August 25, 2021

Directing Aid to Increase Enrollment
When Congress sent states billions of dollars early in the coronavirus pandemic to help make schools safe, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee saw an opportunity. He used part of the windfall to further his goal of offering school choice options for parents by sending millions to public charter schools in his state. Of the nearly $64 million in discretionary pandemic education money that came into his office, Lee dedicated $10 million to public charter schools. The governor used it to make sure every charter school received some aid and to help existing schools add additional grades. He reserved a chunk of it — $4.4 million — to help launch new charters which will likely welcome students beginning in 2022.

For Lee and some other GOP governors, the discretionary money was a chance to sidestep their state legislatures and advance school choice. For example, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster dedicated $9 million of his first round of $10.5 million in discretionary aid to public charter schools where enrollments have risen. Geoff Mulvilhill, Some Governors Use Federal Virus Aid to Expand School Choice, Associated Press, August 20, 2021; Maayan Schechter, Gov. McMaster Spent $10.5M on SC Education. Here’s Who Will Get It, The State, April 21, 2021


School Improvement Partnership Consultant Seated on Rulemaking Board
School Improvement Partnership's Chief Data Consultant Liz Sweeney is adding another role that builds on her three decades of municipal capital markets experience: board member of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB). The MSRB is the regulator for the municipal securities market, where nonprofit charter schools and networks issue bonds, along with approximately 50,000 municipal governments, enterprises and other nonprofit organizations such as universities, hospitals, museums, and foundations.  

"I'm excited to be part of this outstanding organization and to help meet its mission to protect investors, issuers and the public interest by promoting a fair and efficient municipal market," Liz said. 

Liz brings considerable experience with municipal debt to the board, having served in several senior credit and policy roles at S&P Global Ratings for 25 years. She is currently founder and President of Nutshell Associates, a public finance consulting and debt advisory firm registered with the MSRB and SEC. She also serves on the board of University of Maryland Medical System, a nonprofit healthcare system based in Baltimore. 

School Improvement Partnership's President Alan Wohlstetter was excited for Liz but not surprised when he heard the news. "Liz provides leadership to School Improvement Partnership's data products including strategy, market outreach, data quality, and product design. Her knowledge of municipal data and her support of improving data standards in the municipal market are right in line with the MSRB's strategic goals. I'm very happy that the MSRB recognizes Liz's leadership skills, but I'm not at all surprised they chose her."

Liz's term begins October 1st for four years. The board has 15 members knowledgeable about the municipal industry chosen from the public, municipal issuers, broker-dealers, and municipal advisory firms. 


Ambitious Bill Would Help Public Charter Schools
Representative Andrew Lewis and a dozen Republican co-sponsors last week unveiled their Excellent Education for All Act legislation that, among other things, proposes changes to the state’s public charter school law. The bill is similar to a measure sponsored by Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster County that narrowly passed the Senate Education Committee in June by a 6-5 vote.

Lewis’ bill would make four changes to Pennsylvania’s public charter school law:
  • Create a statewide charter authorization board and ensure local communities can create charter options through local school boards, colleges, and universities.
  • Strengthen and clarify ethics requirements for charter school leaders.
  • Provide charter school students with access to school buildings and testing sites.
  • Allow charter students to participate in dual enrollment programs, just like students in traditional public schools. 
For the past two decades, school choice proponents have tried and failed to change the state’s 1997 charter school law in efforts to increase the number of public charter schools, but Lewis says this time is different due to the pandemic. He believes the proposal will draw enough public support to convince his colleagues and Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, who is a staunch supporter of traditional public schools, for it to become law. “Governor Wolf has called himself the education governor. I think he’ll look at the outcomes of certain kids that have been trapped in a failing school district and went to another school and succeeded. I think he’ll see this clear correlation.” Jan Murphy, Pa. Lawmaker Calls His School Choice Bill a ‘Game Changer’ with its Focus On Students, Not Systems, PennLive, August 19, 2021
Direct Appropriations to Public Charter Schools
The North Carolina Senate passed a bill Monday, Aug. 9, that would make several updates to the state’s charter school law. The most notable change in House Bill 729 is giving county commissioners authority to make direct appropriations to charter schools to buy real estate, furniture, school supplies, school technology, and similar capital equipment. The bill also gives public charter school teachers the same reduced residency licensure requirements as traditional public school teachers. Finally, it would make the superintendent of public instruction a voting member on the N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board, taking away one appointment opportunity from the N.C. State Board of Education. The State Board of Education has a Democratic majority, while the current superintendent, Catherine Truitt, is a Republican. H.B. 729 would remove one pick for the charter advisory board from Democrats and fill it with a Republican. David N. Bass, NC Senate Passes Stripped Down Bill that Makes Updates to Charter School Law, Chatham Journal, August 10, 2021.

Legal Battle Will Continue
When public charter school enrollment skyrocketed in California by 25,000 students during the pandemic, the state refused to equitably fund public charter schools based on their new student numbers. Instead, the state only paid them for their previous year’s enrollment - meaning the schools had to teach more students with the same per pupil funding they received for fewer students.
About 300 public charter schools - representing roughly 200,000 students - joined a class action lawsuit to force the state to pay the funds that rightfully belonged to those children. But a California trial court judge recently ruled against the schools, after determining that if even just 20 percent of learning occurs off-campus, a charter school would be classified as a “non-classroom-based charter school.”
In an effort to explain why the state would withhold money from students who sought charter school alternatives at a time when the teachers unions forced traditional public schools to remain closed, State Attorney General Rob Bonta wrote “The state determined that (non-classroom based charter schools) raised major concerns for fraud and abuse and inferior education and decided to limit the incentive for expanding that model of education during the pandemic.”
Notwithstanding the fact that in 2020 most traditional public schools delivered far more than 20 percent of instruction virtually during the pandemic but were still fully funded - or that any school that delivers 50 percent or more of instruction in-person is, by definition, “classroom based,” charter school advocates for months have fought the perception that public charter schools are fraudulent. The California Charter Schools Association has argued that a few bad actors should not taint all public charter schools, which provide alternative models of education that many students can’t get from their school districts. Kristen Taketa, Judge Rules Against California Charter Schools in Class-Action Funding Lawsuit, San Diego Union Tribune, August 7, 2021
The Fight Over Public Charter Schools Takes Yet Another Turn
Just as the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board met for the first time last week, with the intent of accelerating public charter school expansion in that state, it’s being hit with a lawsuit designed to abolish it. West Virginia recently passed a law creating the charter school authorizer as a way to sidestep school districts that consistently deny charter school applications. The state has had a charter school law on the books for several years, but none have been able to open due to recalcitrant school districts.

Now, a legal organization called “Mountain State Justice” (MSJ) says it intends to sue over the new law in the next 30 days. MSJ says House Bill 2012, will be challenged on grounds that it violates the West Virginia Constitution’s section that says “no independent free school district or organization shall hereafter be created except for the consent of the school district or districts out of which the same is to be created. MSJ refused to name its client bringing the suit, but lists one of its practice areas as “workers’ rights.” West Virginia’s Attorney General says the state has “every intention” of defending the law. Brad McElhinny, Charter School Revision, Hope Scholarship are Focus of Impending Legal Challenge, Metro News, August 19, 2021; Steven Allen Adams, Potential Lawsuit Threatens West Virginia’s Charter Schools, The Parkersburg New and Sentinel, August 23, 2021

Tell 'Em What You Think About Discrimination Against Charter Schools
The U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations budget for FY 2022 that is harmful to charter schools. It is now under consideration in the U.S. Senate. Not only does the House version of the appropriations budget cut $40 million from the Federal Charter Schools Program (which provides funds to replicate high quality charter schools), the bill also contains language that is discriminatory to public charter schools. Specifically, it prohibits any federal funding, from any federal department, going to charter schools that contract with private vendors to manage all or some of their services. In the broadest terms, this would cut off funding from a charter school that outsourced its cafeteria or transportation services - as many traditional public school districts routinely do.
Arizona - with 213,000 public charter school students - is leading the way. A coalition of organizations supporting Arizona public charter schools has written to the state’s congressional delegation, demanding it reject the budget as written. The letter notes that an estimated 133,000 those students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch and 59 percent are students of color. The House bill would therefore subject some of the state’s most vulnerable students to deep funding cuts. The Senate is expected to pass its version of the budget in early September. Stephen Matter, Ariz. Charter School Advocates Urge Congressional Delegation to Oppose Defunding of Alternate Education Options, Chamber Business News, August 10, 2021
Innovative Solution to Bus Driver Shortage 
With school systems across the nation facing a shortage of bus drivers, one Delaware charter school is getting creative. Eastside Charter School will pay parents $700 per student for the year for dropping off and picking up each child from school. The website informs parents if they have three children, the family will get $2,100. Currently, as reported by the  Washington Post, there is a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers that is so severe that some schools have been forced to push back school reopening. For example, Pittsburgh Public Schools have a 6,000 bus seat shortage that is forcing a two-week delay. Eastside said it prefers to “empower parents.” Hannah Towey, This Delaware Charter School Will Pay Parents $700 This Year for Every Child They Drive Themselves, Yahoo! News, August 18, 2021
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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