Making Common Decency Common Sense – The Challenge of Securing Local Resources for Local Kids

Good day, CharterFolk.

Thanks to so many of you who reached out about Sunday’s post. I see it has nearly a 60% open rate. Maybe it was something about the four-year anniversary message. Or maybe it was that the Milwaukee story resonates with so many.

Just the idea of it:

That local leaders responsible for the welfare of youth in a community would actually. consciously choose not to direct local resources to all kids in that community, but only to those whose families choose to enroll in schools the leaders directly control.

It defies common sense.

Not to mention our standards of common decency.

And yet we see it over and over again.

I can remember trying to explain this aspect of my job to my mother.  She was a school teacher for over thirty years.  She knew the rough and tumble of education politics to some degree, but just couldn’t believe it when I would tell her what I was working on.

People actually act like this? People who are supposed to be working in the interests of children?

I remember the first time it really came up in depth.  It was regarding a matter playing out in Sacramento. The local school district was wanting to pass a parcel tax to provide additional resources to support public education.

We had political resources at the time to assist in the passage of local funding measures that would equitably include charter schools. But the local teacher union, which was the primary driver of the effort to pass the bond, said that, contrary to their glossy campaign materials purporting to support all kids no matter the school they attended …

… they would only support the bond if charter schools were excluded.

Let that sink in, CharterFolk.

The Sacramento teacher union would rather all kids get less than charter school kids get any.

My job was to make it clear that, if charter schools weren’t equitably included, we would shift our resources to try to defeat the bond.

That’s when the mayor-elect, who had endorsed the parcel tax …

… got involved.

He was someone who we had supported. Someone who my wife and I had had a fundraiser for at our house.

He called me.

Wasn’t there some kind of compromise that could be reached such that CCSA wouldn’t work to defeat something that polling suggested hung in the balance?

And so a week of legal wrangling ensued, many back-and-forths on a “side letter” that would not be legally binding, nor publicly disclosed, but which would commit various parties to making sure that, should the parcel tax pass, charter schools would get their fair share.

It was the kind of thing that made my skin crawl for so many reasons, not the least of which was knowing that the letter was of no legal value and in the end charter schools would likely end up getting nothing. But we decided we would at least go neutral, providing no funding either in support or in opposition to the bond.

A month later, the bond failed.

By 1%.

Was it a margin small enough that, had the charter school world put our support behind it, we might have been the difference maker?

You tell me, CharterFolk.

Regardless, SCTA let it be known they were fine with the outcome.

At least they hadn’t had to share with charter schools.

Leading to my mother repeating yet again.

People responsible for the well-being of young people really act this way?

In fact they do.

Showing that, sadly, common decency isn’t common sense in much of public education today.

As this latest situation in Milwaukee confirms.

And as do many other situations happening across the country right now.

What I present below is by no means a comprehensive rendering of all the places where common decency is not common sense today.

But it’s enough to give you a sense of the scope of the challenge and the opportunity before us.

The places I find most dispiriting are those where our historically underserved kids get excluded.

Like kids attending charter schools in San Francisco.

I wrote about it a couple years back.

Previously, because charter school funders had come together to threaten to defeat a prior San Francisco Unified ballot measure if charter schools were not equitably included, the district had agreed to fully fund charter schools. But in 2018, because the school district had recently cut a big new deal with its own employees that it needed to find some way to pay for …

the district decided to offer pennies on the dollar to charter schools in the new parcel tax, despite the fact that charter schools in San Francisco serve a higher percentage of Black, Latino and low income students than does the district ….

And so, one of the most supposedly woke, progressive cities in America found a way to nakedly, in your face, screw over Black and Brown and low income kids, despite the fact that the district itself is widely understood to be abjectly failing those very students in its own schools.

It’s something seemingly out of the Jim Crow era happening right before our very eyes.

Until a couple years ago, Missouri charter schools faced similar Jim-Crow-ness, with charter schools receiving thousands less per pupil in local revenues.

Finally, extensive engagement with parents convinced Democratic Senators from St. Louis, who had a parliamentary chokehold on legislation moving in the capitol, to relax their opposition to charter school kids getting more funding as long as the money came from somewhere else.

It created an opening allowing the state to step in.

A historical breakthrough.

But now just barely two years later, leaders on the other side of the state are trying to open up again the local funding gap.

Kansas City Public Schools is planning to go to the voters with a new bond. And thus far, not a penny is contemplated for KC charter schools, though KC charter schools serve half the kids in the district and generate outcomes far superior to district schools.

If there is any community in the country that should deeply understand that providing a ton of money for public school facilities absent any other reform is a recipe for disaster, it is Kansas City.

Nothing came of the billions of dollars that were provided in the 1980’s to compensate for the district’s historical mistreatment of Black students.

In fact, the spending spree was such a fiasco it ultimately resulted in the district closing nearly half its schools.

Meanwhile, the introduction of charter schools into Kansas City is probably the single most important positive development to have ever happened in the history of public education in that city, certainly for those who deserve better educational opportunity most.

And now the district has the temerity to propose a new facilities bond that doesn’t include charter schools?

It defies both common decency and common sense.

Even in places where 50% of kids are being served by charter schools, still we aren’t guaranteed fair treatment.

Just swap out a letter and you see the pattern repeat.

From KC to DC.

In the District of Columbia, charter schools also serve about half of the kids in the city. But despite that, when the mayor recently proposed providing $116 million to public schools to raise teacher compensation …

… she left charter schools out, forcing the DC Charter School Alliance

… to win back funding parity over a multi-year period.

Even in places where we have won important advocacy battles, legacies of local funding inequity represent massive challenges for our movement.

In Georgia in 2011, the state supreme court threw the existence of the entire charter school sector into question …

… requiring a heroic effort led by the Georgia Charter Schools Association to pass a statewide ballot measure in 2012 that deemed the state’s charter school commission legal under the Georgia constitution.

It was a great victory.

But while the ballot measure allowed the state to authorize schools, it also stipulated that the state could not compel school districts to provide local funding to charter schools. And thus, school districts don’t, leading to a funding inequity for many Georgia charter schools that is as pronounced as you will find anywhere in the country.

So when you see charter school developers get turned down again and again in Atlanta …

… and you know that the applicants could appeal to the state and would almost certainly get approved, now you know why they don’t.

Because the locals won’t provide the thousands of dollars per pupil in local funding needed to make the proposed school financially viable.

Not even to schools serving neurodivergent students.

In Florida, school districts appealed all the way to the state supreme court to avoid providing local funding to local kids …

… before charter schools finally prevailed …

… leading the state to pass a new law requiring that school districts also provide an equitable share of facilities funding as well.

This year a few charter schools in Indiana are finally beginning to access a few local dollars.

And in Colorado, the League passed a Missouri-like bill providing schools authorized at a state level with equalization funding that will compensate them for the local dollars that their local school districts refuse to share.

It’s a historic win, but only on the operating budget side.

On the facilities side, things remain more complicated.

This week, I had old friends reach out from Animas High School in Durango.  It’s a school I have written about previously.

In recent weeks, Animas has been in the national news regarding the inspiring advocacy efforts that the school’s students have taken on in response to a tragedy that happened a few years ago.

For the piece I wrote in 2020, I talked about the school becoming one of the first in the state to convince its school district to include them in a local bond.

Three years later, Animas’s new facility was completed.

But apparently some in Colorado questioned whether it’s even legal for school districts to provide local kids local funding. 

So we had to pass a bill this year based upon the Animas experience.

In some cases, lawmakers said during a hearing on the bill, charter schools approved by the state agency have not been allowed to share in that money. And even in cases where they ask to be included from the start, they have been turned down by school district administrators who often say that’s not allowed in the existing law.

The bill was modeled after a collaboration that took place in Durango.

Yes, as bizarre as it seems, legislation was needed to confirm that common sense and common decency are legal in the State of Colorado.

Now we are beginning to see more school districts include charter schools in their bonds.

But in Denver, will they do the same?

There the district is now proposing a billion dollar bond.

Apparently, a lot of it is supposed to go to air conditioning.

Sounds cool.

But are charter school kids going to get their fare share? 

The answer, of course, is always the same:

It will come down to advocacy.

Whether our advocacy organizations have the resources and capacity to take on the work. And whether we go after it with moxie such that we get firmly grounded in the local landscape an expectation that local kids should benefit equally from local funding.

While it is a difficult task, it is not a hopeless one.

Not even in large urban school districts like Denver.

Two weeks ago I was in San Diego where I got to see several old CharterFolk friends.

One was David Sciarretta, the Superintendent at Einstein Academy

It’s a school that got started back when I was doing authorizing work at San Diego Unified more than 20 years ago.

At the party, David shared that Einstein is celebrating the groundbreaking on its long-dreamed-of high school building.

It’s going to be paid for with local bond dollars.

What was my initial response?

Outrage!

CCSA had helped the district pass a bond that had $350 million set aside for district facilities.

But that was in 2012.

Was this how long it was taking  to get the money to charter school projects, just another example of charter schools being forced to wait at the end of the line?

No, David explained.

The Einstein high school project wasn’t even in the original bond.  All the charter school money in the 2012 measure was consumed helping other charter schools first.

Einstein’s funding came in Measure U, which was approved in 2022 …

… and which, like Prop Z before it, contained an equitable share for charter schools.

$528 million to be precise.

Including enough to help Einstein complete its high school campus.

It leads to a rather straightforward question.

If it can be done in San Diego, CharterFolk …

… why not in Denver?

Why not in Kansas City?

If we can secure compensation for charter schools being denied local operating funding in Colorado and Missouri ..

… why can’t we do the same in Georgia?

And all the other places we have covered in this article.

We could argue that it’s ridiculous that we have to take this on.

To make the case.

That a youngster is a youngster is a youngster.

And should be treated the same no matter what school he or she attends.

And yet we do.

So on we go, CharterFolk.

Aspiring toward a day when common decency is finally common sense throughout all of public education.