January 6, 2021

Other Arrows in the Quiver: Strong State Laws and Litigation
Political interests, teachers unions and legislators are thwarting new and existing charter schools, and parents and students must use every available tool to fight back, argues a new research brief by the Pacific Research Institute, a California-based, nonpartisan think tank. In "New and Emerging Obstacles Facing Charter Schools," Lance Izumi cites Harvard University research showing that African American charter students are gaining a half-year of learning in math and twice the amount in reading versus students attending traditional public schools.  Izumi also cites University of Washington research showing charter schools have better transitioned to virtual learning during the Covid-19 pandemic than traditional public schools, noting better teacher interaction with students and technology availability.
Among the threats he cites to charter schools are:
  • Laws in 21 states capping the number of charter schools, effectively limiting expansion;
  • Inefficient laws like those in Oregon that provide insufficient school accountability; and
  • Efforts in California and Michigan to deny charter schools equal funding with traditional public schools, citing local and state Covid-19 fiscal crises
To overcome these hurdles, Izumi recommends that charter school supporters urge state lawmakers to enact reforms that mirror the best, most thoughtfully-crafted laws in other states. Where politicians are hostile to charter schools, he recommends litigation as an effective strategy.  Citing recent successful lawsuits in Mississippi and Washington state, Izumi notes that charter school proponents have a strong recent track record of prevailing in court. Madison Miller, New Obstacles Hinder Students Trapped in Failing Schools from Escaping to Charter Schools, Pacific Research Institute, January 5, 2021
New Program Will Likely Boost Charter School Enrollment 
Eighteen charter schools have come together to simplify the application process for parents in Buffalo, New York. Previously, parents seeking to enroll their child in a charter school would need to submit an individual application to each school. Now there will be one singular application that nearly all the city’s charter schools accept. The new application process, which can be found online here, was championed by the New York Charter Schools Association. In other districts that have adopted a single-application system, charter school enrollment subsequently increased. That’s because when parents do not get their first choice, their child is automatically re-applied until a seat is found, with no further effort required of the parent. Anthony Reyes, Buffalo Charter Schools Work to Simplify Application Process, WKWB ABC, January 4, 2021

Staten Island Charter School's Design Appears Fabulous
The design of a new, 800-student K-12 school campus on New York’s Staten Island for Integration Charter Schools (ICS) is now underway. Occupying three full levels of an eight-story, mixed-use complex, the new ICS facilities will dramatically expand the CMO’s ability to serve its growing student body. It will also bring three ICS schools together into a single K-12 campus.

Designers say the project exemplifies emerging best practices for contemporary K-12 learning environments, including:
  • Sensible integration within the larger mixed-use complex through a separate ground-floor student entry lobby and elevator bank, as well as the location of gyms, cafeterias, and other social spaces on the middle school floor to reduce noise impacts for other building tenants.
  • Facilities that support diverse learning styles, including a range of spaces for musical instruction, a full commercial teaching kitchen, and a working rooftop farm for food-based educational programs. These uses also support student job training and internship opportunities at the complex’s onsite, not-for-profit restaurant.
  • A design approach emphasizing wellness for students and teaching staff alike.
Highlights include a calming neutral color palette; open corridors and classrooms oriented around the building’s perimeter for maximum natural daylight exposure; dedicated counseling “clusters” for each grade; teacher workrooms adjacent to classrooms; large central common spaces for each grade to encourage a sense of community and belonging; a yoga center and meditation areas specifically for teachers; and the accessible green roof for nutrition-focused, skills-based education. The campus is slated for completion by Spring 2021. SCN Staff, Design Underway on Staten Island Charter School, School Construction News, December 28, 2020

High Profile Texas Office Building Sold to Charter School Operator
International Leadership of Texas (ILT) has purchased a four-story, 60,000-square-foot office building in Richardson, Texas. ILT is based in Richardson, and operates about 20 schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Central Texas areas. ILT was established in 2013. Its student bodies include international students that ILT houses on its campuses. In 2017, the charter school was granted an expansion to serve 49,000 students in north, south and central Texas. Steve Brown, High-profile Richardson Office Building Sells to Charter School, The Dallas Morning News, December 22, 2020

Demands Overdue Payments
Collegium Charter School in Exton has filed a preliminary injunction against both the Coatesville Area School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education over $18 million in allegedly delinquent payments Collegium says it is owed for educating about 2,300 students who reside in the Coatesville district. Coatesville, like many other school districts, believes it has the right under state charter school law to elect to have charter school tuition paid by the Department of Education through the subsidy redirection process, rather than directly by the district. Collegium disagrees and complains that Coatesville has not directly paid the charter school since November 2019. The suit is scheduled to be heard January 7 in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. Debbie Wygent, Charter School Sues Coatesville Schools Over $18 Million, LNP Lancaster News, December 20, 2020
School District Wants Charter School's Plan Stopped
Louisiana’s Attorney General has issued an opinion that a popular charter school in Baton Rouge is within its rights to test students before promoting them, but the school district is demanding a second opinion. The Attorney General’s opinion found that BASIS is not required under its operating contract to get the approval of the East Baton Rouge Parish (EBRP) school system before it can put into effect its education plan, which includes administering a high-stakes test to students in its upper grades, starting with this year’s sixth-graders. The Arizona-based BASIS has several high schools that each year make national “best-school” lists. It opened its first school in Louisiana in 2018. Several EBRP School Board members are fighting the tests because they fear BASIS will use them to "weed out" lower performing students. BASIS says the tests are necessary to ensure  students' mastery of grade-appropriate skills before promotion. Charles Lussier, Can a Baton Rouge Charter School Set Higher Standards to Advance Grades? AG's Office Says 'Yes.' The Advocate, January 3, 2021

Helping Hand for Charter Schools in the District 
Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser -who is not known to be a huge charter school fan- has announced a $10 million grant program for the District’s charter schools. The funds will support schools during the return of students to classrooms. The grant will be made available to public charter schools operating full-time learning hubs or full-time hybrid models with in-person learning first. The schools operating full-time in-person programs will receive a $50,000 base award plus up to $2,000 per in-person student. Mayor Bowser said, “These grants will support a much-needed return to in-person learning so that, together, we can begin the process of recovery and address the academic and social-emotional needs of every student.” Lex Juarez, D.C. Mayor Providing Funding for Public Charter School Reopening Efforts, WDVM, December 23, 2020
School Improvement Partnership improves transparency and accountability in the charter school bond market. As continuing disclosure agent for more than 40 schools in six states, we enhance the form and content of secondary market information for charter school bond investors. On behalf of such investors, School Improvement Partnership performs comprehensive evaluations of charter school borrowers in transition - both pre-investment and post-investment. Please view our website or call us at 215.854.6322.
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