States continue increasing or eliminating caps on charter schools

In the past three years, 18 states have lifted caps on the number of charters schools allowed, another sign that lawmakers are embracing charters as valuable options in public education.

national alliance of public charter schools“I think there’s a growing recognition from state policymakers that charter schools are one of the pieces of the puzzle of education reform,’’ said Todd Ziebarth of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “They’re not the silver bullet. They’re not a panacea.’’

But when charter schools are allowed to push the traditional system, they can become the labs of innovation they were designed to be, he said.

The information on caps comes in a new report from the alliance, which also looked at other changes states have made to charter school laws. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia now have charter schools, and the alliance concluded 35 of them strengthened their laws. In the alliance’s view, that could mean anything from increasing transparency of the approval process to ensuring local charter school authorizers are adequately funded.

Most of the progress was on lifting the caps, said Ziebarth, who co-authored the report and is the alliance’s senior vice president for state advocacy and support. Between 2010 and the beginning of 2013, 16 states lifted caps. Since January, Mississippi and Texas have joined the list.

Mississippi went from allowing 12 chronically low-performing traditional schools to convert into charters to an independent authorizer that can approve opening up to 15 startup charters per year. In Texas, which capped charters statewide at 215, new legislation fell short of removing the cap completely but allows for gradual growth to 305 charters by 2019.

Other states that made big changes to caps include Missouri, which once limited charters to St. Louis and Kansas City but now allows them statewide, and North Carolina, which nixed a 100-school limit in 2011.

Federal Race To The Top grants spurred many states to lift or do away with the caps in 2009 because the move was required to compete, Ziebarth said, but that effort had run its course by 2010.

The alliance counts more than 520,000 students on charter school waiting lists nationwide. But Ziebarth said caps aren’t the biggest hurdles to meeting demand. There’s also lack of equitable funding and facilities, and the fact that just about every state allows school districts to authorize charter schools – which can bog down the process of approvals.

“It’s kind of a shot-gun wedding,’’ Ziebarth said.

Those are issues state leaders must address, said alliance President Nina Rees.

“Despite strong, bipartisan progress by many visionary state legislators, most states still have yet to catch up to parental demand,’’ she said in a prepared statement. “And, we have a long way to go to ensure that students in public charter schools receive the same funding as their peers in traditional public schools.’’


Charter schools size up crowdfunding

When parents in Smyrna, Ga., wanted to open a charter school last year, they didn’t have a big management company to take on start-up costs. So they got creative and turned to gofundme, a crowdfunding site that helps people quickly raise money for projects. Within four months, the Smyrna Academy of Excellence collected $10,000.

Jimmy Arispe

Jimmy Arispe

“We went at it pretty hard,’’ said principal and board chairman Jimmy Arispe, who described the process as quick and easy compared to applying for grants and knocking on foundations doors. “You can send a link to anybody.’’

Crowdfunding is a fairly new concept in education, but the fundraising platform appears to be gaining fans – especially among charter schools. The idea is simple. Put a project or goal on one of the online fundraising sites and ask people from all over the world to help with costs. Typical donations range from 20 bucks to thousands of dollars.

Chicago’s Academy for Global Citizenship charter school has raised $50,000 so far in an ongoing $30 million campaign on indiegogo, an international crowdfunding site. The Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools in Washington, D.C., raised $11,179 for a new gym this past spring during a three-month drive on StartSomeGood.

And a 60-day “Open the Doors’’ campaign on Fundly, which caters to nonprofits, garnered $88,000 for the Urban Montessori Charter School in Oakland, Calif.


Parker Thomas

“It’s a really cool idea overall,’’ said Parker Thomas, who, along with another of the school’s co-founders, headlined a crowdfunding seminar in March at a California Charter Schools Association conference.

No one, including the California association, really knows how many schools are crowdfunding.

“We just have a sense that they’re like most organizations or nonprofits and public schools,’’ said the Los Angeles-based group’s spokeswoman, Dannie Tillman. “Crowdfunding is just one of the methods in their fundraising toolbox.’’

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently from districts. They receive state dollars, but not as much as their district counterparts, noted Eric Paisner of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. So that has many charter schools raising money, he said. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, charter schools, special needs & more

Common Core: The new national education standards are attracting opposition and causing a rift among Republicans. Miami Herald. Parents can expect more project-based homework, group work in class and less multiple-choice tests thanks to Common Core State Standards. Sun Sentinel. More from the Miami Herald. Parents: This school year will be the last time your student has to take the FCAT. Probably. Palm Beach Post. Treasure Coast educators say the curriculum this year will be a blend of current and new standards. TC Palm.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: Florida’s auditor general calls for increased oversight of charter schools after report shows an increase in the number operating at a deficit. In Broward County, 17 of 73 charter schools ended the 2011-12 financial year in the red. In Palm Beach County, it was four out of 35 schools. Sun Sentinel. Pembroke Pines considers selling a highly-contested 43-acre property to Discovery Schools to build a charter school. Sun Sentinel. Duval County’s charter schools have tripled from seven in 1999 to 21 today with enrollment jumping from 609 in 2003 to more than 7,500. Florida Times-Union.

Parents: The Tampa Tribune looks at what some education experts say has the biggest impact on a child’s academic success.

Scheduling snafu: An open house at Olsen Middle School in Dania Beach leaves parents and students waiting long hours in line to fix class schedules. Miami Herald.

Special needs: Unicorn Village Academy opens in West Boca and caters to students with autism and other learning differences. Sun Sentinel. Federal funding cuts hit home for Polk County’s ESE students. The Ledger.

Bus battle: A blind Lake County mom wins her battle to get her visually impaired 5-year-old son on a bus to his district school. Orlando Sentinel.

International learning: Students from China are attending the Community School of Naples in Lee County, part of an international education program. Naples Daily News.

School security: Hillsborough County students and parents are greeted with tightened security as they head back to class, with controlled access about to be the norm at all 215 district schools. The Tampa Tribune.

Conduct: Manatee County Superintendent Rick Mills says the district still does not have a plan to replace three assistant principals charged with felonies in a recent investigation. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: vouchers in Wisconsin, charters in Georgia, course choice in Louisiana & more


Alabama: The Alabama Policy Institute opposes the state proposed rules for the education tax-credit program. The think tank says the law does not prohibit tax credits from being used by students already enrolled in private schools, so long as the student is assigned to attend a school labeled as “failing” (Education Week).

Arkansas: School districts are declaring themselves exempt from a school choice law because they are still under court desegregation orders, leaving many parents unable to choose new schools for their children (

California: The Brandon Board of Education votes against busing 200 students who opted into a public school choice program to another school district (The Oakland Press).

Florida: Charter schools in the Tampa Bay area give parents lots of school choices (Tampa Bay Times). Florida’s K-12 tax credit scholarship program (administered by Step Up for Students, which co-hosts this blog) saw a 25 percent growth in enrollment last year, while a new study by Northwestern University professor David Figlio shows students in the program annually gain a years worth of learning (Heartland News). More on the study from redefinED here and here. Rapper Pitbull started a new charter school in Miami in order to make education “sexy”  and “cool” again (The Atlantic Cities, NBC News).

Georgia: The Atlanta superintendent of public instruction recommends against authorizing new charter schools but is overridden by the Board of Education (Education News).

Indiana: Private schools near Connersville have seen a dramatic increase in students using vouchers since the program expanded (The News Examiner). Scholars in Indiana are still debating the constitutionality of the state’s voucher program (The Times of Northwest Indiana).

Louisiana: The state’s “Course Choice” program will receive an extra $1 million to eliminate the wait-list as the enrollment continues to rise (Associated Press, The Advocate). Continue Reading →


Churches and charter schools

Sugarman: "contrary to today’s conventional wisdom, allowing religious schools to become charter schools is not clearly a violation of the 'establishment clause.' "

Sugarman: “contrary to today’s conventional wisdom, allowing religious schools to become charter schools is not clearly a violation of the ‘establishment clause.’ “

The connection between charter schools and religion continues to generate the occasional headline, with the most recent coming last week when the New York Times carried a Texas Tribune story about Texas charter schools leasing space from churches. Some of those interviewed objected to the entanglement of the schools with the churches and the “benefits” that churches were gaining from these arrangements.

I think these concerns are misguided, given the state of charter facilities funding and the facts on the ground about most of these relationships. At the same time, I think the legal door is open in some states for the possibility of faith-based charter schools, which would be a step forward for school choice and education reform. Let me explain.

1. The Present

At the moment, in all states that permit charter schools as part of their public school system, charter schools may not be religious schools. Put simply, this means that religion may be no more a part of these schools than it is in other (traditional) public schools. School prayer is prohibited. Students and teachers may not be selected on the basis of their or their family’s religious beliefs. The curriculum must be secular.

Finding a suitable place to locate charter schools is a widespread problem. Those who run charter schools have to pay for their facilities from the same funds that also pay for all the academic and other financial obligations, whereas public school facilities are financed separately, usually through general obligation bonds, paid by property owners in the school district until the facility is fully paid for. Many charter schools are in leased premises, unlike traditional public schools. This generally puts charter schools at a substantial financial disadvantage compared to their other public school counterparts.

In some places, as here in California, the local school district is supposed to offer suitable facilities to charter school operators, but in practice that often is a hollow requirement as the place or places offered are locations that are actually quite unsuitable. Sometimes school district leaders have nothing better to offer; other times, it seems they deliberately offer what they know will be rejected because they are hostile to charter schools taking away “their” pupils. Many instances of protracted litigation have occurred before charter schools have been able to secure facility agreements from school districts.

As a result, it is natural that charter school operators frequently turn to churches as potential landlords. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Back pay, literacy coaches, first days & more

Libraries: Five Miami-Dade County technical school libraries will open to the public starting the first day of school to offset expected budget cuts. Miami Herald.

florida-roundup-logoBack pay: An arbitrator tells the Broward school district it owes high school teachers hours of back pay for teaching an additional class period last school year. Sun Sentinel.

Higher ed: Florida’s next higher education Chancellor will inherit a job that requires a soft touch, keen political savvy and the dexterity to manage many bosses. Miami Herald.

Tony Bennett: His last-minute changes to Indiana’s school grading formula benefitted 165 Indiana schools. StateImpact Florida.

School support: Hernando County parents support Eastside Elementary as it works to improve its F grade from the state this year. Tampa Bay Times.

Teachers: StateImpact Florida looks at why teachers leave the classroom.

Business help: Polk County schools Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy pushes businesses to get involved with improving district schools. The Ledger.

School board: Former Duval County School Board member Betty Burney is cleared from any wrongdoing in a vote benefitting a company that once employed her sister. Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →


Can teachers unions adapt to the changing public education landscape?

In June, Ron Matus introduced a short series of entries responding to his question, “Can teachers unions adapt?” Responses came from anti-union writers Gary Beckner and Terry Moe, from DFER staff member and former journalist Joe Williams, and from former Pinellas County Teachers Association head and current SUFS president Doug Tuthill.

Sherman Dorn

Sherman Dorn

I am a current member and former officer in the United Faculty of Florida (Florida’s college and university faculty union), but I think the most useful approach I can suggest comes from my role as an education historian. The reality is that teachers unions (or any organizations tied to schooling) have a long record of varied change in response to circumstances.

Despite occasional crass claims about an educational status quo and “industry-era education,” rough stability is a more useful concept for education history than absolute fixedness. As David Tyack and Larry Cuban argue in their wonderful history of school reform, Tinkering toward Utopia, change often happens through long-term trends rather than through the more visible and cyclical rhetoric of the reform du jour.

More importantly, the sources of relative stability derive more from shared values and long-term social dilemmas than come from either self-interest (as Joe Williams claims) or from bureaucracy. Bureaucracy has its influences and people include material self-interest as part of their identity and their role in organizations like unions. But schools have social scripts for all sorts of reasons, including our country’s bundling of education with citizenship and the common experiences adults remember from their time in schools.

Understanding that mix of change and stability requires that we give up slogans about both schools and teachers. For example, rural schools both face concrete difficulties in managing their workforce because of local labor markets and also have changed in significant ways despite the stability of some conditions. The Hendry County Education Association is not the main reason why it would almost always be difficult to hire and retain physics teachers in that rural Florida county, or the reasons why a principal of Clewiston High School (or any rural high school) might be unable to offer physics or be hesitant to fire a poor science teacher. Hiring and keeping good science teachers would be a challenge even if the Hendry schools paid science teachers more than other teachers: fewer than 10% of Hendry County adults have a bachelors degree, let alone one in science or science education.

Yet rural high schools still change across years and decades, and pretending they do not is not accurate history. For example, Clewiston High School serves around 1,000 students, not only much larger than rural high schools 50 years ago but a larger population than many suburban high schools today or in the past. Despite its rural nature, Hendry County’s school system parallels other county schools in Florida as much as it can, including schools larger than one would have found in the vast majority of Florida’s school districts 50 or 60 years ago. That parallel structure has helped Hendry County address the shortage of teachers in general, if not making principals’ hiring or retention decisions easy in a rural area.

So too with teachers unions: Change in many areas, stability in others. While some individual locals may be remarkably stable in character and priorities, many state affiliates and both national teachers unions (the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers) have changed significantly over the long term, and they change in response to both external conditions and internal debates. The existence of public school choice and private-school voucher policies change the external conditions but not the fact that national unions respond to them. The interesting question for an historian is what factors shape changes in unions, not whether they change. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, charter schools, budget woes & more

Common Core: The St. Johns County Republican Assembly is the latest GOP group to question the new education standards adopted by Florida and 44 other states. StateImpact Florida.

florida-roundup-logoSchool grades: StateImpact Florida asks parents what a school’s grade means to them.

Debit cards: Sen. Darren Soto, R-Kissimmee, comes up with a counter plan for helping teachers buy school supplies: debit cards preloaded with state dollars that arrive two weeks before the start of school with more money for middle and high school teachers. The Buzz.

Weather alert: The Broward County school district will use new Android-based phones in its schools to track lightning, heat index, wind speed and other severe weather. Sun Sentinel.

Charter schools: Ivy Academies won’t be able to open next week in Lauderdale Lakes in Broward County after city commissioners vote to rezone the building. Sun Sentinel. This school year, 42 charter schools will educate nearly 14,000 Hillsborough County students. Tampa Bay Times.

New ride: A group of Boca High students start a campaign to raise $11,000 to buy an electric wheelchair for a fellow student. Sun Sentinel.

Budgets: Palm Beach County school administrators share concerns about a $252 million hole in the district’s capital budget plan. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →