Late Breaking News Reveals that the Vital Work of LawyerFolk is as Important Now as It Ever Has Been

Good morning CharterFolk.

So much afoot in CharterLand. Let’s get straight to the update.

Recognizing Greg Moser, One of Our Very First LawyerFolk

I start today thanking Julie Umansky for her great CharterFolk X Column about Greg Moser.

As was the case with Julie, Greg had a massive impact on me during my formative days in Charterland. And as I have gone on to do more in the charter school movement, I have come to more deeply understand the impact he had across California and indeed across the United States. Greg was really the first who instilled in me a deeper appreciation of the importance of the particulars of charter school law, and of the potential we all have to leverage them to the advantage of kids and families, and he constantly reinforced the importance of being prepared to defend those particulars wherever necessary.

One of Greg’s special gifts was using his knowledge of various public agencies across California and the unique relationships they often form with private nonprofits to attempt to define optimal conditions for long-term charter school success. His vision was that charter schools were neither simple public agencies, nor simple nonprofits, but a purgatory space between the two that it was incumbent upon us all over decades of work to define so that charter schools would end up postured to help kids and families for generations to come. Over time, Greg was joined by the smart legal minds at Minney, Young and Corr and many others who all helped steward this vital work forward.

As I have now gone on to do advocacy work in many other states, I have come to recognize that nearly all are seeing legal communities come together to make contributions similar to the one that Greg has made in California. On many occasions, upon sharing with others that I am from California, I have had lawyers in other states volunteer that they aspire to become “the Greg Moser” of their respective states, lawyers whose first priority, of course, is simply serving clients well, but who are also cognizant of the fact that they are contributing to a shared repository of legal knowledge that will inform advocacy efforts happening in their states and will ultimately shape the trajectory of an entire movement. I come away from those interactions even more deeply aware that at the foundations of charter school advocacy strength lies the work of legal communities whose Folk see their contributions to be supporting something so much bigger than themselves.

Greg was one our first lawyers who understood himself to be a Folk. A CharterFolk. And he encouraged and ultimately convinced many others in the legal community both in California and across the United States to think of their vitally important work in such terms.

For that, I personally, and indeed all CharterFolk, owe Greg Moser the deepest, deepest appreciation

Thanking Diana Diaz-Harrison for Putting the Question to Us All

Next, I would like to take a minute to thank Diana for being part of our CharterFolk Chat last week.

There is so much to celebrate regarding the successes of Arizona Autism Charter School and their winning of the first inaugural Yass Prize. What I like as much as anything else is how Diana now has ambitions for bringing her schools to many other states, and that really puts the question to our advocates:

Do we have the policy conditions in place needed to allow a charter school like Arizona Autism to open and grow?

In Arizona, fortunately, policy makers have been committed to making sure that the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Elsewhere, though, the answer is far less clear.

And the truth is that it can be quite an advocacy challenge to create policies and funding conditions needed to support schools like Diana’s.

In the early days of our movement, many state charter school sectors were prevented from serving special education students directly themselves, and advocates struggled to provide the policy breakthroughs needed to improve things. I remember well Greg Moser and charter school leaders having to threaten a lawsuit against the San Diego Unified School District just to get the district to provide base special education services to kids with IEPs who happened to enroll in a charter school. At the time, charter schools were prevented from operating their own special education programs. Eventually, through continued advocacy effort, California charter schools achieved LEA status for purposes of special education, and that provided our schools the autonomy and the funding they needed to begin serving all special education students.

The advocacy quest to secure such status for charter schools is ongoing. Just last year the Colorado League passed legislation that will enable many more charter schools to secure the legal status needed to operate their own special education programs where they will finally be provided the autonomy and funding needed to serve all students.

And just this week we are seeing the Delaware Charter School Network having to sue to help charter schools access the funding they need to serve special education students.

But not even breakthroughs of these kinds would be enough to assure that a charter school like Diana’s would be able operate successfully. In fact, were I to guess, I would say that less than half of states in the country have a charter law and a special education funding model that would allow a school like Diana’s to open there.

So the awarding of the Yass Prize to Arizona Autism represents an important milestone. Not only does it recognize an organization that is undoubtedly doing great things with kids, but it challenges us all to up our advocacy game so that we can ensure that the conditions are in place across the country allowing more phenomenal schools like Diana’s to thrive and grow.

The Critical Work to Wisely Define the Charter School Space Goes On

I’ll end today sharing a few thoughts about the situation in Oklahoma.

This week we saw Oklahoma’s new Attorney General withdraw the legal opinion of his predecessor that religious charter schools are permissible in Oklahoma despite the fact that the state’s charter school law and its state constitution stipulate that the schools the state supports are supposed to be non sectarian.

The article at the 74 does a good job of summarizing where we stand.

Since the article’s publication, Governor Stitt issued a letter opposing the new AG’s new stance.

His argument is essentially the one that the lawyers in the North Carolina case are attempting to make, which is that charter schools are not state actors and are thus able to be sectarian in ways that schools that are state actors cannot.

It’s an odd circumstance for a case having such bearing on charter schools nationally to play out. A group is seeking to operate an online Catholic charter school. In Oklahoma, the state has struggled to define the circumstances under which an online school should be able to operate …

… never mind a religious online charter school.

Many people I know working in Catholic schools these days have no interest in their organizations operating charter schools. They know how profound a difference there is between the way charter schools operate and the way their schools do, and they know how difficult it would be for their schools to thrive were they to be forced to take on all the responsibilities that charter schools have to take on.

I don’t know the applicants for the Oklahoma Catholic school. It is possible that they are into their effort for the same reasons that the rest of us CharterFolk are into our work. But it’s also possible that they, like others working on charter school matters in the country right now, have a primary interest that has nothing to do with charter schools. Perhaps they, like those others, see charter schools to be just a vehicle by which they can advance what they really care about – issues regarding religious liberty.

In Governor Stitt’s letter, he cites an amicus brief

… that has been submitted by 10 AGs from red states encouraging the US Supreme Court to take up the Peltier vs Charter School Day case coming out of North Carolina, a case I have written about previously here at CharterFolk.

In that letter, the AGs argue that the Supreme Court should take up the case because, in their view, a decision that charter schools are state actors would be an existential threat to those schools. The letter then cites a number of high performing charter schools whose existences, the authors claim, would be put at risk if the case were to be decided wrongly. The organizations included in the letter were not asked whether they agree that being deemed a state actor would put their existences at risk. Nor were they even given the courtesy of being informed that they had been included within the AG’s letter.

You think this is how Greg Moser, or any LegalFolk would have conducted their work?

Clearly, having the authority to force girls to wear skirts to school has never before been seen to be an existential matter by the schools cited in the letter or by the thousands of charter schools across the United States that have never made such an argument.

And for many, the existential matter related to the Peltier Case has nothing to do with dress codes but with the possibility that, should the Supreme Court decide that protections included in the United States Constitution are not applicable to charter schools, some policy makers in many states are going to question whether charter school laws, and thus charter schools themselves, should continue to exist.

Much of this discussion, unfortunately, is being driven by people whose primary interest is not the success of the charter school movement. It is why, wherever we can, we need to infuse into the public sphere as much Moser-esque thinking as possible.

Clearly there is a purgatory space that can be defined here, one that affords charter schools the ability to retain and even increase our freedoms going forward without compromising the constitutional rights of the students we are privileged to serve.