May 20, 2020

Accurate Metrics Would Benefit Hundreds of Charter Schools, Authorizers and Maybe, the Bond Market
More than 700 U.S. charter schools are “alternative education campuses” (AECs). These schools serve former dropouts, pregnant and parenting teens, formerly incarcerated students and others with extraordinary challenges to successful learning. For AECs, conventional metrics, like state test scores and four-year graduation rates, often don't accurately measure the real quality of their programs. For example, in these intensely mission-driven schools, a four-year graduation rate may look dismally low — unless you know that students arrived so far off-track academically that they had no hope of graduating in four years. Still, AEC charter schools face periodic, high-stakes renewal decisions, based on attainment of quantifiable goals set by the authorizer.
In February, more than 40 charter school authorizers met to look for new methods and metrics for AEC charter school accountability. They’re part of a network created by A-GAME, a federally funded initiative housed at the National Charter Schools Institute. A-GAME has produced recommendations on how to reframe accountability for AECs’ unique circumstances. Currently it’s building out its national “Alternative School, Performance and Policy Database” data tool. The tool will enable any authorizer to gauge how a given AEC is doing against a nationwide sample of schools serving similar youth. A-GAME predicts that non-AEC charters that serve high needs populations may also find a use for the tool. Nelson Smith, Analysis: Seeking New Ways to Evaluate Charter Schools Serving the Highest-Needs Students — That Might Work for Others Shuttered by COVID-19, Chalkbeat, May 5, 2020

Poll Shows Two-Thirds Support Increased Educational Options
With 55 million students no longer in their normal educational setting, families are clearly considering new options. A Real Clear Opinion poll of registered voters shows that support for educational choice is strong. Sixty-four percent of all respondents support school choice, with 75 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of Independents and 59 of Democrats giving school choice a thumbs up. Parents with kids in public schools approve by 68 percent, while 74 percent of parents with a student in non-public schools want increased school choice. By race, 64 percent of white voters, 68 percent of Black voters, and 63 percent of Latino voters say yes to school choice. Policymakers should note that there is a strong desire for charter schools and other educational options that best meet families’ needs to be made available. Tommy Schultz, National Poll: 40% of Families More Likely to Homeschool After Lockdowns End, Real Clear Opinion, May 14, 2020
Revenue Diversity and Financial Flexibility 
Many charter schools are adapting quickly to classroom closures, but experts say funding issues are looming. In states like Texas, where next year is the second year of the state's two-year budget, the challenges won’t be felt immediately. In single-year state budgets, like Utah, where education budget cuts could reach $30 million, the declines could come fast. S&P analysts last month said in a report, “In our opinion, schools at the lower end of the rating scale remain more vulnerable to revenue, debt service coverage, and covenant pressure than our higher-rated schools, which tend to have some fundraising capabilities and greater liquidity. Schools with limited liquidity and financial flexibility face greater risk.”

S&P Global subsequently downgraded its outlook for 12 charter schools nationwide to "stable" from pre-pandemic "positive." Five those have the lowest investment-grade rating of BBB-minus, and the others are speculative grade. Richard Williamson, Charter Schools Brace for Budget Cuts While Teaching Online, The Bond Buyer, April 27, 2020

Stellar Charter School's Renewal Denied Out of the Blue
The Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School - known locally as “BuffSci” - graduated 94 percent of its seniors last year. Proficiency rates in math and English Language Arts are well above the county-wide average. In fact, the New York Board of Regents, the governing body for the State Education Department (the Regents), recently signed off on BuffSci opening a second school this fall. So, it came as a shock on May 4th when the Regents denied BuffSci's five-year charter renewal application. This would force the school of 16 years to close at the end of June.

The Buffalo Public Schools has intensified its objections to charter schools in recent years, and it appears its influence is having an impact. Catherine Collins, who represents Western New York on the Board of Regents, said she took her cue from the school district and voted against the renewal.

Parents and community members are rallying in support of BuffSci, which has an enrollment that is 65 percent African American and 90 percent low income. School officials said a legal challenge "could" buy them at least an extra year. Jay Rey, Buffalo Academy of Science is Latest Casualty in Battle Over Charter Schools, Buffalo News, May 18, 2020
Charter Schools Increase Teacher Diversity in North Carolina
After a recent report disclosed that 80 percent of public school teachers in North Carolina are white, Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order calling for a diversification of N.C.’s teaching profession. However, a study by the Fordham Institute found that N.C.’s charter schools are far more likely to employ minority teachers. While charters and traditional public schools in North Carolina serve a similar proportion of black students, charter schools have about 35 percent more black teachers. As a consequence, black students in charter schools are about 50 percent more likely to have had at least one black teacher than their counterparts in traditional public schools. And this isn’t just true for North Carolina. Data from the U.S. Department of Education indicates that nationally, charter schools employ a substantially more diverse teacher workforce.
Over the past decade, research has established that students of color benefit from having at least one teacher who shares their background. The evidence is compelling that Black and Latino students attend school more regularly, receive fewer suspensions, learn more, and are more likely to graduate when they experience having a teacher from the same race or ethnicity. Michael Petrilli, Teacher Diversity: Another Charter School Advantage in North Carolina, EdNews, May 5, 2020

Wisconsin Charter High School Serving Pregnant and Parent Teenagers
Every student at Milwaukee’s Shared Journeys charter high school is a parent or is pregnant. Opened in 2012, the school has a 100 percent graduation rate. Around 18 percent of its funding comes from a federal InSPIRE grant for teen parenting programs. Congress cut the InSPIRE program this year, meaning Shared Journeys will lose $50,000 next year. The school's founder, Lisa Colla, is “very aggressively seeking funding from local businesses and applying to other grants." She says her students adjusted well to online learning during the pandemic, because the school already uses distance learning for students on maternity leave. Cassidy Wilson, West Allis Charter School With ‘100% Completion Rate’ Serves Young People Who Are Pregnant, Parents, FOX News 6, May 17, 2020
School Improvement Partnership sends warm wishes and urges our readers to stay safe and healthy during this taxing time. 
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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