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.