Write it Down in INC CharterFolk! | The Administration Botches its Assault on Charters | Keeping the Big Picture Front and Center

Weekend’s greetings, CharterFolk.

I start today acknowledging that we missed a few days of posting this week due to a technical issue with our technology platform. I confess to having been been pretty irked about this because there’s been just so much great stuff happening this week in Charterland to be sharing content about. Fortunately, the dedicated CharterFolk team been able to devise a workaround so I’m able to get this out to you today. I regret the slowdown and thank you for your patience.

I’d like to take care of a few housekeeping matters before getting on to today’s post.

First, I’d like to encourage you to check out the CharterNation interview I did with CCSA CEO Myrna Castrejón that was released Friday.

It’s always such fun to reconnect with Myrna, and we cover a lot of territory in just 8 minutes.

Next, I give Folk a heads up that I have been asked by Carrie Irvin at Education Board Partners to join a discussion next week with Shavar Jeffries and Rick Cruz about the critical role that charter school board members can play in the current environment.

To sign up for the event, please RSVP here.

Finally, I’m excited to share with you that you are going to begin seeing content shared here at CharterFolk from Kerry Flanagan.

As many of you know, Kerry was the Chief of Staff at CCSA for a dozen years. Before that, she was Chief of Staff at the San Diego Unified School District and has a long history working in public education including serving as a classroom teacher in Virginia. As CharterFolk continues to grow, and as I continue to support it while holding down my day job, the CharterFolk Board of Directors recognized we needed to magnify force in order to handle our new level of responsibility well. And if there is anyone who is the walking definition of “force magnifier” it is certainly Kerry Flanagan. In the months ahead you will see that she will be helping with CharterFolk X posts and with Contributor Columns. Kerry is also helping us manage the on-loading of thousands of new CharterFolk readers as organizations are approaching us to make sure that all their Folk begin receiving CharterFolk posts. Anyone wanting to reach Kerry on any of these matters may contact her at Kerry@charterfolk.org.

Thanks for hopping on board, Kerry. We are delighted to have you!

Today’s post features a number of under-reported but very important developments which I hope you will find enough time to peruse and process. Let’s get straight to it.

Write it Down in INC CharterFolk!

I’m going to start with the biggest charter school story that happened in the country this week, one that I know everyone is following …

Okay, I lied.

The signing of the Illinois state budget is not garnering much attention as it relates to charter schools. In fact, googling today, I see that the words “charter school” are not featured in any article related to Governor Pritzker’s signing of the state budget this week.

But here’s the thing, CharterFolk.

Tucked into the state budget is a new $35M charter school facilities program that will provide approximately $550/student to every charter school in the State of Illinois, addressing a significant portion of the funding inequity that charter schools face given that we have to pay for our own facilities.

$35 million? In a deep blue state? Against a broader landscape of backlash against charter schools coming from Democrats?

We have red states where we supposedly have the political wind at our back where we end up ecstatic about getting a few million added to an existing program, if we can get anything at all.

And compared to that?

$35 million! Starting a whole new program from scratch?

This is what happens, CharterFolk, when we get in the game. When we build structural advocacy and political strength.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools

… has been doing just that for the past decade, creating a partner 501c4 organization

… that has won many high profile races …

… that is translating into new levels of influence in the Illinois legislature. The fruits of that labor are now being seen on the policy side.

I am delighted that in the weeks ahead Andrew Broy, the CEO at INCS (and a CharterFolk Board Member), will soon be writing a Contributor Column on this topic, explaining how this development came to be.

For now, I will just provide a link to the INCS announcement that went out this week …

… and I will highlight the following:

  • INCS has been building a tandem 501c3/501c4 for many years so that the association can be involved in the full range of advocacy and political activity.
  • 100% of Illinois schools are members of the network.
  • Illinois schools have increased their membership dues to a level north of $20/student.
  • Illinois charter school supporters work closely with the C4 to help turn out parents in ways that have been difference-making at the ballot box in many elections.
  • Because schools have shouldered a significant portion of the non-partisan costs of the association through dues, that has allowed INCS Action to request that its funders direct their support toward political activity, which has greatly increased the profile and influence of the charter school movement in Chicago and in Springfield.

And so, despite the fact that the Illinois charter school community serves only 60,000 students, it punches way, way above its weight class.

We are living through a period of great backlash coming against charter schools from a very powerful, self-interested wing of the Democratic Party. This will always pose a great challenge to our movement in the decades ahead. But we are not powerless to do something about it. As we “INCS” ourselves nationally, we will be in a better place from which to weather whatever storm may come our way.

So don’t jot it down in pencil, CharterFolk. Write it down in INC!

The advocacy strength we need is within our grasp if we build it with urgency now.

The Administration Botches its Assault on Charter Schools

Okay, now I’ll turn to what genuinely is garnering the most attention in Charterland – the immense backlash that has resulted from the Biden Administration’s decision to launch an attack on charter schools.

Suffice it to say, CharterFolk, this is not how the administration expected things to go.

30,000+ comments on the regs. (There were 28,500 48 hours before the deadline with huge numbers pouring in. I assume we got over 30,000 in the end.)

18 Republican governors signing a letter of opposition.

With a Democrat governor throwing in his own very fiery letter. (Really, CharterFolk, this is a great one. Check it out.)

17 attorneys-general chimed in.

With a bi-partisan op-ed coming from former Senator Mary Landrieu and former Congressman Curbelo.

Former U.S. Senator Durenberger, who has long been a supporter of the charter school movement

… also penned a great letter, one recounting the history of bi-partisan support the CSP has had over the decades. (Seriously, CharterFolk, this is another really good one. Check it out.)

And mainstream editorial boards are calling out the administration for their “sneak attack.”

Sure, it would be preferable if we had more prominent Democrats submitting letters of opposition to the regs.

But, CharterFolk, think about who the other side has filing letters in support. Virtually no one!

Ravitch had to make hay over the ONE letter they got …

… from a public official who is such a non-player on most matters related to public education Ravitch had to explain to her readers who the heck she is.

Where are their 19 governors? Where are their 17 attorneys-general? Where are their bi-partisan op-eds? Where are their prominent historical opponents chiming in? Where are their mainstream editorials saying the regs are so darn reasonable?

Nowhere!

It’s because they don’t exist.

All they’ve got is the AFT sending out a press release two days after the filing deadline (isn’t that oddly sus timing?) highlighting a letter they supposedly filed on April 11.

CharterFolk, there is no way to describe the other side’s roll-out of their long-dreamed-of national assault on charter schools other than to say that it has been completely and utterly botched

And now the administration is out there dangling in the wind by themselves.

And the Republicans think they have been handed a gift that they can use toward their goal of re-capturing control of Congress in November.

Now is not the time to be letting off the gas.

Obviously, getting the administration to take a stutter step on these regs would be a huge and humiliating admission of error on their part and would seem still a very remote possibility.

But it’s conceivable.

And even if we can’t get a stutter step, there is great benefit in keeping this issue front and center so that when Congress likely returns to Republican control in November we are ready to advance a massive expansion of CSP.

A billion dollar federal Charter Schools Program in 2023! That should be our goal now!

So be on the lookout. I know additional plans are in the works, all of which will be turbo-charged by your support. So please be ready to pitch in whenever the calls-to-action come.

Keeping the Big Picture Front and Center

Finally, I’ll end with what should be the lead story today and everyday: the way charter schools are performing with students and the way we are constructively pressuring the broader system to improve.

Amid the din of advocacy drama, sadly, often the most important stuff gets crowded out. We do what we can here at CharterFolk to keep our attention properly focused on matters such as this:

Education Next reports new very encouraging results showing that in school districts where charter schools serve more than 10% of students not only do outcomes improve for the students attending charter schools, but outcomes improve for students attending the district schools too. These are results very similar to ones that the Texas Charter Public Schools Association shared in 2020 …

… demonstrating that school districts with charter schools in their areas improve more rapidly than do school districts with no nearby charter schools.

This, as Education Next properly terms it, is “The Big Picture.”

As we have written here repeatedly at CharterFolk since the inception, the other side has thrown in the towel trying to argue that charter schools are not doing well with our own students. That they know they can no longer hope to convince anyone of.

So they’ve pivoted to another message, one saying that it doesn’t matter that charter schools are doing excellently with their own students because the growth of charter schools somehow makes all other schools worse.

Thus, they try to run all their various bills and regulations calling on charter school applicants to submit “community impact reports.”

The community impact we should all care about is whether outcomes for all kids and families in those communities are improving as charter schools continue to grow.

The answer to that question, as the Education Next and the Texas association studies resoundingly show, is unquestionably yes.

It’s the reality we should be doing all we can to keep front and center as we build the advocacy strength needed to present the charter school movement’s big picture in an ever-expanding frame.

A Final Recommendation for How to Rip the Regs|The Other Side’s Desperate Last Minute Call to Action|National Progress Anyway|Cardona Embraces Attack, Erase, Defend|The Challenge of Regulation and Why We Must Support Our Advocacy Orgs at New Levels

Good morning, CharterFolk.

I start off today thanking our Contributors who have risen to the occasion to offer columns encouraging our world to comment on the potentially disastrous proposed regulations coming out of the administration in DC. I thought all three of our Contributor Columns this week were just terrific.

Malka Borrego’s:

Reggie Lee’s:

And Sarah Kollman’s and Lee Rosenberg’s:

I particularly appreciated Sarah and Lee zeroing in on the “intellectually dishonorable” scholarship that department staff used to justify the need for the proposed regulations. It was a point I made on Tuesday

…calling the regulations’ citations “deceptive” and “revealing a pattern of dishonesty.” The regs were issued during a week when my son was preparing for an AP History exam where his teacher is known for giving failing grades to students who do not accurately cite sufficient sources to justify their opinions. I find it ironic that regulations that could potentially adversely affect the educations of millions of public education students would feature scholarship practices so unacceptable they would have received failing marks in high school history classes across the land.

Pathetic.

It leads to …

My Final Recommendation for How to Rip the Regs

My sense is all of us should submit two-part comments. The first part should call out the dishonest/deceptive/dishonorable source-citation that the administration used to try to justify the need for the regs. Really let them have it, CharterFolk, grounding your comment in an awareness that the administration’s decision to even start a new regulatory process is based on outright lies. And then identify the single other aspect of the regs you find most abhorrent and really bore down. This is how I’ve structured my own personal comment. Remember that in Tuesday’s post I’ve made the process easier for you by making some of the regs’ most offending language ready for cutting and pasting.

The Other Side’s Desperate Last Minute Call to Action

Meanwhile, I find it interesting that on Friday, the other side came out with a last minute urgent call for comments in support of the regs.

To me this suggests that someone in the administration tipped off their allies that, relative to the number of comments being submitted in opposition to the regs, comments in support were paltry. So the Establishment better do something last minute to try to bump their numbers up.

So I think we’re on the right track, but we need to do more. Looking back over click counts I can see that over a hundred CharterFolk have visited the federal website in the last five days. Last Tuesday, I made a goal of trying to have at least a couple hundred. Come on, CharterFolk! We’re over half way there. Get your comment in today!

National Progress Anyway

I know that these regs have taken up a lot of airtime here at CharterFolk, preventing us from focusing on much else. That doesn’t mean there isn’t much afoot in charterland, some of it quite positive, like the fact that in blue contexts like Washington State …

… and purple contexts like Georgia …

… and red ones like Missouri …

… charter schools are making progress on funding equity.

And of course, we will see whether the Kentucky legislature actually overrides a governor veto next week …

… but the irony is just palpable that we’re seeing the feds trying to shut down the federal Charter School Program at the same time that new states …

are stepping boldly into the world of chartering.

Or maybe this is why we see such aggressiveness coming out of the administration in support of the Establishment. They know they have to double-down in their opposition. Otherwise goodness knows what momentum charter schools would have if we actually had a level playing field.

Cardona Embraces Attack, Erase, Defend

Maybe the greatest evidence of the administration’s full embrace of the Establishment’s attack on charter schools comes from Secretary Cardona himself.

To explain this, especially for our thousands of new readers this year, I need to provide a little context.

In one of my first posts here at CharterFolk …

… I identified the new three-pronged strategy that the Establishment adopted late in the Obama Administration to destroy charter schools. It’s three components were:

  • Attack, which aims to get attention off the failings of the traditional public school system by steering attention to the supposed failings of the charter school movement;
  • Erase, which aims to eliminate from the environment any data about the actual performance of traditional public schools so that no one can see how poorly they are actually doing; and
  • Blame, which aims to identify the charter school movement as the causer of any problems in traditional public schools that are so severe that they cannot be erased from the landscape.

Now, obviously, these proposed regs are shining examples of the first and third prongs, attacking charter schools for supposedly having some “for profit” shortcoming, and blaming charter schools for district school weakness by making our schools have to conduct so-called “community impact reports.”

The question for me has been, when would we see the administration step into the erase prong, thereby demonstrating their full embrace of the Establishment’s strategy?

Well, late last month, we saw it:

At the ASCD Annual Conference, Cardona grasped the erase mantle with full gusto. Here are a couple of his statements cited in the K-12 Dive article:

“‘As secretary of education, I have to do more to make sure that we’re lifting up examples of how we’re using the data well, but also making sure the districts know that the way data is being used … doesn’t support growth, and it’s really just hammering on those folks that are working twice as hard to support students,’ Cardona said during the ASCD fireside chat.

“‘I want to take it a step further. Some are waiting for that data to then try to create a picture because their plan is to privatize,’ Cardona said.

“‘We have to collectively, as a profession, use the data to spotlight the need, but be wary of where it’s being used as a hammer,’ Cardona said. ‘Because in those places where it’s being used as a hammer, those folks fed kids, those folks knocked on doors, they used their buses to drop off meals where those kids needed it.'”

I know I have gotten to the point where I’m not supposed to be surprised by anything.

But here I am, stunned again.

The highest public education official in the land argues against transparent school performance data because that data might show how much our schools are struggling, thereby building greater urgency for change!

He makes those statements simultaneous to his team releasing a federal regulatory attack against our movement unlike any that we’ve seen before.

Well, at least we know what we’re up against, CharterFolk.

The Challenge of Regulation and Why We Must Support Our Advocacy Orgs at New Levels

This brings me to the last thing I wanted to cover today, which is the scope of the advocacy challenge we face and the need we all have to make sure our movement has the base advocacy capacities needed to defend our students and ultimately go on the offensive in support of greatly more public education for all students.

Let’s be clear, CharterFolk.

This is an advocacy challenge unlike any that we’ve seen before. The National Alliance and other advocacy organizations working at a federal level have been able to hold back various attacks against charter schools in the past, but those attacks have always been in the form of new legislation, or attempts to undermine us in the federal budget, places where we could use our supporters in Congress to keep harmful things from getting through.

We don’t have that same leverage today. The administration controls the regulatory process. Our levers for holding them back are very limited. Yes, we’ve got to do all we can today to register our opposition by getting our comments in on the proposed regs. But it’s also likely, given the administration’s power over the regulatory process and the degree to which the administration has embraced the Establishment’s agenda to destroy charter schools, that something gets through.

Something we will have to continue fighting for many years to overcome.

Maybe with litigation. Maybe with new legislation in the next Congress. It could take a lot of different forms.

But I leave you with this, CharterFolk.

I don’t know the exact numbers. But in terms of membership revenues coming to support our national organization from our field, the fact is that we offer that organization virtually nothing. State associations make “voluntary contributions” to support the National Alliance’s federal advocacy efforts equating to about a couple hundred thousand dollars per year.

A couple hundred thousand dollars. Enough for what, one senior staff member’s salary and benefits?

To hold off attacks affecting the education of approximately four million students?

A nickel per student invested in federal advocacy?

And we really expect to be able to hold off these kinds of attacks happening in Washington? When the other side is funded at just gargantuan amounts? Antonucci identifies $371 million per year coming in to the NEA. And that doesn’t even count what comes into AFT.

And we can’t muster more than a nickel per student?

It’s why I called for a new North Star during the Biden era.

Our schools increasing their membership dues to their state associations to at least $25/student by 2025. The idea is to make sure that our state advocacy organizations have the resources they need to defend our interests in state capitols across the country, but it’s also to ensure that those state organizations can pass along significant resources to our national organization as well.

This is why, CharterFolk. This is why.