Vol 13 – The American Dream Lives at WonkyFolk

Greetings, CharterFolk!

This week, Andy and I are talking with Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, regarding charter schools and the American Dream.

For those of you who would prefer a video recording, we provide a link to YouTube

This week some of the topics include:

  • Introductions (00:01)
  • One of the greatest accomplishments for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) over the last decade (06:11)
  • How we should we think about charters relative to other choice options and what we need by way of leadership and advocacy (11:30)
  • Nina’s thoughts regarding the most pressing charter issues 11+ years ago v. today (15:21)
  • Nina’s biggest surprise (18:27)
  • A backstage pass to leading and organization like the NAPCS and some of Nina’s enduring memories (24:33)
  • The political leaders who support charter schools during a period of intense polarization, what we can do to support continued bipartisanship, and the importance of future elections (28:47)
  • How to keep a charter base together, especially during vexing issues facing charter schools (34:10)
  • The area Nina would encourage CharterFolk to work on for charter school success (44:11)
  • Nina’s billboard for charter schools, “A ticket to the American Dream” (47:22)

Notes:

You can use the following links to access:

·      The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ report, Believing in Public Education: A Demographic and State-level Analysis of Public Charter School and District Public School Enrollment Trends. https://publiccharters.org/newsroom/publications/2023-public-school-enrollment-trends-report/

·      WonkyFolk Vol 5 – Special CREDO Episode with Macke Raymond. https://www.charterfolk.org/captivate-podcast/vol-5-special-credo-episode-with-macke-raymond/

·      CREDO’s report, As a Matter of Fact: National Charter School Study III, which is the third installment of a multi-decade study examining the academic progress of students enrolled in charter schools compared with those enrolled in traditional public schools. https://ncss3.stanford.edu/

·      Jed Wallace’s article, “The Charter-School Movement Just Keeps On Keepin’ On: Its momentum catalyzed by shifting politics, new strength, better advocacy, and simple staying power”. https://www.educationnext.org/the-charter-school-movement-just-keeps-on-keepin-on/

Transcript
Jed:

Hello, Andy and Nina.

Jed:

Great to see you guys.

Jed:

Hey, good morning, Jed.

Jed:

Hey, Nina.

Jed:

Thanks for being with us.

Nina:

Well, thank you so much for having me.

Andy:

Yeah, we've been looking forward to this one.

Jed:

Yeah, this one's pretty special to have you here to celebrate, you know,

Jed:

just an amazing amount of accomplishment.

Jed:

Maybe we should just make you squirm a little bit here at the beginning, Nina,

Jed:

by just, you know, saying incredible things about the contribution you've

Jed:

made over recent years, you'd be too modest to say things yourself,

Jed:

but, you know, let me start dive in first, Andy, if that's all right,

Jed:

you know, and you can pile on right.

Jed:

But, Nina what you've done over the last 11 years has just been astounding and

Jed:

I think also a lot of people just don't appreciate just the amount of contribution

Jed:

that you made and how difficult the challenge was when you first started.

Jed:

There were people that were saying that perhaps the National Alliance for Public

Jed:

Charter Schools would not continue as an organization, that's the baseline

Jed:

and you came in and just very quickly.

Jed:

Changed the entire narrative and got the organization on stride.

Jed:

Hires a great new team and started making better progress on federal advocacy.

Jed:

And now we're 11 years later and people don't even remember that moment.

Jed:

And meanwhile, other things, you know, through your 11 years, growing the

Jed:

CSP program to a level that's just so much higher than it ever was before.

Jed:

Navigating during a period when we've had red, blue.

Jed:

tensions as pronounced as anything that we've ever had.

Jed:

And then just building the whole strength.

Jed:

If there was any moment that showed what progress the organization had

Jed:

made, it was definitely in the spring of 2022 when the Biden administration

Jed:

announced their terrible proposed regs.

Jed:

And I mean, the alliance was there and basically.

Jed:

Turn the administration around in ways that I think will help the

Jed:

movement for many years to come.

Jed:

So at least from my standpoint, Nina, you know, just an amazing, amazing run.

Jed:

And I just want to thank you for everything that you've done Andy pile on.

Andy:

You know, I think that was, that was well said.

Andy:

Let me think things I'd add to it.

Andy:

I mean, first of all, I think you have done a fantastic job.

Andy:

Nina's done really important things.

Andy:

She's a fantastic professional, very professional, gets the job done.

Andy:

She's also the fantastic person is a great, great human.

Andy:

And it's a wonderful person, a sector and a friend and all of that.

Andy:

And so I want to call both of those out.

Andy:

I think like what stands out to me is the problem.

Andy:

The National Alliance has faced and you're totally right about the challenges when

Andy:

Nina took over, I think, and I think some of those challenges persist now

Andy:

is, everybody's always want to be kind of all things for all people, right?

Andy:

And so there's been just intense cross pressure over the years and I should say

Andy:

like by way of full disclosure I was a founding board member and I was a board

Andy:

member of the organization that was its predecessor So I have some history here.

Andy:

But people it's people have always wanted to be good cop be bad cop do really hard

Andy:

edged, you know Advocacy for charter schools be really collaborative and

Andy:

work with everybody all these things you actually No single organization

Andy:

can do and I feel like Nina has just navigated that with just a poem.

Andy:

I think most leaders would have either become like really frustrated, and

Andy:

that would have led to bad outcomes or would have simply failed at that.

Andy:

And I think that she just deserves just amazing just respect and credit for,

Andy:

not only sort of keeping that going, but actually really accomplishing

Andy:

big things despite all of that.

Andy:

And that, that when I think about that's what I'm most, impressed by as though,

Andy:

I don't think most people would have pulled off with the employment that

Andy:

she did, and she has that combination, and I said, she's a great professional,

Andy:

like just really good political skills, people, instincts, and just a deep

Andy:

commitment to improving education.

Andy:

I've known Nina for a lot longer than her education in charter school days and

Andy:

she's just deeply committed that this system can work better than it does.

Andy:

And like people who believe that and show up to work every day to try to bring

Andy:

that to life are incredibly valuable.

Andy:

So thank you, Nina.

Nina:

And thank you, Andy, you know, Jed was on the search committee that was

Nina:

involved in hiring me and Bellwether was the firm that was hired to do the search.

Nina:

So both of you played a role in bringing me here, so I appreciate your support.

Nina:

And I'm particularly grateful to Andy because our space is filled with

Nina:

all these, you know, students who graduated from Ivy League schools.

Nina:

We went to Virginia Tech and I think the Values you learn at Virginia

Nina:

Tech and schools like that certainly helped me along the way in terms

Nina:

of hard work and perseverance.

Nina:

And, yeah, and so I'm excited.

Nina:

And also, Andy, we met when you were working at A.

Nina:

S.

Nina:

A.

Nina:

Back when I was at the Heritage Foundation.

Nina:

So, the things we learned in the nineties, we could also so actually

Nina:

fit in one room and one table to talk about education reform back , all

Nina:

of that has changed over time.

Nina:

So I'm really thankful that I'm doing this with you right before the holidays.

Andy:

Yeah, I appreciate you saying that, Nina.

Andy:

I think after the last few weeks, people might decide maybe they want a few more,

Andy:

you know, good students from good state schools, land grant universities.Actually,

Andy:

we're thinking about doing an episode on some of what's going on in higher ed.

Andy:

You said an interesting thing that you said, like, we could fit in a room and

Andy:

we literally could, like, I can remember, like, a couple of Hill staffers from

Andy:

the Democrat and Republican side, Amy Wilkins, who then was at the Education

Andy:

Trust, me and Nina trying to figure out if there was sort of bipartisan

Andy:

ways through and literally we could fit in a small side room like at a

Andy:

restaurant and then education kind of became this big bipartisan thing.

Andy:

And now I think it's a little bit more back to we're probably back to smaller

Andy:

rooms and restaurants right now as we try to figure out how do you rebuild a

Andy:

more bipartisan coalition going forward.

Jed:

So, Nina, if you were going to talk about the thing that you are happiest

Jed:

about that's happened over the last 11 years or maybe one of the greatest

Jed:

accomplishments for the alliance, what would you put your finger on?

Nina:

You highlighted a few of them, Jed.

Nina:

Certainly the focus we brought to increasing the size of

Nina:

the charter schools program.

Nina:

We didn't just do it because we wanted more money in the CSP.

Nina:

If you recall, and I don't know if you were in this meeting we held early

Nina:

on, we had brought all the different stakeholders that were seeking funding

Nina:

through this federal funding program.

Nina:

So it included CMOs, a few people who were running charter associations,

Nina:

those who were tapping into credit enhancement funding and authorizers

Nina:

at the time, the program was getting about $254 million a year and everyone

Nina:

was trying to get a piece of that pie.

Nina:

So instead of focusing on that narrow pool of funding, we decided why don't we

Nina:

just try to get an increase in funding?

Nina:

And we were lucky enough to have some supporters in the house and the Senate

Nina:

who were supportive of these increases.

Nina:

So it came about through small incremental increases over time.

Nina:

I give great credit to Senator Blunt when he was heading appropriations

Nina:

for us every year, he would put the money in and usually with senators,

Nina:

you know, usually their staff are the individuals who handled these things,

Nina:

but he himself was very engaged.

Nina:

I remember running into him at a reception where he pulled me aside

Nina:

and said, you know, I'm going to do it this way and that way.

Nina:

So the fact that you had a senator who was that deeply involved

Nina:

in the work was, was great.

Nina:

And that's going to continue.

Nina:

I think so long as there is demand and interest in the program, and

Nina:

there certainly is, there is also an interest at the federal level

Nina:

to increase these funding streams.

Nina:

When you think about it, the amount of money right now, it's a 440 million.

Nina:

It's a lot more than it was before, but it's still very small compared

Nina:

to everything else that is spent at the federal level on education

Nina:

and certainly other issues.

Nina:

The other thing is the increase in the number of states that

Nina:

started to open charter schools.

Nina:

And when I started Washington state had just passed a charter law through

Nina:

their ballot process, and then that was found unconstitutional.

Nina:

So they figured out a different way to pass it through the legislature.

Nina:

These nascent markets, whenever you go into states at a late stage, they are,

Nina:

it is more difficult not just to pass the law, but also to launch the sectors.

Nina:

And so I'm.

Nina:

quite frankly, proud of the fact that since I came here, we were able

Nina:

to launch eventually in Washington State, in Alabama, in West Virginia,

Nina:

in Kentucky, although we haven't been able to open schools and just recently

Nina:

in Montana, Mississippi also passed the law, they had an earlier law that

Nina:

wasn't generating any or creating any schools and that was revamped.

Nina:

And then we also made some improvements over time in a few

Nina:

other places that had laws, but not laws that were quite effective.

Nina:

During the pandemic, though.

Nina:

I think this happened by itself, but it's a byproduct of the

Nina:

sector that we had created.

Nina:

We just released a new enrollment report that basically summarizes 300, 000

Nina:

students enrolled in charter schools over the past four years, while 1.

Nina:

5 million families or students left the traditional public school system.

Nina:

That's a 9 percent increase for the charter school movement and the 3.

Nina:

5 percent decrease in the district run schools.

Nina:

So parents are making decisions and leaving.

Nina:

The district run system, whether it's, you know, to a private school or

Nina:

homeschool, but if they have a charter school in their community, this is

Nina:

probably going to be the school that they first pay attention to because

Nina:

we're free, public and open to all.

Nina:

So I'm proud of the fact that it is an option that people are paying attention to

Nina:

and just think of how many more families would be in charter schools if we simply

Nina:

had more of them in our communities.

Nina:

And there are a lot of other things certainly that I can talk about

Nina:

reports that we had written, and publicity brought, attention brought

Nina:

to this diversity of the sector.

Nina:

Certainly that the studies, I mean, I would be remiss not to mention Credo's

Nina:

final analysis that came out right before, it just came out, but it's

Nina:

an analysis of data up until 2019.

Nina:

So when Mackie first started doing her research, she didn't see a lot of

Nina:

difference between District schools and charter schools, the second installment

Nina:

of her study showed some improvement.

Nina:

This last one definitely demonstrate that charters are doing something right.

Nina:

And what was really refreshing was that the longer our leaders stayed in the

Nina:

schools they were running, the better they did in terms of the service to the

Nina:

families and closing the achievement gap, raising student achievement.

Nina:

So, what else do you want?

Nina:

I mean, it's growing, it's having an impact, and it's gaining momentum.

Nina:

So I'm extremely proud of these developments over time and that the

Nina:

developments happen certainly with a lot of folks in the sector, but certainly,

Nina:

I'm proud of the fact that we were part of those discussions or leading

Nina:

those discussions in many instances.

Andy:

Let's talk about a little bit more than that.

Andy:

It's so interesting so charters like I mean, and the advocacy conversation

Andy:

is exasperating as people still use the language like of the first

Andy:

credo report rather than like a decades worth of new evidence and

Andy:

things we're learning and so forth.

Andy:

But you look, you do see that the sector seems to be getting stronger

Andy:

and qualities improving mackie on recently, we'll put that episode in the

Andy:

show notes, to talk through all that.

Andy:

So that's a little unusual.

Andy:

Usually, when things expand in the education sector, quality

Andy:

sort of regresses, at least, you know, back towards average.

Andy:

On vouchers, we're actually seeing that as these programs, these voucher

Andy:

programs become less targeted, more universal, the outcomes are, we're

Andy:

seeing, you know, weaker outcomes than you used to see with voucher programs.

Andy:

So just talk about that.

Andy:

What do you think that means for charters right now relative to other choice

Andy:

options relative to where the sector is going and relative to the work that a

Andy:

national organization, national leaders need to do and then, and state leaders.

Andy:

So that's like a three part compound questions, it's not very fair, but like

Andy:

really, really important stuff for us to think about with the sector going forward.

Nina:

Well, I lost track of the three questions, but let me answer this way.

Andy:

Quality and scale, quality and scale is going better than you thought

Andy:

and better than some other choice options.

Andy:

So how should we think about charters in that context?

Andy:

And how should we think about like what we need by way of leadership and advocacy,

Andy:

either national or state or both?

Nina:

No, I mean, that was a key point she made, which is that these management

Nina:

organizations that have had steady leadership over time, continued to make

Nina:

improvements, if they were not doing as well, they improved and became better.

Nina:

So that that's crucial.

Nina:

And it's really one of the reasons why, to some extent, some of our

Nina:

district run schools are not doing well, because you have so many

Nina:

superintendents who are coming and going and shifting priorities constantly.

Nina:

But if you keep the leadership stable, the governance of a school stable over

Nina:

time, in this particular instance, it has learned from its mistakes

Nina:

and has become better over time.

Nina:

So that's huge.

Nina:

And I think it's a great contribution actually to the education sector in

Nina:

a sense that if you just had a better governance model, you'd be able to

Nina:

resolve a lot of the issues that both from an academic standpoint and nowadays,

Nina:

also from a political standpoint.

Nina:

Now, with all that said, the pandemic was a mess.

Nina:

I mean, our test scores and that of a lot of other schools are

Nina:

just not where they need to be.

Nina:

One of the things that the pandemic also demonstrated is the value of what

Nina:

our educators were doing by simply having students in our schools, the

Nina:

expanded school day school year, the fact that they were a second parent

Nina:

to a lot of these students became more apparent to us as a sector, the human

Nina:

touch element was really important.

Nina:

And so we all need to focus on that and make sure we gain the

Nina:

momentum that was lost pre pandemic.

Nina:

And quite frankly, the other thing that we need to do is create new schools in

Nina:

states like Arkansas, the governor of Arkansas made a sweeping set of changes to

Nina:

its charter law that allow now for charter schools to open throughout the state.

Nina:

I don't know who is opening schools in Arkansas, but there are these

Nina:

new places that are ripe in terms of opportunities and we need leaders and

Nina:

individuals who can come and hit the ground running and learn from those who

Nina:

have been doing this for a long time.

Nina:

So the fact that we've been demonstrating we can scale with quality pre pandemic

Nina:

tells me that we can do it again, but it's just a matter of keeping that

Nina:

momentum and attracting new people who are interested in opening schools

Nina:

and teachers who are interested in teaching in our schools going forward.

Jed:

Serving for I've been saying it's 11 years.

Jed:

Is it 11 or is it 10?

Jed:

Or is it 10 and a half?

Jed:

Is it right in that area?

Nina:

A little over 11 years.

Jed:

Oh, it's 11 years.

Jed:

Okay, good.

Jed:

So I was right then.

Jed:

Alright, so serving 11 years, there's a long time there to learn and change,

Jed:

and I know at CCSA some of the things I was thinking in my 10th year I would

Jed:

look back and what I was thinking about in the 1st and 2nd year was like, oh

Jed:

my gosh.I had no idea what I was doing.

Jed:

Can you just point to a couple of things that you thought might be the case when

Jed:

you were in the 1st and 2nd year and by, you know, the 10th and 11th year you're

Jed:

really thinking something different?

Nina:

Well, look, I mean, when I came to this and you were on our board for a long

Nina:

time Jed, so you were with me on this.

Nina:

There was a lot of focus at the federal level, leveraging federal

Nina:

powers to its max and making sure that we were closing the achievement gets

Nina:

sending kids to and through college.

Nina:

I think a lot of focus on college and it wasn't something that I necessarily did.

Nina:

But I think the sector over time began to understand the importance

Nina:

of sending students to schools that fit their needs rather than to an

Nina:

elite school that they may not be able to graduate from or graduate

Nina:

with a huge debt, the focus on CTE.

Nina:

I think a lot of these things changed also our focus from as an entity

Nina:

that was leading on the policy front.

Nina:

But the thing that I wish I had paid a little bit more attention to, and

Nina:

it was happening on its own, but it's sort of the state dynamics.

Nina:

So we have a model law.

Nina:

We rank states based on those laws on we jump in those places where no one else

Nina:

is around to pass a law or improve a law.

Nina:

We haven't played an active role in those places, where others are involved,

Nina:

we're servant leaders in some respects.

Nina:

So we go in if we're asked to help, we don't jump in on our own to do anything.

Nina:

And that's actually a good thing.

Nina:

But over time, though, some of these inconsistencies have harmed our ability

Nina:

to grow or have had an impact on student achievement and I wish that I could

Nina:

have found a way to better help the sector in those states where there were

Nina:

opportunities to seize or threats to mitigate and right now philanthropy also

Nina:

more focused on this, which is great, but they're also only in certain places.

Nina:

So it's great to try to take some sectors from good to great and create

Nina:

these beacons of hope and opportunity to demonstrate the value proposition

Nina:

of charter schools in certain markets, but as an advocacy organization as

Nina:

a political force, I don't know of a lot of other movements that are just

Nina:

focused on doing certain things in certain communities to create these great

Nina:

proof points and ignoring other places.

Nina:

So that's the one thing that I wish I had focused on more, but it's not

Nina:

too late and hopefully the next leader will be able to seize and do more

Nina:

in some of these other communities.

Jed:

What's been the biggest surprise?

Nina:

Well, this is not a surprise.

Nina:

I mean, those of us who've been dabbling in politics are not surprised

Nina:

by this, but I've been surprised at the level of, I can naivete to some

Nina:

extent around the politics of education and charter schools in particular.

Nina:

I mean, once, if you have an impact, you're going to get pushback, your

Nina:

pushback is a sign of your effectiveness.

Nina:

But I have been surprised at how people see the pushback as a sign of

Nina:

weakness or a sign that we're not doing something well or something right.

Nina:

And I think it's important to be really clear on what is it that

Nina:

you need to fix and you need to do your dirty laundry behind closed

Nina:

doors to address those issues.

Nina:

There are certainly a lot of things that are need to be addressed in our sector,

Nina:

but I have, you know, I think a lot of our leaders are just here to run great

Nina:

schools and the politics and the noise is not attractive to them, which is

Nina:

as it should be, most people teaching are not here to be in the field of

Nina:

politics or to pay attention to politics.

Nina:

But this is a political system.

Nina:

And as Shabar likes to say, if you don't like it, go run a private school.

Nina:

So I wouldn't go that far.

Nina:

But I do think I am sometimes taken aback as to how certain things that

Nina:

are really come to me naturally in terms of what you need to do to fight

Nina:

back, require far more attention and handholding and funding in some instances.

Nina:

I mean, if something bad is, if a good story is happening nowadays,

Nina:

you have the opportunity to tape it with your phone and publicize it

Nina:

through so many different mediums.

Nina:

And but that doesn't come naturally to most of us.

Nina:

And I think the process of getting most, more of our leaders engaged in

Nina:

the political discussions to get them to register to vote, to make sure that

Nina:

they're showing up to defend what they do or proactively push for it before

Nina:

they're elected officials, that's just taken more time and something that

Nina:

in some instances we should have paid more attention to at the beginning.

Andy:

Is that because people are just naturally conflict averse, do you think,

Andy:

or, like, I've noticed some of our funders, they make their money they do

Andy:

everything that you're talking about in terms of being very aggressive in the

Andy:

political and regulatory space and all that, and then, in their philanthropic

Andy:

life, they don't want to have to do that.

Andy:

And so they want everything to be collaborative, but as you point

Andy:

out, this is a political space.

Andy:

So is it that?

Andy:

Is it just people are again?

Andy:

People are naturally conflict averse.

Andy:

Is it something about education?

Andy:

Generally speaking, people in education, they don't want to fight.

Andy:

You know, people are here on all sides of these issues, they

Andy:

want to try to do right by kids.

Andy:

So like, why is that?

Andy:

Because I totally agree with you.

Andy:

And it's a very interesting dynamic.

Andy:

Do you like to just take that like one more click down like,

Andy:

Why do you think that is?

Nina:

Andy, I know you have an answer to this, too, since you

Nina:

think about these issues every day.

Nina:

For many of us, as those who are, students of this movement and a lot of

Nina:

the researchers and academics in this movement, the data was really important

Nina:

and there was a perception by a lot of the individuals who were involved.

Nina:

We're investing in in in this system that if you just showed up with the

Nina:

data, if you could just prove that this model works and that you are able to

Nina:

close the achievement gap, that would have that would be the tipping point

Nina:

that would then make everything else fall into place, other public schools

Nina:

would join hands and emulate it.

Nina:

This would be the case again, if the politics were not part of the mix.

Nina:

Of course, that didn't happen.

Nina:

And in fact, in those places where we had the best evidence, that's when the

Nina:

opposition fought back even harder.

Nina:

I mean, look at Massachusetts, that ballot initiative, that We were trying

Nina:

to pass was grounded only on lifting the cap in those schools that had waitlists

Nina:

in Boston in a very narrow market that was serving black and brown students,

Nina:

and the opposition made it seem that this would take money away from all these

Nina:

suburban schools and take arts and sports from all these other public schools.

Nina:

So, yes, I mean, I think the fact that we thought the evidence.

Nina:

It's in and of itself would be enough to convince the opposition that

Nina:

this is a good thing or to catapult the kind of systemic change in the

Nina:

traditional public school system.

Nina:

Maybe you call it naive, but from a funding side, though, and I don't

Nina:

blame philanthropists for this.

Nina:

They want to go in deep, do something big in one place,

Nina:

but then if it doesn't happen.

Nina:

You know, in our space, you just need to do it consistently over a long

Nina:

period of time until you see results.

Nina:

So if it's just one effort, on a given day, chances are, even if it

Nina:

sticks, it might go backwards after a while if it's a political win.

Nina:

Certainly you have to protect it constantly.

Nina:

So not investing in the political side of the spectrum by electing the right

Nina:

people to office by protecting those who are sticking their necks out those

Nina:

things have had a negative impact on our sector and things that certainly people

Nina:

are paying more attention to, but that has nothing to do with education and

Nina:

what's happening in schools and I think that's maybe surprised some individuals.

Nina:

And the other thing, honestly, is most of the people who are running

Nina:

charter schools who are sending their kids to charter schools are Democrats.

Nina:

And the fact that the Democratic Party in some of these instances or Democrats

Nina:

are not sticking their necks out has surprised a lot of individuals and, but

Nina:

some of that is changing and I know that once you, the great thing about our

Nina:

movement is the minute people notice a flaw, they're quick to go and address it.

Nina:

So I do think people are paying more attention to this and.

Nina:

by giving, by paying attention, hopefully we'll be able to also bring

Nina:

the resources necessary to fight back.

Jed:

You know, I'm wondering if you can give us a backstage pass

Jed:

to what it's like to lead an organization like this for 11 years.

Jed:

I know that now that I've been out of CCSA for five years, there are

Jed:

certain anecdotes that I'm telling now more to the kids and to friends.

Jed:

A lot of it just kind of fades away, but there are these moments just that seem

Jed:

to crystallize, in my memory anyway, what it was like to serve in that role.

Jed:

Do you have a couple of just anecdotes, like moments you know you're going

Jed:

to remember, you're going to be talking about with your family and

Jed:

friends for the next 30, 40 years?

Nina:

Your tenure at CCSA was very different from mine because you

Nina:

started at CCSA and it's heyday.

Nina:

You had a lot of charter schools in the space who were Funding the

Nina:

association, you had Kerry Penner and Reed Hastings on your board.

Nina:

So mine, you know, as you noted earlier, I came when the organization

Nina:

was kind of teetering and funders were not sure if they would, they

Nina:

wanted to continue supporting it.

Nina:

For me, it's felt like drinking out of a firehose the minute I started the

Nina:

work and I've loved every minute of it.

Nina:

I think the thing that I will most remember is actually the

Nina:

day we decided to go home.

Nina:

They announced that there's a pandemic and you should go home.

Nina:

You know, as a leader, I can't tell you how many years I lost in the few weeks

Nina:

that when we were home and thinking about the ramifications of the pandemic, both as

Nina:

in terms of fundraising, am I able to keep this organization running, both in terms

Nina:

of how do you serve schools, how do you make sure that these students are getting

Nina:

what you know, the resources they need.

Nina:

And again, we were not in the business of running schools, but

Nina:

what can we do at the federal level to make sure funding is available?

Nina:

And at the time we fought for both SBA loans and ESSER funds.

Nina:

So a lot of the things you had to do in that period of time were very different

Nina:

than what you were doing before.

Nina:

So I'm always going to remember those first few weeks, certainly of the pandemic

Nina:

at home, trying to figure out what this new world means and how do we leverage it.

Nina:

And I'm glad that we came out ahead and our sector certainly responded very well

Nina:

in the first few months of the pandemic.

Nina:

The rally last year where parents and educators came to fight against

Nina:

the Biden administration regulations on the charter schools program

Nina:

are definitely going to be missed.

Nina:

One of the highlights certainly, both because it demonstrated that there is

Nina:

an interest in coming to Washington to advocate for something as obscure

Nina:

as a regulation, just think about it explaining what that regulation did was

Nina:

very complicated, getting individuals who are not living our lives and are not

Nina:

thinking about rules and regulations, especially in communities that honestly

Nina:

didn't stand to benefit from CSP money.

Nina:

So the fact that they came that it got its You know, requisite publicity

Nina:

and all that was one of those moments that I'm always going to remember.

Nina:

But personally, it's the team that, works for me that I guess I'm going

Nina:

to miss the most and the day to day interactions with them that, I don't

Nina:

think there's one point in time, but I do think all the efforts that goes

Nina:

into building teams and certainly now adjusting to remote work and all that

Nina:

is, yeah, I will always remember that.

Nina:

And also making sure that the legacy of what we created continues.

Nina:

I like to tell people like we're celebrating our 20th anniversary

Nina:

next year, so in a way, I came here when the organization when it was

Nina:

in its tween and teenage years.

Nina:

Now it's officially, you know, entering adulthood.

Nina:

So hopefully it can do great things and learn from the things that's

Nina:

learned in the past and move the sector forward in a very evolving world.

Andy:

Let's stay on this point on sort of political leadership.

Andy:

You mentioned, uh, you mentioned Senator Blunt earlier.

Andy:

You've also had, you know, you had, like Senator Landreau, Mary from Louisiana.

Andy:

Tom Carper, the former governor of Delaware in the Senate, was

Andy:

a enormous leader on charters.

Andy:

Like you had, like some really bipartisan Folks who really were leaning in on this.

Andy:

Who do you see sort of as the leaders now?

Andy:

And what do we need to do?

Andy:

You talked earlier about the partisanship, like what do we need to do

Andy:

to maintain bipartisanship, especially in this time of just really intense?

Andy:

Hyperpolarization.

Nina:

So we have some great friends, some Democrats and strong Republican

Nina:

friends in the Senate, in particular this bill that we just introduced

Nina:

this summer, which opens the door for CSP money to go to educators who

Nina:

want to apply to charter schools.

Nina:

I was introduced with the support of Senator Bennett and Senator Booker,

Nina:

as well as Senator Hassan from New Hampshire and Senator Schatz from Hawaii.

Nina:

So these are all four Democrats.

Nina:

Senator Scott from South Carolina, Senator Braun from Indiana,

Nina:

Senator Cornyn from Texas.

Nina:

So, look, whenever we have an opportunity at the federal level

Nina:

to push for charter schools.

Nina:

We do have bipartisan support, but to me, the federal government is a few steps

Nina:

away from what it's a lagging indicator of certain things in some respect.

Nina:

So I would pay a lot more attention to what's happening locally and make sure

Nina:

that our local elected officials First, you're inviting them to your schools

Nina:

that they know who you are through the stories and the faces of the movement,

Nina:

that you are staying in touch with them.

Nina:

And if they're your supporters, that you are protecting them because chances

Nina:

are those elected officials are going to move to higher office and I would pay

Nina:

attention at all levels of government.

Nina:

At the mayor level, mayoral level, the city council level, state

Nina:

legislative level, governor level.

Nina:

I would move from that point up and make sure that bipartisanship

Nina:

continues to exist at every level.

Nina:

But at the federal level, look, the Senate has always been our backstop and

Nina:

it's going to continue to be that way because they're a little bit shielded

Nina:

from a lot of the ebbs and flows and the influence of a lot of interest groups.

Nina:

That's not the case everywhere, but some of our biggest supporters right now are

Nina:

not able to say they're big supporters, but they're steady hands in this process

Nina:

are Senator Murray and Senator Baldwin, these are Democrats who have also been

Nina:

supportive of the teachers unions, but they're also good on our issue.

Nina:

A house is a little different in the sense that it's just more

Nina:

volatile and you have more action.

Nina:

And in that respect, again, in the, in the house, we've had a good.

Andy:

It does seem a little volatile over there these days.

Nina:

But a lot of congressional black caucus members have been steady

Nina:

signatories of our annual charter schools grant program funding.

Nina:

And I think in that sense, if the leadership of Senator, I'm sorry, if

Nina:

Congressman Jeffries becomes the speaker, that would be quite interesting because

Nina:

he is someone who is not just familiar with the sector and has been supported

Nina:

by many of our advocates and leaders and funders, but someone who also really has a

Nina:

personal understanding of charter schools.

Nina:

So if the house flips, it will be interesting to see what Um, if his

Nina:

influence and his position will influence, uh, the party's posture on

Nina:

charter schools, what I'm most focused on, though, is the 24 elections.

Nina:

I know a lot of people want to go to sleep and wake up after it's

Nina:

over, but I do think we have to pay a lot more attention to the

Nina:

conversations that are taking place.

Nina:

A lot of these candidates are not talking policy or just using soundbites.

Nina:

But as time goes on, and as these primaries move through, it's You know,

Nina:

you know that the issue of choice is going to come up and it's going to be

Nina:

important for us to go in with the right questions and hopefully for those who

Nina:

are running for these seats to give good, solid answers to questions of

Nina:

choice, accountability and education.

Andy:

On the Republican side, have you heard any, any of the

Andy:

candidates who are particularly like compelling on these issues?

Nina:

Well, you see the same debates that I see.

Nina:

Certainly, I try

Andy:

not to see them actually.

Andy:

So that may not be that may not be

Nina:

true.

Nina:

Well, they all talk about choice and school choice is definitely a buzzword.

Nina:

The Republican Party is from a message discipline standpoint, knows how to

Nina:

use talking points very effectively.

Nina:

Um, What is sometimes disappointing is that those talking points don't

Nina:

always translate into strong policies because they tend not to be as focused

Nina:

on the federal role in education.

Nina:

That wasn't the case when, when I was working at the White House, certainly

Nina:

President Bush was Education reformer and wanted to go down in history as

Nina:

someone who impacted education policy.

Nina:

But with that said, um, on the Republican side, they all have a viewpoint on choice

Nina:

and they talk about choice broadly.

Nina:

They haven't honed in on charter schools specifically, but that's where they are.

Nina:

And Democrats haven't had debates that I know of.

Nina:

So, um, we'll see how this conversation goes.

Jed:

Is the secret to maintaining bipartisan support just not being

Jed:

perceived as veering in too far in either direction or and try to have

Jed:

some centrist orientation that's not totally offensive to either side?

Jed:

Or is it having a mix of things where like, Hey, there's an

Jed:

aspect of charterness that really resonates on the Republican side.

Jed:

Emphasize that in your engagement with Republicans and vice versa on Democrats.

Jed:

I mean, you've, you've made this look pretty effortless, Nina.

Jed:

I mean, this, when you've had Trump as your president, you have a base that had.

Jed:

very different views about all sorts of different issues.

Jed:

And you managed to keep us together.

Jed:

Um, how did you, how did you do it?

Jed:

And, and how would you recommend for us going forward to, to deal with some

Jed:

of those really vexing issues that are sure to intensify in the years ahead?

Nina:

Well, I mean, you have some experience in this too, Jed, uh, when

Nina:

you were at CCSA and, um, You know, it's important to focus on what you're

Nina:

trying to accomplish and not get too distracted by the political noise.

Nina:

So our posture has been one of just sticking to what we know how to do

Nina:

and not opine too much around issues that are not central to our work.

Nina:

Now, some would argue You know, and this is not the case just in our case

Nina:

in our in our particular business.

Nina:

I think if you if you look at, um, other sectors, there's a greater

Nina:

focus on making sure leaders are offering comments on a whole host of

Nina:

issues around their enterprise, not just what they're doing on a daily

Nina:

basis, whether it's, um, you know, and certainly it started after George Yeah.

Nina:

Floyd and it's continued.

Nina:

And really, in order to attract people to your workforce and to be seen as an

Nina:

authentic leader, there is a greater um, emphasis on being vocal and showing

Nina:

empathy and giving voice to a lot of these social issues because people don't

Nina:

feel that politicians are necessarily in a good place to represent everyone.

Nina:

Um, so my, my focus has been on focusing on, you know, getting this done.

Nina:

And even then I You know, there's certain been arguments about not

Nina:

pushing more around other things that impacted the students in our

Nina:

schools going forward, though.

Nina:

I do think it's important if you are going to dive into any of these issues

Nina:

at the federal level to understand your strengths and weaknesses first.

Nina:

And in many of these instances, if you're going to advocate for title one funding

Nina:

and school nutrition and other things, and this is what we currently do, it's much

Nina:

better to go in and coalition with other groups that know how to do that work.

Nina:

Well, for a living, then for us to try to become an expert in areas

Nina:

that are not just complicated, they're important for us for sure.

Nina:

But they're not our bread and butter.

Nina:

And so if you if you start to, you know, advocate for all these other

Nina:

things that other advocacy groups are already advocating for and

Nina:

arguably doing a better job at it.

Nina:

If you also do that, first of all, you're too small.

Nina:

So your voice is not necessarily going to register.

Nina:

Um, and it will potentially take away from the other thing that that is

Nina:

really unique to you, which is just charter school policy and politics.

Nina:

Um, but right now we're dealing with it by joining coalitions, like the

Nina:

Community on Education Funding is one of the groups that we belong to.

Nina:

Um, but there are going to be other coalitions that are going to be formed

Nina:

and we should not just be a part of it, but also in many instances, maybe

Nina:

lead the coalition and be a more active participant of it, especially if it's

Nina:

an issue that impacts our families.

Jed:

That's a really

Andy:

interesting strategy, because traditionally, a lot of those

Andy:

coalitions have been fairly hostile, cold, indifferent to hostile.

Andy:

And so that's a, I mean, that's a sign of the growing size of the Charter

Andy:

movement and in some cities, how it's instrumental in other places, how it's

Andy:

just pretty significant in terms of, uh, in terms of its size and scale.

Andy:

And so that if over the next 10 years, charters emerge in a leadership role

Andy:

across these coalitions, that does seem like it has the potential to really to

Andy:

change the politics around the issue and change how to have charters are perceived

Andy:

and make the job of this, the sort of reflexive opponents that much harder.

Nina:

Yes, I

Jed:

get to

Andy:

a place where it seems like you could have a dynamic and you're talking

Andy:

about you're talking about the Jeffrey.

Andy:

So it does seem like if you had if someone forced you to bet 1000 on to the

Andy:

next speaker, the house was going to be.

Andy:

Well, actually, I shouldn't say that because we're probably probably a

Andy:

couple more Republican speakers between now and November after the election,

Andy:

the next speaker after November, you know, it seems like things are

Andy:

lining up pretty, pretty well for him.

Andy:

And some other leaders who behind the scenes, like Patty Murray, people don't,

Andy:

you know, think of her as like a charter school champion, but, you know, she runs,

Andy:

she runs her committee pretty effectively with, um, uh, yeah, I think I forgot how

Andy:

you said it, but basically like stability and predictability around things.

Andy:

Um, so is there, is there a scenario you see where you essentially, you'll have

Andy:

all the big fighting, the people like the unions, everybody gets to have their big

Andy:

public fight, but like behind the scenes.

Andy:

Well, they'll actually be like a fairly, just, just a fair amount of

Andy:

like, you know, just path dependency for charters kind of moving forward.

Andy:

And is that a pretty, is that a pretty good outcome in the big scheme of things?

Andy:

Um, let people have their theater, but charters actually get the policy

Andy:

and the resources that they need.

Nina:

Oh, yes I do.

Nina:

I mean, I think again.

Nina:

The Senate, again, it's hard to predict a year in advance.

Nina:

I think our politics and everything that's happening is so different from

Nina:

what it's what's happened before.

Nina:

So whenever people make these broad predictions, even around the presidency

Nina:

based on today's polls, I just have to question whether you can really count

Nina:

on what people are saying right now to guess at what's going to happen next year.

Nina:

But look.

Nina:

It's the one big benefit of charter schooling is that these

Nina:

are created at the state level.

Nina:

So the federal government can have some influence and it has had influence because

Nina:

Bill Clinton started talking about charter schools on the campaign trail as an idea

Nina:

before there was any charter anywhere.

Nina:

It was just maybe one in Minnesota and he talked about it ad nauseum.

Nina:

That's highly unusual because he was a wonk and he was interested

Nina:

in ideas and education back then.

Nina:

It was cool to be an education governor.

Nina:

So he talked a lot about it.

Nina:

So it's usually not the norm for someone at the federal level and

Nina:

certainly a president to talk about something that hasn't quite started

Nina:

to brew at the state and local level.

Nina:

The fact that all of our laws are created at the state level shields it

Nina:

from any kind of federal influence.

Nina:

The thing you have at the federal level though is the bully pulpit.

Nina:

The fact that there is the charter schools grant program, which has now

Nina:

been around for quite a few years.

Nina:

When something has been around that long and has a constituency,

Nina:

it's hard to get rid of it.

Nina:

So I'm not worried about the CSP, but if you want to grow it, if you

Nina:

want to, you know, turn it into an engine that's driving, um, not the

Nina:

CSP, but if you want chartering to be part of the discussion around.

Nina:

You know, education, reform, policy, issues of economic

Nina:

revitalization, chartering and the charter school movement.

Nina:

Education can be part of a whole host of other discussions that

Nina:

our country is dealing with.

Nina:

And I would hope that whoever becomes president next and whoever is leading

Nina:

these parties pays attention to that.

Nina:

Because if you get education right, all these other problems go away.

Nina:

And certainly a lot of people in our movement are doing some really interesting

Nina:

things in their communities that go above and beyond just running a school.

Nina:

So, um, so I think regardless of who's in power, chartering is going to have

Nina:

a seat at the table, but it's going to be up to us to constantly resell

Nina:

the value proposition and be visible.

Nina:

You can't just say, okay, well, you're doing this thing really well.

Nina:

And the academic performance is good.

Nina:

And look at how many kids were graduating and assume that people at

Nina:

the federal level know who you are and what you do and how well you do it.

Nina:

So now, unless there is a huge sweep and you all of a sudden have

Nina:

a lot of, you know, and Jed was witness to that in California.

Nina:

Um, I think federal is always going to be this way.

Nina:

You may not see a lot of things happen and that's the case right now.

Nina:

Bills are not moving.

Nina:

You just, you basically.

Nina:

looking at appropriation cycles and watching the theatrics.

Nina:

Um, so anyway, I would focus most of my political energy at the state

Nina:

and local level, especially in those places where there is forward momentum

Nina:

to make positive change, bring about.

Nina:

And I would also quite frankly, pay attention to that 28th

Nina:

presidential election, because there are some formidable governors

Nina:

on both sides of the aisle who are poised to run for office then.

Nina:

And those individuals.

Nina:

Right now, if you look at them, if you were to take Shapiro, polis, you know,

Nina:

these individuals just are good on charter schools and a whole host of other issues.

Nina:

And I think by then.

Nina:

You know, we're talking about a very different world, of course, but I think

Nina:

our odds going to be better in terms of leading again at the national level.

Andy:

Yeah, I think you're right.

Andy:

The 24 elections highly consequential, but the 28 one seems much more interesting

Andy:

in terms of different theories of government and on both sides of the

Andy:

aisle, the cast of characters who might.

Andy:

Make a run for it.

Andy:

And so different governing styles and philosophies.

Andy:

Um, uh, it seems 2028 just seems much more interesting

Nina:

than the way down.

Nina:

I mean, a lot can happen between now and then, of course, but, um,

Jed:

I know we're running out of, you know, we only have

Jed:

a couple more minutes here.

Jed:

I'd love to just hear you push us on something.

Jed:

Um, is there.

Jed:

Any one area where you're, where you would say, Hey, this is what we haven't

Jed:

figured out yet, or this is what we've struggled with in the, over the last

Jed:

decade, or this is the, you know, one of the central weak spots that we need

Jed:

to improve to be able to stay on the trajectory that you're talking about here.

Jed:

Is there any place you, you push charter folk in particular?

Nina:

Um, you know, look, I do think paying attention to the pipeline of

Nina:

talent, uh, that's not something that's.

Nina:

We necessarily are involved with at the National Alliance, but you can have,

Nina:

you know, I was talking to a charter school leader in Texas after all these

Nina:

extra funds were distributed and, you know, certainly the other sources

Nina:

of funding that It's philanthropy and other entities made available.

Nina:

And I was like, okay, so what can we do to help?

Nina:

Because well, for the first time, I don't really money is not my problem.

Nina:

I just can't find people to teach in my classrooms.

Nina:

I don't have enough bus drivers.

Nina:

So, you know, this could be another piece of legislation that attracts people to

Nina:

just teach in schools and especially in needy communities and more specifically

Nina:

in innovative public charter schools.

Nina:

But I do think.

Nina:

If we want to stay at the forefront of education reform and innovation, um,

Nina:

we do need to pay attention to who are we going to attract and how quickly

Nina:

can we get them to hit the ground running in communities that are not

Nina:

as familiar to us as past communities.

Nina:

So, as I mentioned, places like Arkansas and Utah and Iowa.

Nina:

Um, so I would pay a lot more attention to that because all the

Nina:

policy and politics, I mean, these things are par for the course.

Nina:

They're always going to exist and groups like ours.

Nina:

And state associations and others are going to have to do a better

Nina:

job of mitigating the risks and leveraging opportunities.

Nina:

But on the education side, fueling the talent pipeline of the next

Nina:

generation of leaders and making sure they don't make the same

Nina:

mistakes that previous leaders have.

Nina:

And I think that the way that this is made is going to be really

Nina:

important, and I don't know who's paying attention to that right now.

Nina:

Um, and then on the political front, as I said earlier, I mean,

Nina:

I do think there is a greater need to draw dollars to C4 efforts.

Nina:

I know there's no tax deduction attached to it, but you can see the fruits

Nina:

of your labor much faster when you invest in a C4 activity, whether it's

Nina:

an election or some other political activity, and I think we need to Uh,

Nina:

do more and in many states, the cost of doing these things is not as high.

Nina:

Uh, so if you go to Mississippi, for instance, so I think paying attention to

Nina:

some of those, um, dynamics is going to be hugely helpful, especially if it's in

Nina:

service to some of our rising Democrats who are, again, sticking their necks

Nina:

out and could suffer huge consequences.

Andy:

Thank you.

Andy:

We are almost at time.

Andy:

I know you had one, you have a great, you have a great final

Andy:

question for, for Nina that I'm very interested in the answer to as well.

Jed:

I was going to ask you this, the Tim Ferriss question.

Jed:

I don't know, Nina, if you listen to Tim Ferriss at all, but he often

Jed:

asks his, his guests the billboard question at the end of his interviews,

Jed:

which is if you had a billboard.

Jed:

And you could put a, you know, a few words on something to broadcast

Jed:

out into the universe, you know, what would that billboard say?

Jed:

And it just seems like a moment to ask you a question like that.

Jed:

If there's something that you would want the charter school world to know,

Jed:

or more broadly, what, what, I mean, yes, free public and open to all.

Jed:

Okay, great.

Jed:

But beyond that, what's the, uh, do you have any just

Jed:

general message that you could.

Nina:

I think my billboard would be, you know,

Nina:

honestly, I don't, I don't mean to summarize it this way, but it's, you know,

Nina:

this is the ticket to the American dream.

Nina:

And if you want to, if you want a challenging job and have some fun

Nina:

along the way, this is the sector that you should get attracted to.

Nina:

That's too many words for a billboard.

Nina:

So I'll think about and give you a better answer.

Nina:

But the message needs to be aspirational for people to get drawn to it.

Nina:

And, and to me, this movement and everything we do is about offering the

Nina:

door to not just equitable access, but to some extent equitable outcomes in a

Nina:

way that boosts everyone into excellence and a future that's better than the

Nina:

one that they're currently living in.

Nina:

So that would be the way the billboard, which some of the words that would pop up

Nina:

and hopefully with a lot of bright colors.

Nina:

Um,

Jed:

access to access to dreams or a pathway to dreams or something

Jed:

that charter schools provide

Nina:

truly are.

Nina:

I mean, it is about fit.

Nina:

It's about bringing the potential of every child and the uniqueness of every child.

Nina:

So, um, so those are the messages that I think we need to talk

Nina:

more about and ones that resonate with just about every family.

Nina:

And when you talk to the average family, they're not interested in

Nina:

charter schools or private schools or public schools or magnet schools.

Nina:

They just want a great school.

Nina:

And I'm proud of the fact that our schools are some of the most innovative public

Nina:

schools out there that are striving to meet the unique needs of our family.

Andy:

Yeah.

Andy:

And our families still believe in the American dream.

Andy:

People in our sector, you know, spend hours in workshops debating, you know,

Andy:

whether you're supposed to talk about the American dream or not, but when you're

Andy:

actually out in communities, there's plenty of surveyed really to share has

Andy:

done work on this, to show like the, the people were serving, they believe

Andy:

in it, they want it and they deserve it.

Andy:

And I feel like Nina, your life is a little bit, you could

Andy:

have lived the American dream and the promise of this place.

Andy:

And, and so I think that was such an interesting way for you to,

Andy:

uh, Uh, and it's I just want to say thank you for your leadership,

Andy:

your commitment, your friendship.

Andy:

Like the sector is lucky to have, uh, lucky to have leaders like you.

Andy:

And I think a lot of people are excited to see what's next for you.

Nina:

Well, thank you, Andy.

Nina:

And I, yeah, no, I was just thinking about this American dream story.

Nina:

This 40th anniversary of when we moved to the United States.

Nina:

And it's also the 30th anniversary of when I became a citizen.

Nina:

Um, So that's, you know, it's a big year, not just because I'm leaving

Nina:

the National Alliance, but for those two reasons, and also the year

Nina:

that my daughter went to college.

Nina:

So a lot of change afoot and I'm excited about what's ahead.

Nina:

And I know that whatever I do, I'll still be in touch with both

Nina:

of you and hopefully get back on.

Nina:

Wonky folk one

Andy:

day.

Andy:

Yeah.

Andy:

Well, we'd love you're welcome back anytime you have a standing invitation.

Andy:

That

Jed:

would be great.

Jed:

All right.

Jed:

Thank you so much, Nina.

Jed:

Uh, and both of you guys have great holidays.

Jed:

I look forward to talking to you guys soon.

Andy:

Yeah.

Andy:

You will be back in the new year.

Andy:

Bye.

Nina:

Bye bye.

Nina:

Bye bye.