Prize-winning charter network wants to help immigrant children

Travis Pillow
Broad charter school prize winners

Idea Public Schools staff accept the Board Prize for charter schools.

NASHVILLE – This morning, at a national charter school gathering, Texas-based charter management organization IDEA Public Schools won the 2016 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools.

The $250,000 award recognizes charter networks for strong academic results, especially among low-income children of color.

In a move that echoes past Broad winners, IDEA founder Tom Torkelson said the network plans to share the prize money with its fellow finalists — New York-based Success Academy and Houston-based Yes Prep.

Perhaps more noteworthy is how he envisions spending the money. It’s earmarked for helping disadvantaged students prepare for college, but Torkelson said he specifically wanted to use it to help immigrant children — including those whose families are undocumented.

“They’ve made a choice, every day, to come to a high-quality public charter school,” he said during his brief acceptance remarks at the National Charter Schools Conference. “All they want is the recognition and the respect of their fellow citizens.”

Many of his words, which paid tribute to hard-working immigrants who strive in school and serve in the military, were drowned out by roaring applause that overwhelmed this reporter’s feeble recording device.

While it hopes to expand across the country, IDEA currently runs 44 schools concentrated in South and Central Texas, including Austin, San Antonio, and the Rio Grande Valley. Nearly 90 percent of its 24,000 students are low-income, and 95 percent are Hispanic.

This year’s prize winner was chosen by a seven-member review board. A press release from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the National Alliance for Public Charter schools lays out some of the reasons IDEA won this year:

  • Ninety-nine percent of IDEA’s Hispanic and low-income students graduated on time in 2013-14.
  • Nearly every high school senior took the ACT.
  • Seventy percent of IDEA’s high school students took an Advanced Placement (AP) exam in 2014-15.
  • For academic performance among Hispanic and low-income students, all of IDEA’s schools were in the top 30 percent of Texas schools in both proficient and advanced levels of elementary, middle and high school English Language Arts, math and science.

“IDEA is a shining example of how great charter schools are changing the course of children’s lives,” Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said in a statement. “It is incredible that for the past nine years, 100 percent of IDEA’s graduating seniors have been accepted to college. Every day, the team at IDEA works tirelessly towards its mission of preparing students from underserved communities for success in college.”

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