Bigger Boats and 25X25X25 Meets the Great National Crack Up

Weekend greetings, CharterFolk.

Well, as the great Tom Waits song goes …

… “St. Louis got the best of me.”

How else explain that at the top of my last post, I included a link

… that scores of you clicked on to no avail because I had embedded it wrong?

My apologies. It’s fixed now.

By the way, both that post and Tuesday’s

… had open rates as high as any column we have published here at CharterFolk.

So I guess the shark theme is resonating with a sizable number of you.

It shows that I should have paid more attention to my high school english teacher who always told me that my writing …

… lacked teeth.

I said in Tuesday’s post that my next subject would be …

… our need for bigger boats.

I thank Caprice for her Contributor Column last week, which focused on the shipyard work that gave birth to CCSA.

Let’s dive further into the subject now.

Bigger Boats and 25X25X25 Meets the Great National Crack Up

Long time CharterFolk readers will recall that …

… I have long obsessed on the need to build greater advocacy strength by having charter schools across the country provide higher membership dues to their state associations.

This is how I put it a couple years ago:

We need state associations completely filling their lanes in as many different parts of the country as possible, with all of those efforts connected to our National Alliance organization, so that over Biden’s first term we see emerge a web of interconnected strength for charter schools unlike anything we have had before. In so doing, we would convert a moment of perceived national risk for our movement into a moment of massive national opportunity.

What would be the greatest indicator that that strength is in fact emerging?

I call it the 25x25x25 campaign.

Charter school associations in 25 states …

… receiving $25 per pupil in membership dues …

… by 2025.

Charter school associations growing to completely fill their lane is going to require an infusion of new resources. Philanthropy, of course, can provide critically needed help. But the truth is that, if the strengthening is really going to happen in a way that we can rely on for the long term, a sizable portion of the new resources needed to enable that strengthening is going to have to come from our schools themselves.

So at its essence, the 25X25X25 campaign has been just another way of calling for the building of bigger boats.

And, no doubt, we have actually been making some encouraging progress over the past few years.

When I first started focusing on this matter in 2019, we had zero state associations that had achieved $25 per student in membership dues.

Today there are five.

Four years ago, we had four states that had gotten to $15.

Today we have eleven.

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • DC
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Rhode Island

And yes, I have a “confirmation-bias/pattern-recognition” dichotomy at play in this area too, but I can’t help pointing out that the list above includes some of the places where charter school advocacy has most strengthened in recent years.

Whether it’s the Illinois Network of Charter Schools positioning charter schools for a potentially game-changing win in the Chicago Mayor’s race …

… or the New Jersey association leading the charge against the governor’s effort to stifle charter school growth …

… or the New Mexico Association helping flip its state to striking levels of support for charter schools …

… or new growth momentum in Connecticut …

… or 50,000 messages coming into the legislature in Colorado to stop harmful legislation …

… or advocates using the courts on the offensive in Delaware …

You get the idea.

But do you see the other pattern here?

All of the states where charter school associations have increased their membership dues to $15 or higher …

… are blue.

Every one.

Indeed, if we look at red states, there is not one that has seen dues surpass $10 per students, and the vast majority have levels lower than $6.

Put it this way:

Four years ago, I estimated that just less than $14 million in membership dues was coming into state associations annually.

Next year, we will see that number comfortably exceed $30 million.

A real accomplishment.

Multiply that increase over a decade-long period and you begin to see the scale of new resources we are summoning for collective advocacy efforts.

Literally, CharterFolk, if we keep heading in this direction, over the next decade an additional quarter billion or more could be directed toward charter school advocacy.

Which, by the way, represents only a small fraction of what the status quo invests in advocacy to perpetuate itself.

But of the $30 million that’s going to advocacy today, two-thirds is coming from the eleven states I reference above.

Long-time CharterFolk readers may also recall that another theme that I have been writing about here is what I call “The Great National Crack-Up.”

It’s the idea that, from an education policy standpoint, we are seeing red states and blue states diverge, such that it is hard to see much overlap at all any more.

Scholarly confirmation of the crackup appeared last month.

And we’re now seeing further manifestation of it.

It’s exactly the logical extension, and indeed the greatest potential risk, I foresaw when I first started writing about this:

The loss of overlap in policy priorities for use of public education funding leaves us just one step away from the inevitable endgame:

A decreased commitment from the public to keep providing that funding.

It starts, perhaps, across states with federal dollars, but given the level of crack up happening within states too …

… I don’t see why the same dynamic won’t ultimately affect state budgets as well.

And then where would we be?

From a charter school advocacy perspective, I can imagine many CharterFolk finding a divergence in revenues for state advocacy to be something that is perfectly understandable and not much to worry about.

Red states, the argument goes, are where the more supportive policy makers are. So there’s less need for advocacy strength. And red states tend to be the places where per pupil funding is less …

… so it’s natural that schools would provide fewer resources to support advocacy.

But CharterFolk, I can’t even begin to explain just how naively off the mark such thinking is. The advocacy conditions in red settings across the country are just way more complicated than that.

Red states have not always been for charter schools. In fact, they have a history of opposition, which in some parts remains as strong today as it has ever been.

Look how many red states have passed charter school laws or improved them in just the past few years.

Do were really think, after decades of demonstrated opposition to charter schools, these states are now destined to just stay supportive forever?

And with many red states beginning to turn more and more to vouchers and ESAs, do we really think there’s no risk that charter schools become …

… over-shadowed?

And do we really think in red states where we may not perceive any immediate-term big risk there isn’t more need than ever for the charter school voice to be heard on other critically important issues being considered in those states?

Not that charter school advocates can afford in red states any more than we can in blue states to go charging into buzz saws. But to have many states where we have hundreds of thousands of kids in charter schools and state associations with no more than just a couple staff members – do we really expect the charter school voice to be heard in those states at all?

It’s why, in my opinion, there has never been a more important time to be building charter school advocacy strength in red states than right now.

Just like there’s never been a more important time to be doing so in blue states.

And if what we want at a national level is a charter school movement that leverages the full strength of the entire charter school community, red and blue, in order to push through the obstacles of the future that will be every bit as daunting as any we’ve faced before … we need to ensure that the portrait of great national crack up on policy matters …

… is accompanied by the exact opposite on advocacy matters for charter schools:

An amassing and a greater coming together over time of ever larger and more effective advocacy for our movement.

Bigger boats, indeed.