February 23, 2022

Charter Schools Consistently Pulled out the Stops
Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) surveyed 524 public charters in New York, California and Washington on the specifics of each school’s switch to remote learning. The study showed that 86 percent listed the transition to digital learning as “very urgent," 81 percent said that establishing connections with families was very urgent, and 78 percent said the same of maintaining student engagement. The drive to move online was reflected in the speed with which charter schools got up and running after state-mandated closures began. On average, charter leaders reported an interval of just 3.5 days between closing their physical campuses and reopening for online instruction. By contrast, at least one contemporaneous account held that fewer than 40 percent of teachers in district schools were in daily contact with their students at the end of March 2020.
Charters also did more to help teachers negotiate the sudden switch. In total, 97 percent of survey participants provided professional development explicitly for online teaching, the report found. By comparison, a September 2020 report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that most district reopening plans for the 2020-21 school year made no public commitment to increasing professional development.
CREDO’s Director, Macke Raymond said, “When we kept pulling back from the data and seeing the patterns, what appears so surprising to us is that across different political contexts, different authorizing environments, different financial situations, what you have here is this practically universal response from the charter schools: Extremely fast, extremely focused on maintaining instruction, making tough trade-offs, mobilizing networks, and getting all hands on deck as quickly as possible.” Kevin Mahnken, New Research Tracks Charters’ Early Moves During Pandemic, The 74 Million and The L.A. School Report, February 17, 2022
Accountability is Meant to Help - Not Hurt - Charter Schools
Utah’s State Charter School Board (SCSB), which is responsible for the compliance of 91 percent of the public charter schools in Utah, has issued a record number of “letters of concern” to charter school administrators this year. It’s not that Utah’s public charter schools are suddenly performing poorly. Rather, the SCSB’s director, Jennifer Lambert, said that the SCSB is now more proactive in helping schools comply with regulations. The SCSB monitors charter schools’ financial practices, enrollment and adherence to charter agreements. It also notes minor infractions like failing to fill a vacant board position or update a website.

In 2019, the SCSB issued just nine warning notices to schools, which was the last year in which it forced a troubled charter school to close. Already this year, the SCSB has sent a warning notice to 78 schools.

“Instead of just having an ambulance waiting at the bottom of the cliff to take care of anyone who falls off, we want to create guard rails so no one goes off that cliff in the first place,” Jennifer Lambert said. Chris Jones and Nadia Pflaum, More Warnings, 'Letters of Concern' Issued to Charter Schools, KUTV, February 17, 2022


Hint: Charter Schools Are Not Expected to Medal
Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s new school aid budget includes funding to provide a $2,000 retention bonus to teachers across the state, excluding most public charter school teachers. The Governor’s bonuses would go only to teachers who are directly “employed by” their districts. Most of Michigan’s public charter school teachers are paid as contractors and thus wouldn’t be eligible for the bonus. The slight even comes although there’s no evidence that Michigan's public charter schools are less affected by staffing challenges. 
Director of Education Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Ben Degrow, says the proposed budget is  Whitmer once again "doubling down on attempts to enrich school systems while treating families of choices as second-class citizens." Ben DeGrow, Governor’s Budget Downgrades Charter Schools, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, February 15, 2022

ASPIRA Olney Charter High School         
Course is Set for Return to District Control
Two public charter schools fighting for their lives lost an important battle last week. Pennsylvania’s Charter Appeals Board voted 4-1 to uphold the Philadelphia school board’s decision not to renew ASPIRA Olney High School and ASPIRA Stetson Middle School. As a result, the schools are set to return to district control later this year.

The move comes nearly six years after the Philadelphia School District’s charter schools office first recommended that the district cut ties with ASPIRA Olney and Stetson for academic, operational, and financial reasons. The school board eventually voted against renewing the charters in 2019 over strong objections from the powerful Hispanic nonprofit that has run them since 2010 and 2011.

ASPIRA officials said they plan to file legal paperwork to overturn Tuesday’s ruling. “We believe we are in a fairer position as our case moves to the state judicial system,” the boards of Olney and Stetson said in a statement. “We anticipate an impartial decision and that we will prevail against the School District of Philadelphia’s attempt to take control of our schools.” Kristen Graham and Maddie Hanna, Philadelphia School District Can Take Back Two Schools from Charter Control, a State Board Ruled, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 15, 2022
Bill Would Also Carve a New Authorizing Path
Tennessee State Representative Mark White has introduced legislation that would make it easier for charters to operate in taxpayer-funded buildings. House Bill 2833 is designed to enable charter schools to operate in underused school district buildings, instead of letting school districts lease the facilities to charter operators at high rates.
“We’re saying … if you authorize a charter, let them use an empty or under-utilized school building for either no charge or a dollar lease,” White said.
White, who represents Memphis, also wants charter schools to have an easier path to expansion. His bill would also enable charter operators with at least one approved school to bypass local school boards and go straight to the state for approval to expand.
White’s bill is moving through the House Education Committee amid furor over Governor Mike Lee’s initiative to open 100 new public charter schools across the state. Until recently, charters have been confined to Shelby County and Metro Nashville school districts. Sam Stockyard, Legislation Opens Wider Door for Charter Schools to Operate in Local Buildings, Tennessee Lookout, February 15, 2022
Curriculum Seeks to Increase Financial Equity
When you hear about someone making “a killing in the market,” you probably don’t envision a kid from a low-income Washington D.C. neighborhood. The founders of Legends Public Charter School want that to change. Legends comprehensively built financial education into its curriculum to level the playing field. It is giving its student body of mostly minority children real-life experiences in investing and how money works.

“You take the money you have, you invest it, and then you watch it work for you,” instructs founder Shomari James. “When you have an understanding about money, it changes things, it opens things up for you,” she added.

That also includes the adults in the school's community. “We know what teacher wages are, so there are specific classes for just the teachers to talk to them about their finances or financial education as well, so they too can feel prepared,” said James. Staff, Washington DC Charter School Builds Financial Education into Curriculum, KSAT, February 19, 2022

School Improvement Partnership improves transparency and accountability in the charter school bond market. The School Improvement Partnership Database (or SIP Database) contains financial, academic and operating data on charter schools and charter school borrowers around the country. It is being built out to include all charter schools and charter school borrowers in the coming months. From each financial audit for a CMO or charter school, the SIP Database contains 50 financial data points, always refreshing automatically to include the three most recent years. The SIP Database has a dashboard for subscribers that displays requested data points in an easy-to read-fashion, and such data can be exported in Excel from the SIP Database to the subscriber. Please view our website or call us at 215.854.6322.
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