December 23, 2020

Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona Called "Low Key" Choice"
After weeks of speculation and fierce behind-the-scenes lobbying from both "anti" and "pro" charter school factions, President-Elect Biden has selected Miguel Cardona to lead the U.S. Department of Education. If confirmed, Cardona will be the nation’s second Hispanic Secretary of Education. While Connecticut Commissioner of Education, his department renewed every charter that was due, but did not approve any additional charter schools. Asked about charter schools during his 2019 state confirmation hearings, Cardona said he’d rather focus his energy making sure neighborhood public schools are viable options. “Charter schools provide choice for parents that are seeking choice, so I think it’s a viable option, but neighborhood schools, that’s going to be the core work. . . of the agency,” he said.

Charter school advocates and public school officials say they see him as even-keeled when it comes to school choice. “I haven’t found him to be pro-charter or anti-charter. It doesn’t seem like he’s focused on governance and structure. What he is focused on are great schools for kids. And I think just more broadly, I haven’t found him to be driven by ideology and politics,” said Dacia Toll, the chief executive officer of Achievement First, which operates the largest network of charter schools in Connecticut and also has schools in Rhode Island and New York.

Charter advocates are relieved by the choice of Cardona, as one early frontrunner for the position was the immediate past president of the nation’s largest teachers union. Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, Biden Selects CT’s Miguel Cardona to Lead the U.S. Department of Education, Hartford Courant, December 22, 2020

Filing Disaster Narrowly Averted
Failure to file its annual information return or electronic notice with the IRS almost caused a Minnesota CMO to lose its tax-exempt status, with the tax-exempt status of tax on $26.1 million in charter school lease revenue bonds hanging in the balance. The IRS on March 16, 2020 revoked Twin Cities International School’s (TCIS) tax-exempt status for failure to file its federal tax returns for three consecutive years. The conduit bonds that were in jeopardy of becoming taxable were issued in 2017 for MIMCS Building Company LLC, which services the bond debt and facilitates the charter school’s facility improvements. Loss of tax-exempt status is unusual among charter schools, but it occasionally happens, particularly with charter schools that are self-managed with a small team, according to Kareem Spratling, a charter school finance attorney at Bryant Miller Olive P.A.  Most issuers Spratling works with require their borrowers to adopt post-issuance tax compliance procedures. These procedures are meant to be reviewed by the borrower on a regular basis and should serve as a checklist to highlight many of the common tax issues that endanger the tax-exempt status of the bonds. After the close call, TCIS rectified the revocation by filing an IRS Form 1023. Reinstatement of tax-exempt status was effective Nov. 15. Brian Tumulty, Tax-exemption Reinstated for Minnesota Charter School Bonds, Fidelity, December 3, 2020
North Carolina School's Charter Is Now On The Line 
On Wednesday, the North Carolina Charter Schools Advisory Board recommended that the State Board of Education (CSAB) revoke the charter of Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter School because it failed to produce required audits for fiscal years 2019 and 2020. CSAB chairman Alex Quigley explained, “Audits are important, because they ensure charters meet financial and operational requirements mandated by the state.” A spokeswoman for the school blamed the lack of compliance on its accountant, but the CASB wasn’t buying that. “Whatever it is, you can’t blame anyone but yourself if the audit is not produced on time,” Quigley said. “Hundreds of schools produce hundreds of audits year after year, on time.” Charter revocations are rare in North Carolina. Of the roughly 200 charters that have opened since 1997, 14 have been revoked between 1997 and 2015, according to data posted on the NC Department of Public Instruction’s website. The school says it will appeal if the state does revoke its charter. Greg Childress, ‘Incompetence is the Star of the Show’: Board Recommends Revoking Charter for Essie Mae Kiser Foxx School, NC Policy Watch, December, 3, 2020


School Improvement Partnership Adds New Talent
Continuing to refine and grow in its role as a national continuing disclosure agent, School Improvement Partnership (SIP) has hired Devante Robinson to be Director of Reporting Services. Devante will focus on reducing the chance of potentially costly errors in schools' reporting and preventing charters from missing required disclosure deadlines by automating and streamlining the continuing disclosure reporting process. He currently supports charter school borrowers with more than $400 million in bonds in making their quarterly and annual filings on EMMA with SIP's "drag and drop" system. 
A former law enforcement officer with a focus in community policing, Devante is working towards his M.S. in finance from Georgetown University. His experience in community relations and data sciences have made him a valuable asset, not only as a reporting services agent working closely with charter schools, but also in building out the SIP database. His efforts in quality assurance of financial and operating data for all charter schools in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas will allow the SIP Database to rapidly expand its coverage to every state containing charter schools. He can be reached at 

Facilities Playing a Role 
Florida charter schools saw an enrollment boost this year. Charter schools gained 4,854 students in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, according to September enrollment statistics, while traditional public schools in those districts started the semester with 18,056 fewer students than last year. However, traditional schools are fighting to get students back. Hillsborough Public Schools (HPS) launched a well-funded marketing campaign aiming to bring families back to HSP this spring. Columbia University’s Samuel E. Abrams says it’s too early to predict the pandemic’s long-term impact on the charter sector. But logically, he said, charter schools are attractive in a pandemic because “They’re usually smaller. They’re usually in newer facilities with better ventilation.”  Marlene Sokol, Tampa Bay Charter Schools are Growing During the Coronavirus Pandemic, Tampa Bay Times, December 10, 2020
New Nevada Charters Addressing Addressing Diversity Issues 
In Nevada, charter schools make up the third largest school “district” and they are steadily gaining ground toward being the second largest. The Nevada State Public Charter School Authority (SPCSA) saw a 7.7 percent growth increase in 2020 compared to 2019. This brings Nevada’s overall enrollment in charter schools to 53,223. However, as its enrollment has grown over the past decade, Nevada charter schools have faced criticism over their lack of diversity.

Last year, the Nevada State Legislature in 2019 passed a bill requiring the SPCSA to use an “Academic and Demographic Needs Assessment” when approving new charter schools. More specifically, new charter schools are supposed to address at least one of three target areas: pupil demographics (meaning enrolling ELL, IEP and FRL students), academic needs (meaning targeting neighborhoods with low-performing schools) or at-risk pupils (meaning credit deficient or behind students). Enrollment at the cadre of schools that have opened since that legislation was enacted does reflect racial and ethnic diversity, according to data presented by the SPCSA. April Corbin Gurnis, Charter Schools Grow, But Fall Short of Diversity Targets Set by Legislature, Nevada Current, December 14, 2020

BASIS Charter Schools Relaunch International Program After Coronavirus Hiatus 
The same week that the first vaccines were administered, BASIS Charter Schools Network announced it will relaunch its international student program for the 2021-2022 school year. In an effort to provide cross-cultural experience, BASIS will accept international students at nine Arizona campuses next year. Students who are accepted will travel to the U.S. on an F-1 visa. The deadline to apply is May 1, 2021.  

Night School With a Tiny Twist
It’s almost impossible for kindergarten students and first graders to learn remotely without adult supervision. But kids’ school and parents’ work days traditionally start and end around the same time. So, KIPP Newark charter school network has been offering a kindergarten and first grade class at night since mid-October. For working parents and high-needs children, the 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. window offers a whole new possibility. So far, 24 students have signed up for the night experiment and interest continues to grow.

Lily Ventrell, a KIPP learning specialist for first graders and kindergarten students says that for these families, flipping the schedule simplified everything. “Compared with my daytime, I see parents sitting right next to them. It just makes it so much easier for them  because even if a parent is working at home, it’s just so hard.” Amelia Nierenberg and Adam Pasick, A Simple Fix: Kindergarten at Night, The New York Times, December 18, 2020
Stay Healthy and We Will See You Next Year!

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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