CharterFolk Contributor Alan Washington – Future-Proofing Education: The Need to Advocate for Improved Charter School Facilities Funding

Greetings, CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Alan Washington, President and CEO of Charter Schools Development Corporation.

Alan Washington, President and CEO of Charter Schools Development Corporation

I provide Alan’s brief bio below.

Alan Washington, President and CEO of Charter Schools Development Corporation (CSDC), has dedicated his life to helping underserved communities control and own their real estate, whether directing real estate operations within an organization or leading a corporation founded on this mission.

Previously, Alan was the Executive of Real Estate for Success Academy Charter Schools, a network of 49 charter schools serving over 20,000 students. Prior to this, Alan enjoyed a successful career with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership as a Managing Director, Real Estate & Economic Development.

Alan earned his Master of Science in Real Estate from NYU and is also an alumnus of Dartmouth College. He is proud of his long tenures as a Board Member of multiple organizations, including Harlem Academy in New York City and Camp Timanous in Raymond, Maine.

Future-Proofing Education: The Need to Advocate for Improved Charter School Facilities Funding

Good day CharterFolk –

From this day forward, I hope to ignite a shared passion for Charter School facilities around the dire need to create equity in funding particularly in the communities of greatest need. Throughout my travels visiting CharterFolk like you, one constant challenge is evident; Facilities remain one of the greatest obstacles in the startup and sustainability of Charter Schools. At the core of my beliefs lies the power of real estate ownership to create generational wealth, which in my current work translates to providing Charter Schools with the ability to own their real estate and shape their own destiny.

Reflecting on the recent National Alliance School Leaders of Color Advocacy Convening in DC, and the concerning situations, where attempts have been made to displace Charter school students in co-located spaces in major cities, the need to address these challenges has heightened. It is time to bring forth ideas and amplify our voices in addressing these critical issues. By the end of this reading, I urge each of you to commit to at least one action that furthers the cause of improving access to Charter School Facilities Funding Programs.

How can we all be Champions of School Facilities Solutions?

Allow me to take a step back to propel us forward. Charter Schools Development Corporation (CSDC) originated as an advocacy organization over 25 years ago. Recognizing the gap in federal legislation that did not address facilities funding for charter schools, we were established to bridge that divide. Through our efforts, we created an ad hoc advocacy group that led to the creation of a local $5M Credit Enhancement pilot program in DC that became the model for the creation of a $25M Charter Schools Facilities Financing Demonstration Program, the precursor of today’s multi-million-dollar Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities Program. This initiative has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to support Charter Schools nationwide. While the Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities Program remains a crucial facility program, and the sole program addressing facility needs at the national level, there is a pressing need that we do more.

While CSDC has expanded from advocacy to provide real estate and financing services to Charters across the country, what remains the same is our mission: to eliminate barriers to access, choice, and equity to under resourced communities nationwide.

As such, we have an obligation to stay connected to the advocacy work of our origin, to help breakdown such barriers. The work needs to be done across all levels of government and through building a coalition of partners dedicated to the cause. We need more like-minded organizations to come along for the ride and sit beside the expert advocacy organizations that are leading the charge like the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, National Charter Schools Institute, NACSA, ExcelinEd, CSGF, and 50CAN just to name a few.

First, we must support efforts happening at the Federal level.

When fifty leaders of color, across twenty-six states visited the Hill for over eighty congressional meetings in late February, the energy and momentum was palpable. With the National Alliance leading the charge with partner organizations, Diverse Charter School Coalition (DCSC), National Charter Collaborative, Black LatinX Asian Charter Collaborative (BLACC), and Freedom Coalition for Charters, our asks were clear. As the sole sector of public education experiencing growth while facing stagnant funding, CSP (Charter Schools Program) must be increased. An adjustment from $440M to $500 million would be a mere fraction of the total education budget. This increase must be accompanied by flexible language to maximize the program’s impact and allow for effective leveraging of funds. Rallying support for the Equitable Access to School Facilities Act is imperative, as it authorizes state entities to provide technical assistance for locating and accessing facilities. Are your representatives backing this initiative? Reach out to their offices to inquire or better yet passionately insist on their support. The Hill Briefing is chock full of stories as to why this work is imperative.

Next, we must push harder for programs at the state level.

CSDC has worked across thirty plus states and DC and is keenly aware that there is a vast array of options that have been successfully implemented across the country. After many conversations with experts at this work, I would venture to say that these represent an accurate list of model policies for more equitable charter facilities funding. Such components would include (1) targeted per pupil funding specifically for facilities, (2) access to public space/co-location, (3) more revolving state loan funds, (4) access to state credit enhancement programs, and (5) allowing Charter access to district bond offerings. You can find examples of each in at least a dozen states to guide our call to action for their replication, implementation, and enhancement. Do you know which is available in your state and if any of these are on the agenda for consideration?

These are potential solutions to some of the challenges that have been faced in the following; the attempt to repeal facility options already in place in Los Angeles, revoking co-location options in Newark, and impacting renewals in Philadelphia and other cities. In New York City with a strong per pupil rental assistance, let’s ensure the Facilities Access Law becomes retroactive as it should support all Charters in private facilities. Many more instances exist coast to coast. Now is the time to activate our voices, being loud and proud of what Charters have done to provide free, public, available to all education.

Finally, let’s not forget that local engagement plays a pivotal role in driving change.

Empower and galvanize your parents to advocate and drive the narrative for high-quality educational options for their children. Urge them to wield their voting power in support of such initiatives. Invite elected officials to visit local schools and engage with the community on repeat! The recent visit by Secretary Cardona to E.L. Haynes in DC offers hope of shading purple on behalf of putting kids first.

Advocacy is an ongoing commitment that demands active participation. Every individual invested in school choice carries the responsibility to engage in this crucial work, knowing that constructive debates and diverse perspectives lead to enhanced outcomes for Charter Facilities and education overall. Imagine an equal playing field where Charters no longer face the dilemma of choosing between environments conducive to learning and investing in educators themselves. We must strive for greater access and equity in facilities funding.

At CSDC, our commitment is unwavering. We pledge to:

  • Increase Technical Assistance as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) to provide valuable insights into facilities planning.
  • Foster a Community of Practice centered on Facilities and Real Estate Development.
  • Support advocacy organizations dedicated to addressing facility challenges.
  • Leverage access to new grant opportunities for facilities projects.

What actionable step will you take to champion facilities solutions for Charter Schools?