Monthly Archives

May 2023

New report: Federal Charter Schools Program & ROI

By News

A new report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools highlights the tangible return on federal investment in the Charter Schools Program (CSP). Released earlier this month, the report outlines numerous ways the CSP has helped bolster the charter movement nationwide.

Small investment–but big impact

Funded at $440M in FY 2023, the CSP accounts for less than 1% of all federal spending on K-12 education. Moreover, as the Alliance notes, the CSP is “the only source of dedicated federal funding to support the creation, expansion, and replication of public charter schools.” Yet its impacts are big.

In a press release, Nina Rees, the president and CEO of the Alliance, said:

This report explores the impact of the CSP on communities around the country, and makes the case for increased funding for the program. In the report, we explain the charter school model, offer a brief history of the CSP, profile inspiring grantees, and address persistent misconceptions. Charter schools are a vital part of the public school ecosystem, and by advocating for the CSP, we can help more students access a public school that meets their unique needs.

Read the full report.

The Charter Movement Makes Gains in State Legislatures Nationwide

By Legislation, News

It has been a beneficial spring for the public charter school movement. That’s the key finding outlined in a new blog post from Todd Ziebarth, the senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. During the Spring 2023 legislative sessions, states such as Montana, Indiana, Arkansas, New York, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Florida, and West Virginia all enacted legislation favorable to charter schools.

So far, the most significant legislative advancement has been in Montana, Ziebarth writes:

Perhaps the biggest win this session comes from Big Sky Country, the great state of Montana, where it is now the 46th state with a charter school law. After a roller coaster ride of a session, the legislature passed two charter school bills, and Governor Greg Gianforte signed The Community Choice Schools Act (HB 562) into law on May 16, 2023.

We partnered with a coalition of organizations and individuals in Montana to get HB 562 passed by the legislature. This bill creates a new statewide charter school authorizing entity and provides charter schools with the flexibility to innovate while holding them accountable for results.

Lawmakers in a number of states, including North Carolina, are still considering major charter school bills. During the Spring 2023 legislative session in our state, the Coalition has been advocating intensively for charter interests, with a special focus on HB 219, Charter School Omnibus, and HB 618, Charter School Review Board. Learn more about these important bills in this Coalition blog post.

Reminder to apply for the Yass Prize & STOP Awards

By News

Don’t forget to apply for the Yass Prize and STOP Awards! The application for the awards–which recognize education innovators seeking to transform education– is open through July 15. Learn more here.

Here’s what the Yass Foundation says about the awards:

The mission of the Yass Prize and STOP Awards Initiative is to identify and support more best in class education providers who can tackle the big education challenges of the day and deliver an education for students that is Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding and Permissionless. It’s more than an awards program or a philanthropic endeavor. It’s a movement intended to transform education for everyone.

In 2022, the Yass Foundation for Education awarded more than $20 million in grants to new and alumni organizations, including the prestigious $1 million Yass Prize to transform education, given to the group that most exemplifies the STOP principles.

Want to learn more about what’s next? See the timeline below from the Yass Foundation or click here. Read about 2022 awardees here.

Timeline courtesy of the Yass Foundation: The Yass Prize and STOP Awards in Education.

Nine N.C. Charter Schools Win 2023 Purple Star Awards

By Awards, News

Nine North Carolina charter schools have won 2023 Purple Star Awards, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction announced yesterday. These awards, which recognize service to military-affiliated students and their families, went to 336 public charter and public district schools across the state. The Purple Star Award program began in 2019-20, so this its fourth year of operation. Congratulations to all of these public schools for their exemplary service to military families!

The charter schools winning 2023 Purple Star awards are:

  • Alpha Academy
  • Anderson Creek Academy
  • Northeast Academy for Aerospace & Advanced Technologies (NEAAAT)
  • North Carolina Cyber Academy
  • Pine Springs Preparatory Academy
  • The Academy of Moore County
  • Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy
  • Southern Wake Academy
  • Wayne Preparatory Academy

Of these nine charter schools, five are Coalition member schools (in bold).

Superintendent Catherine Truitt and Brigadier General Colin P. Tuley at a ceremony this week recognizing 2023 Purple Star Award winners. Photo credit: N.C. DPI.

In a Department of Public Instruction press release yesterday, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said:

These Purple Star Awardees have gone beyond the standard call of duty to ensure their school and classroom environments accommodate military-connected students. Their dedication to these students allows them to be seen, heard, and valued in their new school and feel supported as they adjust to their new surroundings. The growth this program has seen in its few short years of existence is incredibly promising and something I am especially grateful for.

Here is how DPI summarized the requirements for the Purple Star Award:

Schools earning the Purple Star Award were required to have a staff member as a designated point of contact for military students and families, a designated central administration staff member supporting the point of contact in the school and also the provision of annual professional development addressing special considerations for military students and families. Purple Star schools also provide a dedicated page on their websites for military family resources or links to the district’s webpage with military family resources as well as a transition program to support inbound and outbound military students and families, along with a checklist for their use.

Click here to see the full list of 2023 Purple Star Award winners. Congratulations, Purple Star Award winners–and especially, to Coalition member schools!

Charter Schools Experience High Demand for 2023-24

By News

Earlier this week, the Coalition distributed a press release highlighting high demand for N.C. charter schools for the upcoming school year. As the release notes, in some parts of North Carolina, charter school admission rates “rival those of Ivy League universities (the difference, of course, is charter schools select students via random lottery.)”

The release features new findings from the Coalition regarding 2023-24 applications. Some data points are included below.

  • Piedmont Community Charter School in Gaston County: 1,569 students applied for 297 available spots.
  • Greensboro Academy in Guilford County: 2,201 students applied for 76 open seats (all of them in kindergarten).
  • Bradford Preparatory School in Mecklenburg County: There were 2,905 applications for 252 spots.
  • Pine Lake Preparatory in Iredell County: There were 4,142 applications for 168 spots.

In this year’s charter school annual report, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction reports a charter school waiting list of 77,000 student names.

Lindalyn Kakadelis, the Coalition’s executive director, said:

In just the past 10 years, the population of public charter school students has tripled, and the trend does not appear to be slowing down. Thankfully, the General Assembly lifted the charter school cap years ago, and parents across the state are grateful for the legislature’s support for school choice.

Find the Coalition’s press release here.

Q&A: 2023 Charter School Teacher of the Year Ryan Henderson

By News

 As part of National Charter Schools Week and Teacher Appreciation Week, Kristen Blair, the Coalition’s communications director, spoke with Ryan Henderson, the 2023 N.C. Charter School Teacher of the Year. The goal: spotlight his innovative work with students and his vision for teaching at one of the state’s oldest, most effective public charter schools. Mr. Henderson teaches TV/Film and Journalism to high school students at Sugar Creek Charter School in Charlotte—a school that seeks to “eradicate generational poverty” by providing a rigorous K-12 education “through academic preparation, college and career readiness and life skills for success.”

 You began your career in education as a substitute teacher in New Jersey. What came next and what compelled you to pursue a career as a teacher?

 Ryan Henderson: I had no intentions of becoming a schoolteacher. When I got out of college, I was doing freelance television in Philadelphia. I started substitute teaching to supplement that income. People saw that I had a pretty good knack for being in the classroom and influencing young people in a positive way. Once my son was born, I said, ‘Well, I can’t strap him on my hip and take him around Philadelphia and all over the country doing freelance TV productions!’ I knew education was a steady job for me that I could do and be in one place. So, I decided to go back to school and do a post-baccalaureate program to become a teacher. After some time, I got my teaching certificate and became a teacher of TV broadcasting, and I’m glad I did because now I get to utilize what I went to school for.

This is my sixth year down here [at Sugar Creek Charter School]. I ended up at this school, which is over 90% Black students and the rest Hispanic and other ethnic groups. I just feel like when God tells you to move—sometimes you don’t know why—but you make good decisions based on being patient and trying to understand where your journey is going.  I’ve been at Sugar Creek ever since and I love what I do.

I took a side step and became a substitute teacher again when we moved down here because there were no TV broadcasting jobs open and that’s what I’m certified in. Eventually, a TV broadcasting job opened up, I applied, and I got the position. I’ve been teaching TV and broadcasting for four years now. My school is for the underprivileged, underserved community. I get more joy in letting somebody know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a route you can take that can help you become the best you that you can be. I love that about my job.

 What drew you to teach at a public charter school and to Sugar Creek Charter School, specifically?

 Ryan Henderson: When I walk up and down these hallways, I see my people. I see an opportunity to help my people. You have a lot of different ethnic groups and races in this country, but how many of us can actually say, ‘I helped my people’? That’s a passion of mine: to help my people—the underserved, underprivileged communities. I look at my own children, and I see my children in these children. That’s what kept me here.

What’s the best part about your work as a high school teacher of TV Broadcasting and Journalism?

 Ryan Henderson: I always say this to my colleagues: ‘I have the best job in the building.’ We can talk about anything we want that’s newsworthy and TV-worthy. We get to visit all of the other classes in the school and share it with the community. I have a long reach. My principal, Mr. Young, always tells us that we are the mouthpiece of the school.

Ryan Henderson with his students at Sugar Creek Charter School.

Take us behind the scenes of the “Wildcat Daily News.”

 Ryan Henderson: It’s exciting. We’re in our second semester so I have a new crew right now. This is our fourth quarter so we’re wrapping things up. We do a lot of the three phases of production: pre-production, production, and post-production. People don’t realize how long it takes to do the things that we do. They see the finished product on the screen. My kids come in and they have a routine. They love it. They come running to my class, they’re so excited.

If there’s a field trip, it’s a requirement that somebody from Wildcat Daily News is on that trip. Sometimes all of us go. So, we have that job of adventure. But my students embrace the hard work because of the results they get out of it. They’re like mini rock stars in our school.

You toured WCNC recently with your students. Why is it important for students to see what’s possible?

Ryan Henderson: You know that old saying, ‘Seeing is believing’? It’s true. Sometimes you have to touch and see what is possible in order to believe it. The fact that we had the opportunity to go on that trip made it real; it made it possible for our students. They had a different outlook on what is possible after that trip. I could see it on their faces. When they came back, they were excited, and they took their job more seriously because they had an example of adults doing the same thing that they were doing.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt honors Ryan Henderson as the 2023 N.C. Charter School Teacher of the Year. All photo credits: Ryan Henderson.

Ryan Henderson is recognized at Sugar Creek Charter School in Charlotte.

In January, you were honored as North Carolina’s 2023 Charter School Teacher of the Year. What was that like? What is your goal for this year as you occupy this role?  

 Ryan Henderson: Just to be picked in my school—main campus and high school—to represent Sugar Creek Charter School was all I needed. That was the highlight of my teaching career in itself. Being recognized by Sugar Creek Charter School warms your heart. The rest of the state? That was great but it was just icing on the cake. The real honor for me was being honored by my own people. That brings tears to my eyes.

As far as my goals are concerned, I’m just going to keep doing what got me to this point. We have a lot of work to do in our communities, and it doesn’t stop because I get recognized. The recognition is wonderful. But the work doesn’t stop. That’s my motivation—because we have so much work to do, and there are always going to be younger people coming up who need help and direction.

Could you share your philosophy of education? You referred to the importance of ‘the five W’s and the H’ in your video interview with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

 Ryan Henderson: If you take that formula—the five Ws and the H [who, what, when, where, why, and how]—and apply it to anything in your life, not just journalism, you can apply it to your daily routine. When you ask those questions, you’re going to make it easier for yourself to make informed decisions. You might not get all of the answers but at least you put it out there, so you have a complete body of work and now you’re better informed on how to move forward. That’s my philosophy on life, not just teaching.  If you use that formula in life, you are going to make better decisions.

You mentor teachers who are at the beginning of their careers in education. What is the impetus behind that work?

Ryan Henderson: You don’t always want to go to your supervisor for certain things because you don’t want to seem like you’re incompetent, even though that’s not the intention. It’s always good to have somebody older or who has been in teaching longer than you have to give you guidance. We all need it, no matter what profession we’re in.

We’re dealing with young people. This isn’t a desk job where we’re in a cubicle. You’re dealing with human lives and at the same time you have to carry out lesson plans. So, that’s very complicated and sensitive. You’re a teacher yourself; you’re not a machine. You have your thoughts and feelings about this new profession. So, to have somebody that lets you know you’re not alone, that’s a real benefit. That’s the purpose behind it.

We’re losing a lot of teachers. Let’s just be real about that. They don’t feel protected; they feel overwhelmed. I want to let the younger teachers know that we’re all in this together: ‘If you have questions, ask. You’re not alone.’ This is not an easy job. Sometimes it’s a thankless job. But when you see the results, it can be the best, most rewarding career you’ll ever have.

 What is your favorite charter school moment?

 Ryan Henderson: Wow. I would say when my students spoke on my behalf. They had rounds for Charter School Teacher of the Year, and as one of the components of the rounds, you had to have students speak on your behalf as well as parents, colleagues, and your principal. I happened to be outside the door when my students were in the cafeteria, and they were all hooked up with headphones and laptops. When they were finished with their session [sharing input for Teacher of the Year], there was a great big roar, like they had just won a championship.

I came in and said, ‘What’s happening?’ They said, ‘Mr. Henderson, we killed that!’ They were speaking about me. So, that right there let me know I’m doing something right. The fact that they felt that strongly about me brought me to tears. That was my best moment.

Read more about Ryan Henderson:


Leap of Faith: A Former Teacher from the State’s Second Largest School System Chooses a Charter School

By News

It’s National Charter Schools Week 2023! Today also marks the start of National Teacher Appreciation Week. What better way to bring both celebrations together than by highlighting a hardworking teacher at a public charter school? In this spotlight, the Coalition features Erika Harkey, a special education teacher at Community Public Charter School.


Erika and Ben Harkey enrolled their children, Arielle and Troy, at Community Public Charter School (CPCS) in 2020, just one year after the Gaston County charter school opened. That decision represented a leap of faith. Erika’s experience in education included work as a teacher in the state’s second largest school system, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). Moreover, CPCS, the charter school, was new and untested. The Harkeys’ local elementary school, on the other hand, was established—and walkable.

“We literally can see an elementary school out our window, and we share a property line with our public middle school,” Erika says. “Convenience-wise, you can’t get any better than that! So, it was a big decision to take them out.”

Philosophical differences over instruction fueled the decision to leave. “One of the biggest reasons was the public school was using this program called i-Ready,” Erika says. “The students were on screens a lot of the day. We just didn’t like that.”

Screen immersion was a poor fit for Troy, then a second grader. “We could see how our son was going down with his confidence level,” Erika says. “He could never tell us what he did.” Another red flag: A teacher left mid-year for CPCS, citing concerns about i-Ready. “I thought, ‘Wow, that is a big deal to leave in the middle of the year,’” Erika says. “That kind of clued me in.”

She quickly dove into research about schooling options, including CPCS. The next year, she and Ben enrolled Troy and Arielle at CPCS. Now in fifth and second grades, both children are flourishing.

Troy, Ben, Arielle, and Erika Harkey. Photo credit: Erika Harkey.

Core Knowledge and ‘American values’

A K-8 campus, CPCS is a Title I school, with over one-third of students living in poverty. CPCS utilizes Core Knowledge in its curriculum, a content sequence that has shown great promise for spurring achievement. A new study from University of Virginia researchers found Core Knowledge had significant, positive effects on students’ reading achievement. (At one low-income charter school in the study, reading gains from Core Knowledge eliminated the income-based achievement gap. Read more from Fordham Institute.)

CPCS also features “American values,” according to school materials.  Students recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily and take pride in the military, Erika says. They seek to model core virtues, such as respect, responsibility, and diligence.

From Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to a charter school

Two years after enrolling her children, Erika is now a full-time special education teacher at CPCS. “I taught in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for five years in a self-contained classroom, helping students with very high needs.” Erika says. She left CMS when she had her first baby, expecting to go back to work at some point. This fall, circumstances aligned for a return to teaching.

“My son is one of the kids; he has autism,” Erika says. “I could see that the team needed help and they were having a hard time finding special ed teachers. I have a little bit of experience in that!”

Her day-to-day work has changed somewhat. “It is resource level,” Erika says. “It’s not self-contained. I’m in middle school, so these are children that have relatively good behaviors. They just need some extra support within the room.”

Traditional teaching and local control

For Ben, the traditional teaching model at CPCS has been a key selling point. “You have a better sense of what students are learning day to day,” he says.

In addition, the charter school’s governance structure fosters access to leaders—and influence over decisions. “At CPCS, you also have more localized control,” Ben says. “We are able to Zoom into the board meetings, which are comprised of about a half dozen folks, most of whom I know. It’s not the red tape and bureaucracy that you have in your normal county school system. If you want to make a change, then you just sign up and bring it before the board, they vote, and there you go!”

What about a family’s option to choose a charter school? Public debate over school choice is often hypothetical. But personal investment changes the stakes. “When it’s your kid, it’s different,” Ben says. “You have a different set of eyes.”

N.C. House Passes Favorable Charter Bills

By News

Yesterday the N.C. House passed two bills with significant and positive charter impacts. H.B. 219, Charter School Omnibus, includes provisions that impact charter school funding, enrollment growth, admission preferences, and more. Learn more about specific provisions in the bill in this blog post. H.B. 219 passed the House by a 75-42 vote.

H.B. 618, Charter School Review Board, also passed the House by a 75-42 vote. This bill would streamline and expedite the process for charter applications and renewals. It would convert the current Charter Schools Advisory Board into a Charter School Review Board with the authority to provide final approval on new charter schools and charter renewals. Currently, the State Board of Education has this authority, while the Charter Schools Advisory Board makes recommendations. Under H.B. 618, the State Board would become an appellate entity for the Review Board’s decisions.

The Coalition actively supports both bills, which have now been sent to the Senate. Today is the General Assembly’s crossover deadline. To stay viable, bills must pass out of one chamber and into the other by the end of the day.

House Ed Committee Approves Bills with Charter Impacts

By Legislation, News

Earlier today the House Education – K-12 Committee approved H.B. 219, Charter School Omnibus, along with several other bills of interest to charter operators. To remain viable, these bill must pass the full House before the crossover deadline this Thursday, May 4.

H.B. 219 Summary

We are pleased that this important bill has made it out of the Education Committee. The Coalition has advocated for an aggressive legislative agenda this session, and our team has been working hard to secure passage of H.B. 219. The latest version of H.B. 219 includes a long list of high priority policy changes that will benefit public charter schools. Unfortunately, it does not include the fair funding provision we hoped for. So, in this new version of the bill, we got some—but not all—of what we wanted. That’s how politics works; negotiation is an inevitable part of getting legislation passed. Know that our work to push for fair funding and charter autonomy continues full steam ahead.

What’s in the latest version of H.B. 219? The bill:

  • Outlaws impact statements from local school districts for charter applications, renewals, amendments, or terminations
  • Specifies that a charter school’s academic performance for targeted subgroups must be judged in comparison to the academic outcomes for the same student subgroups in a district
  • Eliminates the 30% enrollment cap for schools that are not low-performing
  • Permits charter schools to admit out-of-state and foreign exchange students, and charge these students tuition
  • Allows an admission preference for military families
  • Prohibits local school districts from discriminating against charter school students in admission to any district school or special program
  • Allows county commissioners to provide capital funds to charter schools
  • Expresses the General Assembly’s intention for comparable per pupil funding: “It is the intent of the General Assembly to ensure that State and local funds for students attending charter schools shall be provided in a manner that results in per-pupil funding approximately equal to that provided for students attending other public school units.”
  • Provides for charter schools to be paid by the state based on actual enrollment, rather than being limited by the July estimate. Specifically, the bill states that charters shall be paid based on “the number of students actually enrolled in the school, up to the maximum authorized enrollment …”
  • Requires that the State Board of Education determine classifications for interscholastic athletics at public charter and nonpublic schools based on the “classification of the school or schools that the largest percentage of the student body of that school would have been assigned to attend” in the district. This is new language that was not in the initial version of H.B. 219, and the Coalition is working to have it removed.

What isn’t in this version of H.B. 219?

  • The authorization for charter schools to adopt a micro school program has been removed.
  • The updated bill also removes the explicit fair funding requirement, reflected in Section 7. (c) of Part 7 of the original bill. This provision would have required the local district to transfer to a charter school “an amount equal to the per pupil share of the local current expense fund of the local school administrative unit for the fiscal year” within 30 days of receipt. We pushed hard for this provision–and will continue our fight for fair funding in future legislative advocacy efforts.

Standardizing local payments to charter schools

Our work to secure fair funding for charter schools continues on multiple fronts. For instance, we are continuing our collaboration with leaders at the Department of Public Instruction to standardize local payments, ensuring that public schools in our state use the same process and forms. We anticipate that the new standardized system will be fully operational for the upcoming 2023-24 school year. This system will streamline the process and ensure transparency. In addition, it will also create important infrastructure for the transfer of funds as we continue our work to secure more equitable funding at the local level.

Removal of Part II in H.B. 823, Choose Your School, Choose Your Future

Today the House Education-K-12 Committee also removed Part II of H.B. 823, Choose Your School, Choose Your Future. Part II in the original version of this bill, which largely addresses the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, would have required all public school units to offer a three-year pathway to high school graduation. Charter operators had expressed a number of concerns about the impacts of this provision on their capacity to innovate at the high school level. The Coalition pushed hard for the removal of Part II from this bill, and we are pleased it was taken out of the version the committee approved.

H.B. 618, Charter School Review Board

Finally, the House Ed Committee also approved H.B. 618, Charter School Review Board–a bill the Coalition actively supports. Last week, the Coalition wrote a letter to committee members, urging approval of the bill and noting that it will help streamline and expedite the process for charter applications and renewals.