A CharterFolk Chat With Margaret Fortune, Shavar Jeffries and Roxann Nazario – The Nuts and Bolts of Working Within the Democratic Party to Adopt a Platform Much More Supportive of Charter Schools

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today we are delighted to release a CharterFolk Chat with a distinguished group of participants:

About six weeks ago, readers may remember that in a post called The Biggest News You Probably Missed This Week, I highlighted how a group of dedicated and savvy CharterFolk working as delegates within the California Democratic Party had influenced the party to adopt a state platform that is much more supportive of charter schools. Many of us working in charter school advocacy have seen a massive disconnect between the positions that the Democratic Party often takes on charter school issues and the views of large numbers of registered Democrats, many of whom are people working within charter schools or who have their kids enrolled in charter schools. It has led many of us to believe that, if we could get Democratic CharterFolk working inside the Democratic Party itself, we could make important progress.

Well, this spring that belief was confirmed, and we thought it an important moment to hear from Margaret and Roxann who played important roles within the work that was done in California, as well as from Shavar who is able to provide national perspective about how this work might be taken on in other states. The conversation turned out to be a substantive and deep one, containing many “nuts and bolts” suggestions for how CharterFolk might take on a highly strategic new way to improve the policy environment for charter schools. And while the example provided here focuses on the Democratic Party at a state level, I know the insights presented here would be of use to CharterFolk from any political party working at any level of policy making.

I hope that you will be able to view the conversation in its entirety. For those of you interested in particular issues, I provide direct links to different parts of the discussion.

  • At 2:14, Margaret provides us general background about what party platforms are and why getting involved in the party platform process as a delegate is such a high-leverage opportunity to influence the policy environment toward greater support for charter schools.
  • At 6:25, Roxann recounts how an experience at the 2018 Democratic Party Convention in San Diego crystallized why it is so important to get involved far earlier in the platform adoption process.
  • At 8:13, Roxann and Margaret explain what exactly they needed to do to be selected as delegates and how they began to serve in ways that, as Margaret explains, provided them a “seat at the table” on key matters contained within the platform. For Margaret, that meant playing a role within the Democratic Black Caucus which is not just focused on charter school matters, but on a wide range of policy ideas in support of Black students and families.
  • At 17:33, Shavar shares national perspective about efforts that charter school supporters and other reformers are making to become involved in the “apparatus of the Democratic Party” to help build deep grassroots political power, and how we can build on momentum coming out of the parent protests against the CSP regs in DC last week to do even more.
  • At 26:18, Roxann describes how she built relationships over multiple terms as a delegate that ultimately positioned her to have greater influence as more charter school supporters became party delegates in the last cycle.
  • At 28:18, Margaret describes how power dynamics play out within a platform adoption process, and she recounts a story of vested interests taking a stand that was clearly counter to the interests of Black students and all students attending charter schools.
  • At 37:05, Roxann gives a “backstage pass” into what it was like in the final stages of the platform-adoption process when various power players attempted to derail the entire platform over the fact that the broader delegation had approved the advancement of language supportive of charter schools.
  • At 41:55, Margaret recounts how the pandemic has revealed many shortcomings of the public school system, and how awareness of those problems provided a new opportunity for her and many other delegates who have long-worked inside the party to advance the interests of Black students and families who have been historically under-served by traditional public schools.
  • At 46:35, Shavar talks about the importance of education reform advocates having specific strategies for building political power, one of which could be the effort to change party platforms from the inside. He goes on from there to recount how difficult it was for him earlier in his career as an elected official to not have the support he needed from advocacy organizations, and he emphasizes how important it is today for our advocacy organizations to secure the resources and general bandwidth necessary to support all education reformers who get involved in the political process.
  • Finally, at 55:17, Margaret talks about the next steps she and others are taking to build on the party platform wins by bringing forward specific policy proposals to improve Black students’ experience of education, which from her entry point is the end toward which charter schools and other policy work must be directed.

I thank Margaret, Roxann and Shavar for being part of a conversation that I learned a great deal from. I hope the CharterFolk audience finds it as illuminating as I did.

The Best Week We’ve Had in Years – Friday’s NYT Article a New Marker|The Tower of Babble|Duncan’s Challenge Revisited|Wins Across the Country| 25X25X25, This is Why!

Weekend’s greetings, CharterFolk.

By this time, many of you will have seen Friday’s article from the Times.

I consider it the single most important article about the advocacy conditions surrounding the charter school movement to have been written in several years.

It’s a cultural marker. A symbol that change has come.

A portrait of an administration that claims to represent the interests of certain people being shown to be fundamentally at odds with those very same people.

Joe Cantu, an executive director of MindShiftED, a parent advocacy group in San Antonio, said the department’s definition of demand was clearly different than the parents’ in the city’s Latino neighborhoods.

“For them, it’s a capacity issue, but they don’t talk about the fact that schools are failing our kids,” Mr. Cantu said, citing dismal literacy rates in schools in his community. “Why isn’t that an unmet demand?”

The Administration’s Tower of Babble

It’s a disconnect that is born of babble.

It starts, sadly, at the top.

During the election, Joe Biden couldn’t string together a coherent sentence about charter schools …

… telling the head of the NEA that …

“… no private charter school will receive a single penny of federal money. None.”

Huh?

At a campaign event …

… he said that he didn’t like charter schools because they …

“… take away options ….”

Options … taking away options … from a circumstance where there are no options?

Huh?

Later when Biden spoke so incoherently as to say he only supported “total enrollment charter schools …”

… the Huffington Post reached back out to the campaign for clarification.

(It was basically HP saying, “Huh?”)

The campaign came back saying that Biden meant that he didn’t want charter schools to have “admissions tests.”

The Post then reached back out explaining that virtually no charter schools use admissions tests and it is, rather, schools in the traditional public school system that use such selective admissions. So what did he mean?

The campaign would not respond.

Just like the administration wouldn’t respond to Matt Barnum this week when he was writing about their proposed new CSP regs.

Luke Jackson, an education department spokesperson, declined to make anyone from the department available for an on-the-record interview. Jackson recommended that Chalkbeat speak to supporters of the proposal, including Carol Burris, executive director for the Network for Public Education, a group that opposes charter schools.

Jonathan Chait, in his piece at the Intelligencer this week, provided further context to that response.

The Network for Public Education is a militant anti-charter group that takes funding from teachers unions (a fact Chalkbeat’s neutral story did not mention.) Outsourcing your response to that group is essentially confessing that you are turning over charter-school funding regulation policy to the teachers unions.

For those of you needing a broader refresher on NPE, you can find one here …

… or here.

The thumbnail is that NPE is a pulpit for charter school assault fronted by Carol Burris …

… founded by Diane Ravitch …

… and funded by Randi Weingarten.

It’s the troika to which the US Department turns, not just when Matt Burnam calls, but on all matters charter school.

And you would think that an effort with all these resources, having prepared for this moment for many years, would have been ready.

Instead they’ve written a set of regulations for the department that are chock full of such dishonorable scholarship and such over-reaching policy ideas that they provoke letters of opposition from within the administration’s own party

… as well as from a bi-partisan group of senators in an era when virtually nothing bi-partisan can get done.

It’s left the administration exposed, such that when charter school parents from across the country showed up on their doorstep this week …

… what else could they do but start backtracking with panicked tweet

… after panicked tweet

… saying that they didn’t really mean it?

It’s babble.

And it’s embarrassing.

It’s what happens when you have a candidate who doesn’t really believe what he is saying but is simply trying to repeat back to a lobby group what he thinks they want to hear, and then, once elected, tells his administration to try to do the same.

I just hope they are learning, CharterFolk.

And I hope that all around them are watching and learning too.

This is what happens when you farm out work on one of the most important policy areas that our society is taking on today to a small group of self-interested, out-of-touch, behind the times purveyors of babble who don’t even care enough to do their own work thoughtfully or with base integrity.

You let your entire administration become a purveyor of babble …

… one immense Tower of Babble.

Duncan’s Challenge Revisited

CharterFolk may remember that in Biden Babbling – Toeholds on the Rock Face of Credibility, I said the greatest antidote to babbling … is coherence … is advancing policy proposals that make crystal clear where we stand on issues so that, when you have a politician trying to parrot some blatant inaccuracy about our movement, we have taken from him any cranny of truth to which to cling.

Call it policy clarity.

I stand by the importance of policy clarity. In fact, I tried to make the argument for it anew in a piece last week.

But just as important as policy clarity is, we learned again this week …

… so is moral clarity.

It’s the voice of parents …

… delivering the message …

… as only they can.

During our earliest days here at CharterFolk, Arne Duncan …

… cited our inability to bring charter school parents into the leadership of our advocacy efforts to be perhaps our greatest shortcoming as a movement over our first thirty years, and it is the single thing he said we needed to improve most if we plan to survive and thrive in the challenging years ahead.

The best way I think to do that [make progress on tough issues] is not just having the public policy advocacy, but is having many more parents, many more students, many more community members, many more charter leaders of color driving and leading this effort going forward.  I think that voice is so powerful and so important, and that voice has been muted, has not been invested in, has not been listened to.  That’s been a strategic error for a long time.  And it’s more than ever a strategic error now.  That’s the best … it’s not an easy thing … but it is the best thing we could do right now.

We have been writing about how we do that here at CharterFolk ever since.

By no means have we gotten to what Arne encouraged us toward, but, inarguably, we’re proving able to do things now that we’ve never been able to do before. So if ever CharterFolk wonder why I keep coming back to this subject over and over and over again here at CharterFolk …

… this is why.

Wins Across the Country

With all the focus on what is happening in DC, I don’t want us all to lose sight of what is happening elsewhere.

It’s been another great couple of weeks on the charter school advocacy front in states across the nation.

A historic funding win in Missouri.

Unprecedented growth in facilities funding for charter schools in Tennessee.

This special education breakthrough for charter schools in Colorado getting in the end zone.

New polling showing 2:1 support for charter schools among likely voters in cities across New Jersey.

To name but a few.

These wins build on many others that have happened in recent months, much of which we have reported on here at CharterFolk:

It’s not any time to be spiking a ball, CharterFolk. These regulations in DC are still alive and well. But it’s been a great week, perhaps the best we’ve seen in years.

25X25X25, This is Why

I’ll end where I have to, coming back to one of CharterFolk’s primary reasons for being – encouraging our world to keep building structural advocacy strength so that our movement can succeed in the decades ahead. Going into the Biden Administration, I acknowledged that challenging years lie ahead. But I also said that, rather than the Biden era being looked back upon as a time of policy setback and retrenchment for our movement, I thought it was within our grasp to make these years ones where we were understood to have made great progress growing advocacy strength.

I believe that that advocacy strengthening is happening. This week provides us much more compelling evidence along these lines.

CharterFolk after CharterFolk attached to charter school after charter school across the nation are doing things today that we have never done before.

But it doesn’t just happen out of thin air. There have to be advocacy organizations supporting and enabling those efforts. Those advocacy organizations have to be provided the resources they need. And those organizations need to be better connected to one another through formal ties of membership to our National Alliance.

This week we began to get a glimpse of the potential that the National Alliance has to help our movement achieve these things.

But it was just a glimpse. We have much, much further yet to go.

So in the months ahead when you find me coming back to broken record again and again how we need twenty five states by 2025 where charter schools provide $25/student in membership dues to their state associations so that those organizations, in collaboration with many other advocacy organizations and the National Alliance, can demonstrate advocacy strength beyond anything we’ve done before, this is why I will be doing that, CharterFolk.

This is why.