Charter Schools Now Across the Country; More Good News Than We Know What to Do With; The Multi-Decade Lens; the Need For Generations of CharterFolk

Good day, CharterFolk.

This year, as most of you know, we will be gathering in Austin, Texas for our annual conference, which starts in less that a week.

I think it fitting that we convene in Texas. The state reflects how we are entering into a “Charter Schools Now” moment.

Recently I was in El Paso to visit my Little Brother from the Big Brothers Program. Matthew is forty years old these days (we met when he was eight) and for reasons related to public education I may explore in a post some day, he has ended up living in El Paso. During the visit, he drove me around town where I was struck by the number of charter schools that were under construction, including one being built by Harmony Public Schools

… the CMO whose CEO shared a Contributor Column with us last week, and which was listed in the new CREDO study as a “gap-busting” organization.

Of course, I was delighted to see so many new charter schools in development, but I also knew through my ongoing work supporting the broader movement that El Paso was something of an outlier in terms of advocacy conditions for charter schools in Texas. While things have been complicated and fraught for charter schools at a local level in El Paso, one way or another, organizations like Harmony have been able to get the zoning decisions they need to build new buildings. And they have been able to get the decisions they need out of the Texas State Board of Education in order to expand.

In many places across Texas, it has not been that way.

Too often, high quality operators in Texas have found it nearly impossible to get cities to approve their zoning requests as protectors of the public education Establishment pressure local policy makers to prevent charter schools from growing.

It’s a problem that has gone on for the better part of a decade.

Meanwhile, the State Board of Education has been rejecting expansion requests coming from many quality charter school operators.

For many years, the charter school world was unable to advance a bill through the Texas legislature that would address the zoning challenge, and having sufficient support from the State Board of Education to approve more charter petitions seemed completely out of reach.

But then the Texas Charter School Association founded a partner 501c4 organization …

… Charter Schools Now, which began bringing the collective force of charter school parents and other stakeholders to bear on the ballot box.

Resulting changes in the composition of the legislature are now translating into a fundamentally improved policy environment for charter schools, such that this year the association was able to get through the legislature HB 1707 …

… a bill that prohibits cities from treating charter school zoning requests differently than they do school district requests, essentially making it illegal to deny nearly all zoning requests coming from charter schools.

Yesterday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed that bill into law.

This follows up the additional wins that Charter Schools Now chalked up on State Board of Education races last summer.

It sets up a circumstance of, rather than El Paso being the exception to the Texas rule, it has become the rule itself. And with a CharterFolk now serving as the new superintendent in Houston …

… we appear to be entering a period in Texas when charter school impact is set to greatly expand.

Call it the “Charter Schools Now” moment in Texas.

So it’s fitting that we gather in Texas where trails are being blazed for the entire national charter school movement.

But we shouldn’t think that Texas is some national El Paso, some national exception to the advocacy rule.

In fact, it’s becoming the rule itself.

Indeed, if we look across the country right now, it almost feels like there’s more good news than we know what to do with.

In just the past few days we have seen how Wisconsin policy makers have completely reset charter schools’ financial conditions.

Not long ago, advocates were talking about charter schools in Wisconsin only getting 60 cents on the dollar relative to traditional public schools.

Now, charter schools will see $3,000/student in additional funding, an amount that will essentially eliminate the entire funding inequity that has held Wisconsin charter schools back for decades, setting up a “Charter Schools Now” moment in the Badger State.

Important funding equity wins were also secured this week in Alabama …

… and a long-sought funding equity breakthrough achieved in Indiana last month …

… was matched this week with a new facilities breakthrough as well.

CharterFolk, these are not the incremental charter school wins we have gotten good at grinding out year after year of late. These are foundational policy advancements we have sought for many years, ones that will set up “Charter Schools Now” moments in states across the country. And they are on top of the wins that Todd Ziebarth highlighted in his recent blog post about 2023 turning out to be one of our strongest years yet for charter school advocacy.

These breakthroughs happen at exactly the same time that perhaps the most encouraging scholarship in the history of the charter school movement has been released showing that our academic outcomes now clearly surpass those being offered by district schools and are continuing to improve as we grow.

Even in places where we are securing only half-loaf wins like the two-out-of-four charter school approvals that we saw happen in Connecticut this month …

… we have to remember the context.

Yes, it is absolutely infuriating that the two schools in Dansbury and Middletown did not open, especially considering how abjectly unacceptable the traditional public schools are in those areas and how indisputably great Connecticut charter schools are doing with students, as was confirmed once again in last week’s CREDO report.

But CharterFolk, remember, two new charter schools are now opening in Connecticut, the first two schools to have opened in the state in eight years.

In the bluest of blue states.

And the Connecticut association’s CSP grant isn’t going away for many years to come, meaning that the new pressure charter schools are now able to put on state policy makers is only going to grow.

And just imagine what happens when Connecticut has its own Charter Schools Now …

… which is now very much in the works.

Just down the 95, New Jersey’s version of Charter Schools Now just made its first major investment in a legislative race, supporting Dawn Fantasia, the Principal at Bergen Arts and Science Charter Middle School

… who advanced through the primary …

… and is now essentially assured of winning in the general, meaning she will join the ranks of other ed reformers who have gone on this spring to be elected into positions that poise them …

… to help even more with the Charter Schools Now moment that is upon us.

All this is greatly encouraging.

Exciting even.

But, CharterFolk, amid the palpable sense of new momentum that is pulsing through the movement right now, I ask you to keep the following in mind:

Yes, absolutely, we want more Charter Schools Now.

Not for charter schools’ sake, of course, but because we believe that the growth of high quality charter schools is the catalyst that will help “Better Public Schools For All Students Now” happen faster and more completely than it otherwise would.

And we must always move forward with the fierce urgency of now forever animating our work.

But we also have been at this for more than three decades, and as the CREDO study so clearly shows, the true value of the charter school movement is best appreciated when it is viewed through a multi-decade lens …

… because ultimately, the scope of our undertaking aligns with that time horizon.

And so we strive for as much progress as we can possibly achieve right now, while embracing the fact that we will be at this for many years to come.

And we know that exaggerating in our own minds, and instilling in others a wrong expectation, about what can be achieved in a now timeframe risks us undermining the sustained commitment we will ultimately need to succeed.

And it can lead to short-term thinking that doesn’t help.

Like failing to recognize deeply enough the importance of effective history-telling connecting the efforts of CharterFolk across decades.

Or the need to grow our collective capacity to bring forth multiple generations of CharterFolk, and effective ways for those generations to pass the baton between themselves.

Because if there is anything we have learned in our first 30 years of shared work together, it is that we are going to need generation after generation of CharterFolk carrying on the baton if ultimately we are going to succeed.

So I hope I will see you all at our national gathering in Austin next week where we will all be afforded the chance to appreciate even more deeply how a Charter Schools Now moment is upon us.

A now that will ultimately be sustained across generations of our most precious resource: