It’s Only Fair: Charter School Students Deserve Equal Funding

rep-angela-williams
Rep. Angela Williams of Colorado stands up for all kids to get a high-quality education.

For Representative Angela Williams of Colorado, educational choice is all about what’s right for the kids and what’s right for the teachers.  Her district was one of the hardest hit by economic downturn, and a lot of funding for education comes from property taxes.  Unapologetically, Rep. Williams speaks up for kids and families who need high-quality public school options.  “It is not a Republican or a Democrat issue.  It’s an issue for our kids,” she insists.  She went on to explain, “I received a lot of push back from the African-American community.  But I cannot stand by and allow kids to go to failing schools.”

Rep. Williams was a business woman for 14 years and serves as Majority Caucus Chair as well as Co-Chair of the Colorado Black Democratic Legislative Caucus.  She represents a diverse community and is a strong voice for improving education in Colorado’s public schools.  She stated that she carries certain legislation that increases school choice because of her passion- not politics.  Rep. Williams is a fearless voice for equitable mill sharing and appropriating funding for facilities and buildings.  She calls for a level playing field for all types of public schools, including charter schools.  A key ingredient to the success of charter schools in Denver is equitability and fairness to all kids, including the ones in Rep. Williams’ district.  This cooperation at the local level is achieved by including as many community stakeholders as possible, and strong leadership like that of the representative and other community leaders is crucial.

Funding for charter schools in Colorado is allocated with an equitable approach.  In the Denver area, charter school networks such as DSST and Strive are flourishing thanks to cooperation in sharing tax dollars at the state and local level.  However, this philosophy of collaboration that has fed the success of Denver charter schools is nonexistent in many states.  In Georgia, local school boards and professional organizations that represent the interests of adults and lobby for legislation, such as the Georgia Association of Educators and the Georgia School Superintendents Association, put up roadblocks to the success and growth of charter schools at every juncture.

The Georgia Charter Schools Association website states that “finding a facility can be the biggest stumbling block to launching a charter school in Georgia.”  Charter schools must lease and maintain facilities out of general operating funds.  Traditional public schools do not have to rent buildings for their schools, but local school districts are frequently unwilling to cooperate in allowing charter schools to utilize available buildings.  It is common in Georgia to see buildings owned by school districts going unused and falling into disrepair.  Georgia passed a law in 2013 to provide access to unused buildings but little has changed in how local school districts handle the vacant properties, which were paid for with taxpayer dollars for the education of all students.

 

Today, charter schools serve students in 43 states and are usually attended by students from diverse communities.  Over 2.5 million students currently attend charter schools in the United States.  These public schools successfully educate students from low-income homes in neighborhoods where traditional public schools are failing.  Persistent attempts to marginalize, limit, and weaken charter schools simply make no sense.  Shouldn’t Americans be willing to use public taxpayer dollars to educate kids in an environment that is safe and where innovation is breaking the monotony of dropout factories that fail kids year after year?  It only seems fair.

 

-by Rhonda Gatch

Land of Opportunity: Denver Still Represents

 

IMG_2257
Graduates shared their stories of being students at DSST of Denver and their successes in college thanks to their high school.

 

Presidents, such as John F. Kennedy, referred to America as “a city upon a hill”.  President Reagan called it a “shining city on a hill.”  The famed phrase derives from the Sermon on the Mount and was reiterated by newcomers to the New World as far back as 1630 when John Winthrop uttered the phrase to the New England colonists.  Even our current president has referred to our country as a beacon of freedom.  But upon examination of the failures of our public education system, one finds little freedom in school assignments that are carried out according to zip code mandates with no actual school choice for individual families and student needs.  America has struggled in recent decades to educate its own citizens- so is there any hope of success for educating recent immigrants and First Generation families?

After Denver Public Schools (DPS) struggled for too many decades with schools that were failing to educate kids, new solutions were established.  Charter schools in Denver have flourished due to a stunning amount of collaboration between the local school districts and the charter schools those districts have authorized, even including sharing of local funding.  These schools enjoy tremendous support from the surrounding communities, as well as from many community leaders, such as Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

Charter schools are public schools and serve all children, but schools that thrive like DSST, a group of STEM-focused charter schools with seven campuses, and STRIVE Preparatory Schools, are pioneering a new model of education.  DSST and STRIVE have produced amazing successes for students in Denver focusing primarily on providing college preparatory schools, attaining 100% acceptance into 4-year colleges for DSST graduates and 92% acceptance for new graduates of STRIVE.

The numbers at both of these Denver-based charter school networks illustrate achievements that far surpass those of traditional public school students of DPS.  STRIVE began ten years ago and is currently comprised of 87% students from low-income homes, 97% students of color, and 42% English Learners.  STRIVE students experienced an average of 1.5 years of growth in achievement, and 97% of elementary students met or exceeded academic growth on STEP performance standards.  Similarly, DSST charter network schools are closing the achievement gap at a far more successful rate than results achieved by traditional schools in DPS, as well as achieving far greater AP college readiness in courses across the board.  DSST is also made up of students who primarily come from low-income homes with two-thirds of students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.

In fact, according to the Colorado Department of Education 2016 triennial report on the state of charter schools, Colorado’s charter public schools are enrolling students of color and English Language Learners at higher rates than traditional public schools in the state.  These charter school students are continuing to outperform their counterparts in traditional public schools according to current state measurements of achievement.

What are some of the differences in teaching methods and expectations in a DSST classroom as opposed to a traditional DPS classroom?  For one thing, there are more students who are from low-income homes and who are far more racially diverse.  DSST as well as STRIVE maintain a laser-like focus on preparation for college for all students.  One reason for this decision to prepare students from every background for college is due to the outlook for future jobs in places like Denver, Colorado which indicates that a college education will be required for careers in the fastest growing job fields.  Findings published in the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce indicate that of 11.6 million jobs available since the economic recovery, 11.5 million were filled by adults who had attended college.  In other words, merely 100, 000 jobs went to those who were high school graduates only.

Three young women who were recent graduates of DSST in Denver explained some of the differences they had noticed while attending the school, as well as reflecting back on, their time in high school.  Two of the graduates were from families that were First Generation Americans.  They described the special attention from their teachers at DSST who spent time with them as they chose the colleges to which they would apply.  The teachers were more like mentors to them and really cared about them.  They also remembered that their workload was much greater than the study load expected from friends who attended other high schools in the area and always seemed to have more free time, but they acknowledged that this disciplined work ethic paid off for them, giving them the edge needed to succeed in college.  DSST is a STEM school that requires students to complete an internship related to future career choices.  All these factors together produced graduates who were full of confidence and were excellent communicators.

It’s easy to look at the incredible results achieved by Strive & DSST and to take their success for granted. It’s also easy to imagine that these amazing results could have occurred through some other means, educational methods or philosophy, or legislative action. But as skeptical as some onlookers may be, no one can deny the achievements of these students in Denver.  Denver embodies the tradition of a city on a hill, in fact it is the Mile-High City that is rising to new heights.

 

-Rhonda Gatch

Rhonda is a mom of two, and she was a secondary teacher for ten years.  She is passionate about the need to improve, as well as to expand, the educational opportunities available to families. Rhonda is co-founder and CEO of the organization, Moms for School Choice, and resides in the Atlanta area.

 

The Charter School Amendment in Georgia

Education March to the Georgia Capitol Nov. 2nd, 2012
In Georgia this Tuesday, citizens will vote on a constitutional amendment that reads:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon request of local communities?

http://brightergeorgia.org/learn-more/

UPDATE:

The Charter School Amendment to the Georgia constitution passed with overwhelming support across the state: 58.5%.  

Because the Charter School Amendment in Georgia passed on November 6th, 2012, the Charter School Commission will return as an independent authorizer for public charter schools.  The Commission serves as an appeals process for communities and parents who petition their local school board for a public charter school first.

http://midtown.patch.com/articles/charter-schools-amendment-results

Charter Schools in Georgia and the Families who Need Them

Drew Charter School in Atlanta.

When you listen to the stories of the moms and dads whose children desperately need school choice, you get a glimpse of the passion that fuels the school choice movement. As a parent, there is nothing more gut-wrenching than to watch your child suffer anguish everyday in a school that does not meet his or her needs. So what options are available when school is mandated based on a zip code, and options are denied those who may not have the bank account to afford private schooling?

Public charter schools have been an effective option for families in Georgia. They receive more flexibility and autonomy in exchange for more accountability: perform or else be closed. Recent CRCT results indicate the successes of public charter schools in our state, particularly independent or start-up charter schools. For example, Drew Charter School serves a disadvantaged community in Atlanta. Students at Drew scored 12.4% higher than the district average in Reading and 27.6% higher in Math.

Another high achieving school in DeKalb, the 2-year-old Museum School of Avondale Estates, achieved 100% in Reading two years in a row. Math scores showed 97.5% meeting or exceeding standards.  The list of achievements continues at public charter schools in Georgia when compared to CRCT performances at traditional public schools throughout their districts. And the longer a student remains enrolled at a charter school, the more that student’s testing results improve.

But if public charter schools that are independent are so efective, why are there so few in existence in Georgia- less than 2% of total public schools? Why aren’t more public charter school petitions being approved by local school boards?

Recently, the rancor has gotten so ugly in some local school board meetings in Georgia that sitting school board members have had the temerity to tell citizens to move out of the district if they need something that better fits the individualized needs of their children. Perhaps those school board members have been too busy blasting parents to notice the ongoing downturn in the housing market and high unemployment rate that makes such callous and unsolicited advice virtually impossible.

The divisiveness within the educational system has intensified as GAE, or Georgia Association of Educators, many superintendents, and certain local school board members have led the charge seeking to discredit public charter schools and to reject as many charter petitions as possible. Some students who love their public charter schools are even frightened to wear school spirit shirts in their own communities! Adults have gone too far when they have intimidated their neighbors to this extent.

Recently, an uniformed citizen wrote in a publication that “the amendment takes power from local school boards that usually listen to parental desires”. No statement could be further from reality.

Instead, if one follows the money that has been contributed to the anti-Amendment
One group Vote Smart!, one will find the power bases that are opposing the Charter School Amendment. Georgia Representative Edward Lindsey recently commented in the AJC on the financial backing of such opposition groups:

“This isn’t about ideology,” Lindsey says. “It’s about turf. It’s about those folks who have a vested interest, no matter how mediocre the present may be, in not changing.”

The turf in question is the power to approve charter schools — and thus how some public education funds are spent.

Thirty-four of them are current or former superintendents. That group gave more than $16,000.

Another 30 are other types of school-system administrators: area superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors of some kind or another. These folks contributed an additional $14,000.

Eleven members of various school boards around Georgia gave almost $4,000. Ten principals shelled out $2,576.

In all, almost 60 percent of the Vote SMART! donors and more than a third of its donations came from people who run our traditional public schools. That’s one bit of turf.

Then there are the professional organizations: the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia School Boards Association and Georgia School Superintendents Association. Fifteen employees of these groups donated more than $15,000.

Additionally, the funds to oppose the charter school amendment were contributed by for-profit companies that traditional public school systems hire when they outsource projects and contracts for work.

In fact, 35 people or firms who do business with traditional public schools, from attorneys and consultants to architects and contractors, have given more than $32,000….

Georgia’s educational system involves money, power, politics, and bureaucracy that exerts control at the expense of Georgia’s students and families. Opposing the Charter School Amendment will deny students from lower income neighborhoods or disadvantaged circumstances a school where they can thrive and succeed. The fact is that families want more educational options and freedom to choose a school that is the right fit for their son or daughter. Contrary to spurious assertions, public charter schools in Georgia serve a higher proportion of minority students than do traditional schools.

http://www.gacharters.org/uncategorized/governors-office-presents-analysis-of-charter-school-funding/

While taxpayers fund local public schools through property taxes, not one cent will go to students in a state-approved public charter school in Georgia due to legislation that outlines the new funding formula, HB 797. Local districts will hoard the windfall of tax dollars from every family that makes the choice to send their child to a different school, including the option of a public charter school. Local school boards and superintendents should be celebrating the victory they achieved during the last legislative session in demanding that all property taxes fund only certain public schools, not state-approved public charter schools.

The state of Georgia continues to spend more on education than any other state in the Southeast, yet if Georgians simply continue the status quo, then our state will continue to rank near the bottom in education nationally.

The storm that has hit the educational system in Georgia has created some strange bedfellows and contortions of logic. The entrenched education establishment is shrieking as their power and their turf are being threatened. Still, when the twister stops spinning, it should not be Georgia’s students on which the house falls. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: the great educrats may have spoken, but the yellow brick road is paved with educational options and freedom for all.

Rhonda Gatch

A Thousand Words in Rally Pictures

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Charter Schools Work! Rally was a great success as public charter school students, parents, teachers, & community leaders praised the phenomenal success of Georgia’s public charter schools, including the host of this event- Heritage Prep Charter School in Atlanta!

Major news networks were among the crowd- including coverage from CBS Atlanta.  A favorite sound bite came from Dekalb school board member- Nancy Jester:

“You’re special, you’re unique, & you’re fighting for your right to have a unique education that is tailored to make you successful, the best person you can be!”

Special thanks to Heritage Prep Charter School and parent & student speakers.  We greatly appreciate members of the Georgia Legislature who came out to participate and speak:

Sen. Chip Rogers

Rep. Alisha Thomas-Morgan

Rep. Ed Lindsey

Michael Geist- school board member

Nancy Jester- school board member

Rich Thompson- 100 Dads

Dr. Brown Van- principal, HPCS

Press Release: Charter Schools Work! RALLY in Atlanta

“CHARTER SCHOOLS WORK!” RALLY
Sen. Chip Rogers confirmed to speak

ATLANTA
– (October 17, 2012) – Moms for School Choice, in collaboration with Heritage Preparatory Charter School and Georgia’s Voice for Educational Choice, is organizing a grassroots, bi-partisan charter school rally on Oct. 27. The rally will showcase students from some of the outstanding, high-performing Georgia public charter schools before the Nov. 6 vote on Amendment 1 – The Charter School Amendment (HR1162).

The event will take place on Sat., Oct. 27, 2012, at 10 a.m. on the campus of Heritage Preparatory Charter School (3350 Greenbriar Parkway SW, Atlanta, Ga., 30331). Check-in will begin at 9:30 a.m.

The rally is drawing bi-partisan support from Ga. Sen. Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Cherokee), Ga. State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell), Dekalb County Board of Education Member Nancy Jester, Cherokee County Board of Education Member Michael Geist, and Rich Thompson of 100 Dads, who are confirmed to speak to the students and families at the event.

Georgia currently ranks near the bottom – 48th nationally – in education with a 65 percent high school graduation rate statewide.  Public charter schools play an important role in providing parents with school choice options to address these staggering statistics. Unfortunately today, too many in Georgia still are not aware of the existence of charter schools or their mission.

The theme of the rally is “Charter Schools WORK!” because charter schools work for students, families, communities, and Georgia.

Students from Heritage Preparatory Charter School, Cherokee Charter Academy, and other Georgia public charter schools are set to perform. Students attending the rally from public charter schools will be dressed in their school uniforms/colors with signs handmade by the students themselves.

Visit our Facebook event page (Charter-Schools-WORK-Rally)
for additional details.

******

About Heritage Preparatory Charter School
Heritage Preparatory Academy serves the needs of middle school students in Atlanta neighborhoods with high crime rates. The school offers its students a challenging, globally relevant academic program in a community-building environment meant to counteract the negative influences of drugs, gangs, violence and crime. To learn more about the school or to enroll your student, visit
http://www.heritageprepcharter.org.

About Moms for School Choice
Founded in 2012, Moms for School Choice is a grassroots, non-partisan, non-profit organization that exists to promote the many school options for families: public, charter, private, homeschool, or virtual. Each child is unique and deserves a school environment where they can reach their full educational potential. For more information, visit
momsforschoolchoice.ning.com.

About Georgia’s Voice for Educational Choice
Georgia’s Voice for Educational Choice was formed by parents and citizens residing in Cherokee County.  We are passionate about providing the children of Georgia every opportunity available within education to secure their continued success throughout life.  We believe that school choice is an absolute necessity in reaching this goal. For more information on Georgia’s Voice for Educational Choice, visitschoolchoicegeorgia.org.
Kimberly Cochran
Moms for School Choice
Become a member: http://www.momsforschoolchoice.ning.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MomsforSchoolChoice
Twitter: @Moms4EdChoice

http://eastpoint.11alive.com/news/events/141049-bi-partisan-rally-drum-support-charter-schools