle School, Mater Academy East Elementary Charter School and Pinecrest Academy (North Campus).  The fourth school is Choices in Learning Elementary Charter School in Winter Springs, Fla.

The four Florida charter schools were among 362 public and private schools recognized for their overall academic performance or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

"The Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools congratulates the winning schools,” said Robert Haag, President of FCPCS.  “We are proud of their accomplishments and of their membership in FCPCS.”

Each winning school receives a flag that identifies that school as a National Blue Ribbon School for 2019.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, the flags “affirm the hard work of students, educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging content.”

The winning schools are:

  • Mater Academy East Charter Middle School, Miami, offers first-class academic programs to enable students to become productive citizens who are prepared to address the challenges of the twenty-first century.
  • Mater Academy East Elementary Charter School, Miami, provides a loving, caring, and supportive educational environment that furthers a philosophy of respect and high expectations for all students, parents, teachers and staff.  The school's mission is to accomplish this by providing students with the necessary skills to reach their highest potential. 
  • Pinecrest Academy (North Campus), Miami, provides a challenging curriculum where academic excellence, character development, and individual growth are nurtured in a safe environment that involves the active participation of students, teachers, parents and community members. 
  • Choices in Learning Elementary Charter School, Winter Springs.  It is the mission of Choices in Learning Elementary Charter School to inspire and educate lifelong learners through a cooperative learning community. 

About the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary as an organization driving the charter school movement in Florida, the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS) is the leading charter school membership association in the state, with a membership of nearly 75 percent of all operating charter schools.  Since its inception in 1999, FCPCS has been dedicated to creating a national model of high quality, accredited public charter schools that are student-centered and performance-driven.  FCPCS provides a wide array of technical support, mentoring, training, networking, and purchasing services to its membership, as well as serving as an advocate for all Florida public charter schools.

 

2019 Florida Charter School Champions of the Year Awards Announced;

New Award Added for Florida Charter School “Champion Innovator”

Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS) Drives Statewide Awards Program to Honor Multiple Charter School Champions of the Year

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., (Sept. 26, 2019) – As the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS) celebrates its 20th Anniversary as an organization leading the charter school movement in Florida, FCPCS is accepting nominations for its statewide 2019 Florida Charter School Champions of the Year Awards.  This year’s program includes a first-ever award category for a Florida Charter School “Champion Innovator.”

For the eighth consecutive year, FCPCS is encouraging member schools and supporters to nominate individuals working in and for charter schools in the following categories: Champion School Leader, Champion Teacher, Champion School Board Member, Champion Parent, Champion Innovator and Champion Preferred Partner.  This year’s honorees will be announced on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019 at an awards event held as part of the Florida Charter School Conference in Orlando.

Designated winners must be present on Oct. 30 at the Charter School Champions Awards event.  The nominators of the winners will be notified in advance.

“The Florida Charter School Champions of the Year Awards recognize exceptional individuals and companies who represent the very best aspects of the charter school movement,” said FCPCS President Robert Haag.  “The awards ceremony is a huge celebration of their achievements and success.”

About the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary as an organization driving the charter school movement in Florida, the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS) is the leading charter school membership association in the state, with a membership of nearly 75 percent of all operating charter schools.  Since its inception in 1999, FCPCS has been dedicated to creating a national model of high quality, accredited public charter schools that are student-centered and performance-driven.  FCPCS provides a wide array of technical support, mentoring, training, networking, and purchasing services to its membership, as well as serving as an advocate for all Florida public charter schools.

 

Florida Makes Monumental Improvement in School Grades

Over 2,000 schools earn “A” and “B” grades

Re-posted from a Florida Department of Education News Release

Tallahassee, Fla., July 11, 2019 – Today, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) issued 2018-19 school and district grades, marking the 20th anniversary of school grades. Statewide leaders congratulated students and thanked educators for their role in increasing the percentage of schools earning an “A” or “B” grade to 63 percent and decreasing the number of “F” schools to just 15.

Key highlights include:

  • The number of “A” schools in Florida continues to rise with 1,172 schools earning an “A” in 2018-19 compared to 1,043 in 2017-18. The percentage of schools earning an “A” increased to 36 percent, up from 31 percent in 2017-18.
  • Over half (51 percent) of Florida’s charter schools earned an “A” in 2018-19, compared to 32 percent of traditional public schools.
  • Seventy-four percent of charter schools earned an “A” or “B” this year, compared to 61 percent of traditional public schools.

Governor Ron DeSantis said, “It is a great day for education in Florida and today’s announcement shows we are on a successful trajectory. We are resolute in our continued efforts to ensure that Florida students have the chance to receive a world-class education regardless of their circumstance. The ultimate gift we can give future generations is the ability to achieve their life’s ambitions. I appreciate our state’s hard-working educators who made it possible and applaud our students on a job well done.”   

Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said, “Education is the means by which we free children from the shackles of ignorance. A community has a right to have key insights into its schools and school grades. Meeting that goal is essential for any community to truly provide future generations the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. We are pleased to share this spectacular news and to reiterate our commitment to ensuring Florida has the #1 education system in the nation.”

The Florida Department of Education calculates school grades annually based on up to 11 components, including student achievement and learning gains on statewide, standardized assessments and high school graduation rate. School grades provide parents and the general public an easily understandable way to measure the performance of a school and understand how well each school is serving its students.

School grades are a vital component of Florida’s accountability system. They not only enable parents to make informed decisions, they provide the State Board of Education with data that drives reforms at perpetually low-performing schools. Florida statute prescribes the steps districts must take when one or more schools earn a “D” or “F.” These policies focus on research-validated improvement and have gotten increasingly stringent in recent years. Commissioner Corcoran and the State Board of Education members take seriously their responsibility to Florida’s students and have demanded swift, positive action in failing schools on behalf of the students whose futures depend on it.

Low-Performing Schools

Thanks in large part to FDOE’s rigorous monitoring of low-performing schools and the State Board of Education’s commitment to holding school boards and school districts accountable, there has been a substantial improvement in the performance of schools that have been under state-mandated monitoring.

  • Eighty-one percent of schools graded “F” in 2017-18 improved their grade in 2018-19 by one or more letter grade (21 of 26 schools).
  • Seventy-seven percent of schools that earned a “D” or “F” grade in 2017-18 improved by at least one letter grade in 2018-19 (165 schools).
  • Sixty-three percent of schools in the second or third year of implementing their turnaround plan improved their letter grade (22 schools).
  • The number of “D” or “F” schools has declined 70 percent since 2015, and the number of “F” schools has declined 93 percent since 2015.

In addition to school grades, the department also calculates district grades annually based on the same criteria.

  • Twenty-four districts are now graded “A” in Florida, and for the second year in a row, there are no districts graded “D” or “F.”
  • Fifty-four of Florida’s 67 school districts are graded “A” or “B.”
  • Five districts improved their district grade from a “B” in 2017-18 to an “A” in 2018-19.
  • Three districts improved their district grade from a “C” in 2017-18 to a “B” in 2018-19.

State leaders applauded the improvement in school grades:

State Board of Education Chair Marva Johnson said, “For one student to spend even a single day in a failing school is unacceptable. That is why, as a Board, we rely on the concrete evidence that our accountability system provides to make student-centered policy decisions. I express my sincere appreciation for the teachers and parents whose unconditional support enables our students to thrive.”

Committee on Education Chair Sen. Manny Diaz said, “School grades are an important measure of quality, and today’s announcement demonstrates for the public that education in Florida is on a positive trajectory. Florida’s accountability system is the most transparent in the nation, and I am tremendously proud of the improvements that have been made as a result of it. I am honored to celebrate our state’s hard-working teachers and students for these outcomes.”

Education Committee Chair Rep. Jennifer Sullivan said, “This is wonderful news for our public schools and shows that high expectations combined with quality instruction pays off. With these results, Florida parents can have confidence that their children are receiving the world-class education they deserve. To our students, congratulations on a job well done, and thank you for representing us so well.”

For more information about school grades, visit School GradesThe department continues to accept feedback on Florida’s education reports portal, EduData (http://edudata.fldoe.org), where these data will be featured in August.

 
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