A Hot Seat of Our Own – The 10-Gallon Support That’s Within Our Reach

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Day job responsibilities have me struggling to keep up with my regular two-posts per week publishing schedule. I’ll get back on track next week.

In the meantime, there’s lots of news coming out of my three hometowns (places I’ve lived more than a decade).

Caprice has penned a great piece about LA reform efforts over at Education Next. Be on the lookout for a Contributor Column coming from Caprice next month here at CharterFolk.

We also saw an awesome charter school performance story come out of Denver.

And meanwhile, in Sacramento, on Wednesday night we saw the most excitement since the discovery of gold at Summit Creek!


Let’s get on to today’s post.

Dispelling Facile and Plainly Wrong Assumptions

I start today drawing attention to Starlee’s op-ed that appeared earlier this week in the Dallas Morning News.

It’s a great piece for all sorts of reasons.

First, of course, Starlee properly emphasizes the big picture, crediting advocacy efforts for having made sure that an originally horrible set of proposed regulations ended up becoming something far less threatening.

Then she properly thanks Texas parents …

… for having played an outsize role (even by Texas standards) in the turnout at the May 11 event in DC. Over 200 of the approximately 1000 parents in attendance were from Texas.

And then, quite interestingly, she goes on to link the challenges to quality charter school growth happening in DC right now to ones that are also playing out in Texas.

It’s a circumstance that flies in the face of the facile, and plainly wrong, assumption that all things charter are hunky-dory in all places red.

In fact, of the five states where we don’t yet have charter school laws (Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Vermont), four of them are red. And they continue demonstrating rabid resistance to any form of charter school.

As it turns out, red context politicians often display a defense of the public education Establishment in rural settings that is every bit as pronounced as the defense blue context politicians provide in urban ones.

Ten-Gallon Support Where We Expect It Least

Case in point is South Dakota where charter school opponents aren’t bashful about lifting anti-charter school flak from wherever they can get it, including, of all places, United Teachers Los Angeles!

Ballotpedia shows that over 90% of South Dakota state senators are Republican.

But that level of control doesn’t mean a charter school bill can get through.

For the third time in five years, Native American legislators and supporters of improving Native education in South Dakota have proposed legislation that would allow for creation of state-funded charter schools aimed at immersing students in Lakota Indian language, culture and history.

And once again, the measure has failed in the state House of Representatives, where lawmakers on the Education Committee voted 8-4 to kill Senate Bill 139, which had already been passed by the Senate ….

Opponents of the latest Lakota Immersion charter school proposal say the current bill siphons too much funding away from school districts where the schools would be located and is not well-written in regard to how the charter schools would be funded, governed and managed.

Despite yet another setback, the measure’s sponsor, Democrat and Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert …

… remains positively “ten-gallon” in his unapologetic commitment to carry on the charter school cause.

With his 2022 bill now defeated, Heinert will continue to  urge lawmakers to be part of a potential solution rather than part of an ongoing problem that is hampering the chances of Native children and adults to be successful.

“We’re kind of hung up on the funding issue, and maybe it is all about the money, though it’s not to us,” he said. “You know where my heart lies, and it’s not going to go away … let’s stop being part of the problem and give these kids and these families a chance.”

Not So Many Gallons in Texas

Back in Texas, Beto O’Rourke demonstrates a more “baseball cap” level of commitment to charter schools.

The race for governor in Texas has tightened considerably in recent weeks.

His opponent, incumbent Governor Greg Abbott, has staked out a strong position on education vouchers.

O’Rourke has come out in opposition to it …

… earning the enmity of many in the private school choice community …

… and rightly so.

But saying it’s a simple Democrat vs Republican matter is painting with far too broad a brush.

Not so long ago, a Texas Republican legislator literally referred to charter schools as “a virus.”

Last year, a full 25 Republicans voted against Starlee’s top priorities to expand charter school impact in Texas.

Meanwhile, Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, whose race is also tightening and who has cast his lot with protectors of the public education Establishment, cites both parties as a threat.

It’s certainly true that Beto O’Rourke used to be more “ten-gallon” in his support of charter schools.

“I think charter schools are a good idea. They encourage competition. They encourage innovation in the classroom, and they’re a laboratory for some of the best ideas and concepts in public education today,” O’Rourke said then. “Because remember, at the end of the day, the person that we care the most about in the educational system is the student. So let’s find out what’s best for the student. And I say, let’s try everything possible to make sure that we’re delivering the best possible result.”

That prior support complicated his presidential run in 2020.

And it was dispiriting to many in our base that he didn’t remain more unapologetic in his support of charter schools through the campaign.

But when he was put on the hot seat by the NEA …

… the same hot seat they put all the candidates on …

… including Joe Biden.

Unlike Biden who literally flinched at the mere mentioning of the words “charter school” and assured the NEA that he “felt the same way” about charter schools that they do …

Unlike Elizabeth Warren …

… who flipped from her history of aggressive support for two forms of school choice (charter schools and vouchers) …

In her 2003 book, The Two-Income Trap, Warren offered a full-throated endorsement of a voucher system that would allow children to enroll at any public school within a large geographic region that crosses municipal boundaries …

She mocks the idea of even calling schools in more affluent communities truly public, since they are only open to the families with the financial means to live there, with poorer families locked out ….

“At the core of the problem is the time-honored rule that where-you-live dictates where-you go to school,” she writes. Warren says the solution is to break up the “ironclad relationship” between location and school and declares, “A well-designed voucher program would fit the bill neatly.” Warren goes on to lay out a plan for a system of fully-paid vouchers to support attendance at any public schools in the region. “Tax dollars would follow the children ….”

“An all-voucher or all-school choice system would be a shock to the educational system, but the shake out might be just what the system needs,” she writes.

Despite that personal track record of emphatic support for school choice, Warren ended up calling for the outright elimination of the very Charter Schools Program that parents turned out in DC to defend.

And unlike Bill de Blasio …

… who went on a rant about how much he “hates education privatizers” …

… Beto O’Rourke stood on his historical record of support for charter schools.

Maybe it wasn’t the ten-gallon whoop of support we would have preferred, but he did manage to keep his charter school hat on all the way through the campaign, maintaining positioning that placed him among the field’s strongest supporters of charter schools.

We might speculate what led him to do so.



Some master plan to better position himself to run for Texas Governor some day?

My own sense is that the difference maker was the fact that he has CharterFolk in the family …

… which sustained him not just through the 2020 presidential primary season, but has sustained him all the way to this current day.

Because I am told that O’Rourke is sticking to his position on the campaign trail right now during this governor’s race, not just saying that he supports charter schools in front of audiences containing large numbers from our movement, but doing so, as he did in front of the NEA, in settings where his views are counter to what people want to hear.

The Full Court Press and Working Across Aisles

All these dynamics speak to the complexity of the political environment that the charter school movement faces across our entire country right now, one requiring that we resist the temptation to cast our lot with one side of the political spectrum or the other and that we recognize instead that our true path to highest impact and ultimate success requires that we do the very difficult work of building support across the aisle.

It’s why I thought Dean Johnson’s Contributor Column …

… was so spot on last week.

First of all, Dean highlighted how, like Starlee and the broader Texas charter school community, Missouri CharterFolk have been doing all the right things of late:

  • Strengthening their state association
  • Raising their membership dues
  • Building a 501c4 organization able to be involved in political activity
  • Bringing in the voice of parents and other grassroots supporters
  • Working effectively within a coalition of education reform groups
  • And keeping focused on a North Star policy agenda over a multi-year timeframe

Call it the charter school advocacy full court press.

Exactly the kind of stuff we’ve been broken-recording about here at CharterFolk since our inception.

The additional thing that Dean and his partners did so effectively was to work exhaustively across the aisle.

The importance of that may run counter to some people’s intuition given how much Missouri is perceived to be a red state.

But the truth is that, while statewide political dynamics may favor Republicans, with both houses of the legislature and the governorship solidly in Republican hands for the foreseeable future …

… the fact is that such a political context was not enough to allow charter schools to make progress on funding equity in prior legislative cycles. Political shorthand is further complicated by the fact that Missouri charter school law limits charter schools to St. Louis in the east and Kansas City in the west, which Wikipedia reports are, no surprise, bastions of blue in a sea of nearly otherwise ubiquitous red.

As fate would have it, Missouri has some unique conditions within its legislature, including a parliamentary feature requiring a super-majority to pass nearly any new legislation. It meant that, in order to advance their funding equity bill, the charter school community would need to secure buy-off from a small number of Democratic senators from St. Louis and Kansas City.

And having grown the involvement of charter school parents from those very regions of the state in recent years, they focused their grassroots engagement on those few swing votes. And keeping at it over time, they got the senators to recognize that schools serving primarily Black and Brown kids from Missouri’s two biggest cities should receive the same funding as other public school students.

A huge breakthrough!

But ultimately, not enough.

Because while the blues’ philosophical opposition to charter schools receiving fair funding had been overcome, Missouri advocates still had to find the money.

Because Democratic senators’ support would have evaporated in a heartbeat if they saw that the new charter school funding was going to be taken out of traditional public schools in St. Louis and Kansas City.

So where did the money come from instead?

From reds at a state level, fiscal conservatives who had refused for many years to provide the additional funding needed to make charter schools whole because of their long-held ideological opposition to increasing state expenditures on public education.

Working across aisles, working across ideologies, working across the widening gulfs that are opening up across so much of our society today, the charter school community finally achieved its long-sought funding equity breakthrough.

This, CharterFolk, is the path by which we can propel our movement on to unprecedented levels of impact.

And, as Starlee points out in her op-ed, the time is right.

Parents will cross divides of party and ideology to support policy makers who help their kids cross divides to access improved educational opportunity.

The dynamics that pulled Beto O’Rourke in one direction during the presidential election two years ago are pushing him in a completely different one today. A direction he is naturally inclined to want to pursue anyway.

A direction that thousands of charter school parents stand ready to demand he move in.

An unapologetic one.

One that is positively …

… ten gallon.

The time has come, CharterFolk, to make a hot seat of our own.