Making Common Decency Common Sense – The Challenge of Securing Local Resources for Local Kids

Good day, CharterFolk.

Thanks to so many of you who reached out about Sunday’s post. I see it has nearly a 60% open rate. Maybe it was something about the four-year anniversary message. Or maybe it was that the Milwaukee story resonates with so many.

Just the idea of it:

That local leaders responsible for the welfare of youth in a community would actually. consciously choose not to direct local resources to all kids in that community, but only to those whose families choose to enroll in schools the leaders directly control.

It defies common sense.

Not to mention our standards of common decency.

And yet we see it over and over again.

I can remember trying to explain this aspect of my job to my mother.  She was a school teacher for over thirty years.  She knew the rough and tumble of education politics to some degree, but just couldn’t believe it when I would tell her what I was working on.

People actually act like this? People who are supposed to be working in the interests of children?

I remember the first time it really came up in depth.  It was regarding a matter playing out in Sacramento. The local school district was wanting to pass a parcel tax to provide additional resources to support public education.

We had political resources at the time to assist in the passage of local funding measures that would equitably include charter schools. But the local teacher union, which was the primary driver of the effort to pass the bond, said that, contrary to their glossy campaign materials purporting to support all kids no matter the school they attended …

… they would only support the bond if charter schools were excluded.

Let that sink in, CharterFolk.

The Sacramento teacher union would rather all kids get less than charter school kids get any.

My job was to make it clear that, if charter schools weren’t equitably included, we would shift our resources to try to defeat the bond.

That’s when the mayor-elect, who had endorsed the parcel tax …

… got involved.

He was someone who we had supported. Someone who my wife and I had had a fundraiser for at our house.

He called me.

Wasn’t there some kind of compromise that could be reached such that CCSA wouldn’t work to defeat something that polling suggested hung in the balance?

And so a week of legal wrangling ensued, many back-and-forths on a “side letter” that would not be legally binding, nor publicly disclosed, but which would commit various parties to making sure that, should the parcel tax pass, charter schools would get their fair share.

It was the kind of thing that made my skin crawl for so many reasons, not the least of which was knowing that the letter was of no legal value and in the end charter schools would likely end up getting nothing. But we decided we would at least go neutral, providing no funding either in support or in opposition to the bond.

A month later, the bond failed.

By 1%.

Was it a margin small enough that, had the charter school world put our support behind it, we might have been the difference maker?

You tell me, CharterFolk.

Regardless, SCTA let it be known they were fine with the outcome.

At least they hadn’t had to share with charter schools.

Leading to my mother repeating yet again.

People responsible for the well-being of young people really act this way?

In fact they do.

Showing that, sadly, common decency isn’t common sense in much of public education today.

As this latest situation in Milwaukee confirms.

And as do many other situations happening across the country right now.

What I present below is by no means a comprehensive rendering of all the places where common decency is not common sense today.

But it’s enough to give you a sense of the scope of the challenge and the opportunity before us.

The places I find most dispiriting are those where our historically underserved kids get excluded.

Like kids attending charter schools in San Francisco.

I wrote about it a couple years back.

Previously, because charter school funders had come together to threaten to defeat a prior San Francisco Unified ballot measure if charter schools were not equitably included, the district had agreed to fully fund charter schools. But in 2018, because the school district had recently cut a big new deal with its own employees that it needed to find some way to pay for …

the district decided to offer pennies on the dollar to charter schools in the new parcel tax, despite the fact that charter schools in San Francisco serve a higher percentage of Black, Latino and low income students than does the district ….

And so, one of the most supposedly woke, progressive cities in America found a way to nakedly, in your face, screw over Black and Brown and low income kids, despite the fact that the district itself is widely understood to be abjectly failing those very students in its own schools.

It’s something seemingly out of the Jim Crow era happening right before our very eyes.

Until a couple years ago, Missouri charter schools faced similar Jim-Crow-ness, with charter schools receiving thousands less per pupil in local revenues.

Finally, extensive engagement with parents convinced Democratic Senators from St. Louis, who had a parliamentary chokehold on legislation moving in the capitol, to relax their opposition to charter school kids getting more funding as long as the money came from somewhere else.

It created an opening allowing the state to step in.

A historical breakthrough.

But now just barely two years later, leaders on the other side of the state are trying to open up again the local funding gap.

Kansas City Public Schools is planning to go to the voters with a new bond. And thus far, not a penny is contemplated for KC charter schools, though KC charter schools serve half the kids in the district and generate outcomes far superior to district schools.

If there is any community in the country that should deeply understand that providing a ton of money for public school facilities absent any other reform is a recipe for disaster, it is Kansas City.

Nothing came of the billions of dollars that were provided in the 1980’s to compensate for the district’s historical mistreatment of Black students.

In fact, the spending spree was such a fiasco it ultimately resulted in the district closing nearly half its schools.

Meanwhile, the introduction of charter schools into Kansas City is probably the single most important positive development to have ever happened in the history of public education in that city, certainly for those who deserve better educational opportunity most.

And now the district has the temerity to propose a new facilities bond that doesn’t include charter schools?

It defies both common decency and common sense.

Even in places where 50% of kids are being served by charter schools, still we aren’t guaranteed fair treatment.

Just swap out a letter and you see the pattern repeat.

From KC to DC.

In the District of Columbia, charter schools also serve about half of the kids in the city. But despite that, when the mayor recently proposed providing $116 million to public schools to raise teacher compensation …

… she left charter schools out, forcing the DC Charter School Alliance

… to win back funding parity over a multi-year period.

Even in places where we have won important advocacy battles, legacies of local funding inequity represent massive challenges for our movement.

In Georgia in 2011, the state supreme court threw the existence of the entire charter school sector into question …

… requiring a heroic effort led by the Georgia Charter Schools Association to pass a statewide ballot measure in 2012 that deemed the state’s charter school commission legal under the Georgia constitution.

It was a great victory.

But while the ballot measure allowed the state to authorize schools, it also stipulated that the state could not compel school districts to provide local funding to charter schools. And thus, school districts don’t, leading to a funding inequity for many Georgia charter schools that is as pronounced as you will find anywhere in the country.

So when you see charter school developers get turned down again and again in Atlanta …

… and you know that the applicants could appeal to the state and would almost certainly get approved, now you know why they don’t.

Because the locals won’t provide the thousands of dollars per pupil in local funding needed to make the proposed school financially viable.

Not even to schools serving neurodivergent students.

In Florida, school districts appealed all the way to the state supreme court to avoid providing local funding to local kids …

… before charter schools finally prevailed …

… leading the state to pass a new law requiring that school districts also provide an equitable share of facilities funding as well.

This year a few charter schools in Indiana are finally beginning to access a few local dollars.

And in Colorado, the League passed a Missouri-like bill providing schools authorized at a state level with equalization funding that will compensate them for the local dollars that their local school districts refuse to share.

It’s a historic win, but only on the operating budget side.

On the facilities side, things remain more complicated.

This week, I had old friends reach out from Animas High School in Durango.  It’s a school I have written about previously.

In recent weeks, Animas has been in the national news regarding the inspiring advocacy efforts that the school’s students have taken on in response to a tragedy that happened a few years ago.

For the piece I wrote in 2020, I talked about the school becoming one of the first in the state to convince its school district to include them in a local bond.

Three years later, Animas’s new facility was completed.

But apparently some in Colorado questioned whether it’s even legal for school districts to provide local kids local funding. 

So we had to pass a bill this year based upon the Animas experience.

In some cases, lawmakers said during a hearing on the bill, charter schools approved by the state agency have not been allowed to share in that money. And even in cases where they ask to be included from the start, they have been turned down by school district administrators who often say that’s not allowed in the existing law.

The bill was modeled after a collaboration that took place in Durango.

Yes, as bizarre as it seems, legislation was needed to confirm that common sense and common decency are legal in the State of Colorado.

Now we are beginning to see more school districts include charter schools in their bonds.

But in Denver, will they do the same?

There the district is now proposing a billion dollar bond.

Apparently, a lot of it is supposed to go to air conditioning.

Sounds cool.

But are charter school kids going to get their fare share? 

The answer, of course, is always the same:

It will come down to advocacy.

Whether our advocacy organizations have the resources and capacity to take on the work. And whether we go after it with moxie such that we get firmly grounded in the local landscape an expectation that local kids should benefit equally from local funding.

While it is a difficult task, it is not a hopeless one.

Not even in large urban school districts like Denver.

Two weeks ago I was in San Diego where I got to see several old CharterFolk friends.

One was David Sciarretta, the Superintendent at Einstein Academy

It’s a school that got started back when I was doing authorizing work at San Diego Unified more than 20 years ago.

At the party, David shared that Einstein is celebrating the groundbreaking on its long-dreamed-of high school building.

It’s going to be paid for with local bond dollars.

What was my initial response?

Outrage!

CCSA had helped the district pass a bond that had $350 million set aside for district facilities.

But that was in 2012.

Was this how long it was taking  to get the money to charter school projects, just another example of charter schools being forced to wait at the end of the line?

No, David explained.

The Einstein high school project wasn’t even in the original bond.  All the charter school money in the 2012 measure was consumed helping other charter schools first.

Einstein’s funding came in Measure U, which was approved in 2022 …

… and which, like Prop Z before it, contained an equitable share for charter schools.

$528 million to be precise.

Including enough to help Einstein complete its high school campus.

It leads to a rather straightforward question.

If it can be done in San Diego, CharterFolk …

… why not in Denver?

Why not in Kansas City?

If we can secure compensation for charter schools being denied local operating funding in Colorado and Missouri ..

… why can’t we do the same in Georgia?

And all the other places we have covered in this article.

We could argue that it’s ridiculous that we have to take this on.

To make the case.

That a youngster is a youngster is a youngster.

And should be treated the same no matter what school he or she attends.

And yet we do.

So on we go, CharterFolk.

Aspiring toward a day when common decency is finally common sense throughout all of public education.

CharterFolk Four-Year Anniversary | A New 25x25x25 | No Vision No Voice Revisited | Courage at the Collective in Milwaukee

Good day CharterFolk,

Four years ago today I published my first post here at CharterFolk. Since that time the CharterFolk community has grown into one consisting of many thousands of readers and hundreds of content contributors distributing columns and podcasts every week. It has been an amazing experience to have founded CharterFolk, and I am as excited and energized to be doing this work today as I was four years ago. To all of you who have helped CharterFolk become what it is today, I extend my deepest thanks.

Acknowledging the progress that we have made, I by no means report myself to be satisfied with what we have achieved to date. Indeed, it seems to me, observing the broader charter school landscape, that we could be making even greater progress, generating even more momentum within CharterFolk, much like I believe the charter school movement itself has the potential to be moving forward with far greater momentum.

And I am of the opinion that there is nothing more important that we could be doing for our movement right now than to help it generate a sense of even greater momentum.   

And while I wouldn’t want to overstate the extent to which CharterFolk is emblematic of things happening in the charter school movement generally, I do think an argument could be made that our progress here is something of a barometer for what is happening in CharterLand more broadly.

With that in mind, we set sights for our fifth year at CharterFolk.

The CharterFolk Board will be meeting in a little over a month to consider our ambitions. I am putting together plans that envision CharterFolk achieving a stretch goal of serving 25,000 readers by June 9, 2025.   In order to handle that scope of responsibility, we will need new resources.  One of the most important ways that we secure new resources is through organizational subscriptions, and as it turns out, the volume of resources that we need to bring about our vision for 2025 is one consistent with the need to secure 25 new organizational subscribers.

I imagine some of you might sense where I’m going with this.

Yes, it’s true, CharterFolk. We are considering a new “25x25x25” goal here. 

The original one

… as long-time readers are aware, is that we have 25 state associations collecting $25 in membership dues per pupil by 2025. I remain maniacally focused on that goal because I know that if our movement is going to be successful for the long term, we simply must aggregate the resources that are needed in order to perform advocacy at whole other levels of effectiveness and heft. We have made considerable progress

… increasing the number of state associations that are collecting such resources, but we have further to go, and I will always keep our original 25x25x25 goal a guiding star. 

But into this mix we are contemplating a new 25x25x25 goal, one seeking to ensure that CharterFolk has 25,000 readers and 25 additional organizational subscribers by 2025. Were we to achieve such numbers, we know that CharterFolk, like our essential advocacy organizations, will be positioned to take on our next chapter of work at the level of effectiveness and heft that the moment requires.

So, if any of you are at an organization that would like to become part of the CharterFolk momentum story, we’d love to hear from you. We currently have 13 organizational subscribers, which contribute $5000 annually and provide us contacts allowing us to grow our readership. If your organization might be interested in joining them, please contact me directly at jed@charterfolk.org

Meanwhile, individual readers are encouraged to continue supporting us by providing paid subscriptions as well.  We currently have about 250 individuals providing paid subscriptions which have been so key to our success over the years.

Again, to all of you who have contributed to CharterFolk over the past four years, I extend my deepest thanks. 

On we go.

No Vision No Voice Revisited

The four-year anniversary has given me occasion to revisit what I was writing about in our earliest days, helping me reconnect again with what motivated me to make CharterFolk in the first place.  It grew out of having had the opportunity to visit over half of the states in the country in 2019.  I came away from conversations I had with with charter school people in context after context aware that our movement had lost a sense of shared purpose and that, in some places, we had even begun to wonder whether we are on the right side of history. 

The recurring question I asked during those travels was:

Do you believe that your charter school community has a shared vision for how the growth of high-quality charter schools results in education getting better for all students?

It was a question that opened the floodgates.

Without exception, the answer was a resounding no, which was then followed by a torrent of criticism of the entities, most often advocacy organizations, that they believed were supposed to be articulating and advancing charter school vision.  After letting people vent a while, I would then ask them what they thought that vision should be.

Again, almost without exception, people couldn’t articulate one. 

Perhaps most alarming, several people said that it wouldn’t even be constructive for the charter school world to articulate a vision publicly because all it would do is make matters worse.

Those conversations more than any other single thing was what motivated me to create CharterFolk, and they led to four of the earliest columns I wrote here.  This week I looked at them again, and I was happy that, in my opinion anyway, they seem to have aged pretty well.

In the first, No Vision No Voice

… I laid out that it is not possible for our movement to have a strong collective voice and drive an overarching public narrative for our movement if we do not have a compelling vision articulating what we’re collectively headed to and why.  And I posited that we have lost a sense of vision because, for a variety of reasons, we have stopped talking about the problems that exist within district public schools. And without us being able or willing to articulate our critique, we undercut our very reason for being.  Because if there are no problems in public education, there is no reason for charter schools to even exist.

In Where Boneheads Dropped the Ball on Vision

… I argued that we originally had a strong vision for the charter school movement – creating “bastions of innovation,” as Bill Clinton used to say – that would demonstrate the possible.  But then the charter school movement grew so much that we started having systemwide impact, and our vision never evolved to describe what that systemwide impact should be.  Having no answer, we essentially grew silent, undercutting our ability to drive narrative.  Even worse, having no answer, we ceded the answer to our adversaries who were more than happy to present charter schools as one massive selfish gesture making public education worse for everyone else.

In A New Vision for Charter Schools – Greatly More Public Education for All

… I laid out one possible vision that the CharterWorld could coalesce around, which is that, as the charter school movement continues to grow excellent and equitable new schools, we simultaneously push the broader system to evolve to become more excellent and equitable as well such that all of public education improves.

Finally, in My Worse Mistake

… I talked about how bad it has been for our movement to have given up on the importance of converting district schools to charter status.  Without that as a priority, we essentially present the charter school movement as one massive replacement strategy rather than a tool that, in addition to allowing many great new schools to get started, also allows existing schools to become better. It ends up pitting the charter school movement against teachers and principals in district schools rather than actively seeking to include them and support them and honor them in our ever-growing big tent.  

An error I made in this last post was to stop my analysis at the school level.  Yes, we want individual schools converting to charter status, but what is supposed to happen to school districts as charter schools grow?  What are they supposed to evolve into? 

The answer, of course, is that we don’t envision a future where school districts disappear.  What we want is for school districts to evolve into CMOs so that they are provided entrée into the new education world we are creating.  And yes, to have not articulated how that is supposed to happen, and to have not developed attendant policy proposals that would allow such evolution to proceed, has been one of our biggest mistakes given how much systemwide impact we are having.

At our recent WonkyFolk recording Live at the Charter School Growth Fund

… I fielded a question about what entities are supposed to be creating vision for the charter school movement.

It was a great question.  Because I certainly don’t think it is the role of CharterFolk to be creating such vision.  We can point out the critical need for vision.  We can surface ideas.  We can stimulate thinking.  But ultimately, in terms of developing and advancing shared vision across all the stakeholders in the charter school movement, no entities can do that with the same credibility that representative advocacy organizations can. 

Membership organizations. 

Members and funders with skin in the game coming to agreement within carefully created structures of shared decision-making. 

Organizations at a national, state and local levels.

And I would say that I have never been more optimistic than I am right now that we have organizations at all those levels ready to bring forward the new vision that our movement needs. 

We have a new visionary leader coming to our national organization. 

Many of our state associations have grown greatly stronger over the past five years and stand poised to articulate and steward such vision like never before. 

And I would report the same about city-based organizations.

We just have to take the next step.

Courage at the Collective in Milwaukee

This past week, I’ve had occasion to connect with one such place at a city level doing exactly the kind of courageous work we need to be doing.

As many MidWesternFolk are already well keyed into, the situation in Milwaukee Public Schools is a societal tragedy.

For years, charter schools in Wisconsin were structurally underfunded relative to district schools by several thousands of dollars per student.  Last summer, progress was finally made at a state level …

… but then the school district narrowly approved a new local tax referendum that excluded charter schools. 

So the funding delta has widened again considerably.

When the district proposed the new referendum in such a way as to exclude charter schools, the City Forward Collective, an advocacy organization in Milwaukee, publicly opposed the new tax. 

You can imagine the blowback that ensued.

But now, just a couple months after the referendum’s passage, the complete and utter dysfunction of the school district is being made evident for all to see. 

It started with the feds going public with their decision to terminate MPS’s eligibility for Head Start funding due to the district’s wanton mismanagement of the program.

Then evidence came to light that the district had withheld information from voters prior to the election so as to not undermine public support for the referendum.  

That led to the superintendent resigning.

And the district’s comptroller being fired.

Now the state is piling on, cutting off $16 million in special education funding to the district.

So this week, the governor is calling for an audit.  Not just an audit of the district’s finances, but an audit of all aspects of the district’s operations.

And who was it that was encouraging the governor to make such a call?

Why the City Forward Collective, of course. 

The very entity that had been courageous enough in the beginning to issue its critique and to endure all the merciless criticism that came its way in the immediate aftermath. 

Perhaps nothing better demonstrates the courage and vision that the Collective is providing than the blog that is being written by it Executive Director, Colleston Morgan Jr.

Writing every week in depth.

On offense.

Demonstrating deep understanding of what is going on in MPS.

Surfacing proactively the financial shortcomings of the district.

Calling out the ridiculousness of the district trying to take back facilities from a high performing charter school in the city.

Calling for accountability for the school district and its top leadership.

At bottom, this is about basic accountability. If issues of this magnitude occurred at a public charter school or a private school participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the school in question would be subject to severe sanctions – up to and including closure or loss of eligibility for public funding. Milwaukee Public Schools should be held to at least the same high standards for financial accountability as our city’s charter and private schools.

Now resulting in the governor making his call.

It’s a shining example of what we are needing across our entire movement right now, at national, state and local levels.

A critique!

Which, yes, could very well result in things “getting worse” in the immediate term. Could very well result in even more blowback coming against us.

But when the critique is demonstrated to be correct, down the road, and often it’s not that far down the road, people will recognize that ours is a voice that should be trusted.

But if we’ve not had the courage to say the thing in the first place, to articulate the vision when it wasn’t fashionable to do so, we never get to the place where our voice rises above the din.

In Milwaukee, no vision no voice is demonstrated to be true in its inverse.

Where there is vision, there is voice.

We are heard.

And if I may be so bold, I would suggest to our friends in Milwaukee to learn from my worst mistake. 

Now that you have people’s attention, be sure you can articulate what the school district is supposed to evolve into.  And do not be sheepish about the fact that we believe it should be to evolve into the biggest CMO in town.

It should operate exactly like charter schools do.  It should have an authorizer that looks at its operations every five years to determine whether it should retain the privilege of operating its schools so that it can finally become truly accountable.

And it should not have one dollar more or one dollar less per pupil than charter schools, including dollars coming from federal, state and local sources.

Nor should it have any special standing as it relates to local school facilities.  It should get access to them in the same way that all public schools should access them, by demonstrating that parents actually want their kids to fill those buildings.

And, finally, we should back our vision with concrete policy proposals.  Take to the Wisconsin legislature bills that would require MPS to evolve into a CMO, a truly accountable, equitably funded provider of education that does not screen out kids by attendance boundary or selective admissions.  And then fight for those policy proposals in the public realm.

The response is certain to be similar to the one the Collective experienced when it first announced its opposition to the referendum – absolute outrage and acrimony.

But over time, and it likely won’t be that much time, people will see the wisdom in it.

Because it’s an idea that is built to last.  Something we could keep out in front of ourselves for many years to come.

Like a North Star.

You know …

Like vision?

CharterFolk.

We are moving into a period in public education when seismic shifts are taking place.  Countless school districts are either already in a condition similar to what MPS is experiencing, or are on their way there.  And new voucher systems are being created across the country which will fundamentally re-shape public education. Some of those ideas will result in more excellence being created and more historically underserved families accessing that excellence than before.  But others won’t.

And so the need for charter school voice has never been more pronounced than it is today.

Nor have we ever been as well-positioned to be heard as we are today.

We’ve just got to be full-throated.

Summoning our inner Colleston.

Such that we finally overcome the challenge of …

… no vision no voice.