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New swing state poll: Black & Hispanic voters strongly support school choice

By Election 2024, News

A new poll of Black and Hispanic voters in seven battleground states finds high levels of support for public school choice. The poll, released July 10 by the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools, assessed the views of 906 likely voters in states that are expected to play a pivotal role in the 2024 election. Those states are: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

In a press release highlighting findings, FCCS noted:

The poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Black and Hispanic swing state voters want families to have more options in the public school system, specifically the ability to send children to schools other than those they’re assigned to and that will best meet the needs of the children. There is also strong support among respondents for greater investments in public schools, including charter schools, which are free and accessible to all and positively impact students of color.

Key findings for Black and Hispanic voters:

  • 91% agree parents deserve the right to choose the public school that best meets their child’s individual needs.
  • 90% support increasing funding for all public schools, including public charter schools.
  • 81% want to give parents more schooling options in education.
  • 68% agree that children living in their neighborhood would access a better education if they could attend a school outside their zip code.
  • 66% believe public schools are failing Black/Latino children (75% of Black voters and 58% of Hispanic voters).
  • 61% describe the quality of American public schools as either “fair” or “poor.”
  • Just 50% agree that most Black/Latino children who attend their assigned public school receive a quality education (38% of Black voters and 61% of Hispanic voters).

Source: “Offering a Choice for Quality Education,” Polling presentation by Cornell Belcher, July 2024.

Learn more

Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies conducted the poll in conjunction with FCCS between June 4-10, 2024. Brilliant Corners is a polling firm run by Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher.

Union Academy celebrates multiple student awards

By Awards, News

Congratulations to Union Academy‘s 2023-24 Varsity Cheer Team! The team at the Monroe, North Carolina, charter school recently celebrated winning the Commissioner’s Trophy from the NCHSAA (North Carolina High School Athletic Association). Presented in partnership with Truist, the NCHSAA trophy is awarded to high school sports teams that do outstanding community service work. Winning school teams receive a $1,000 stipend.

In a press release announcing the award, UA noted:

Union Academy’s Varsity Cheerleading Team was awarded the NCHSAA Commissioner’s Trophy for Community Service at the 2023-24 Awards Celebration held in Greensboro on June 12. The team created a service project called “Cardinals Helping Cardinals” that sponsors a mini food pantry on campus that provides emergency food supplies for students and their families that face food insecurities. The program helps provide 8-10 backpacks of food each week to the school’s counseling department which are then distributed to those in need. Cheerleaders contribute to the pantry, accept donations, and pack the bags each week. Additionally, the team volunteers with the Community Shelter of Union County, InReach, and Operation Christmas Child and contributes to the Stocking Project through Alliance for Children and to Turning Point.

This is the second time UA’s Varsity Cheer Team has won the NCHSAA Commissioner’s Trophy for Community Service (2018-19).  

Union Academy’s 2023-24 Varsity Cheer Team. Photo credit: Union Academy.

Read more about the award in The Enquirer Journal.

And in other UA good news, the school’s Senior A Team placed first in the state in the 4-H Poultry Judging contest.

A press release from UA noted:

Union Academy sent two Senior Teams and one Junior Team to the North Carolina 4-H State Poultry Judging Championships. The Senior A Team placed 1st in the state and received an invitation to compete for a National Championship in November to be held in Kentucky (Lindsay Van Art, Aubrey Mekus, Blake Carter, and Bella Mitchell). The Senior B Team placed 2nd in the State (Sofia Manriquez, Elizabeth Williams, and Levi Carter). The Junior Team placed 2nd in the State (Lacie Alexander, Colton Alexander, Bradley Carter).

Union Academy’s state champion Senior A Team. Photo credit: Union Academy.

Read more in Union County Weekly and The Enquirer Journal.

Congratulations to all of these award-winning Union Academy students!

 

 

 

Senate Bill 559 becomes law, providing charters with additional State Health Plan opportunity

By News

S.B. 559, which creates a new opportunity for charter schools to participate in the State Health Plan, is now state law. The General Assembly ratified S.B. 559 on June 28, and the Governor signed the bill (now Session Law 2024-42) on Monday.

Prior to passage of S.B. 559, charter schools wishing to participate in the State Health Plan after two years of operation had to go through the General Assembly. Now, they may apply directly to the State Health Plan’s board, expediting and simplifying the application process. In addition, the new law specifically provides for four named charter schools to join the State Health Plan this school year–a remarkable result of effective and expeditious advocacy!

The Coalition worked hard to secure this bipartisan legislative victory for the state’s charter schools, with lobbyist Lee Teague leading charter advocacy efforts on S.B. 559. Lee ensured the bill cleared an array of hurdles and moved at breakneck speed so our schools could have the provision in place for 2024.

Securing a legislative victory requires advocacy work on many fronts, and we wanted to share some of them with you below.

Strategic and tactical, Lee’s advocacy efforts included:

  • Working with Rep. Jeff Zenger to file the bill.
  • Negotiating with the State Treasurer’s Department to secure support.
  • Ensuring schools replied promptly to Fiscal Research for development of the bill’s fiscal impact statement.
  • Moving the language from a House to Senate bill to speed passage.
  • Working to secure agreement from Rep. Carson Smith, chairman of the House Pensions Committee, to hold a committee hearing just for the Coalition’s bill. This is highly unusual!
  • Pushing to get the bill moved from the Senate Rules Committee to the floor.
  • Working to include a provision allowing charters’ future participation in the State Health Plan.
  • Convincing the House to appoint conferees.
  • Ensuring no items were added that could draw a gubernatorial veto. There was no time for an override vote!
  • Working with Sen. Joyce Krawiec to ensure the Senate did not add items the House would reject.

Thank you, Lee, for your capable and sustained advocacy on this bill! We’re also grateful to Rep. Zenger, Rep. Smith, and Sen. Krawiec, who in addition to sponsoring the bill, worked behind the scenes to ensure a unanimous Senate vote.

School leaders react

As mentioned above, the bill enables four charter schools (and Coalition members) to join the State Health Plan for this 2024-25 school year. Those schools are: United Community School, North Carolina Leadership Academy, Alpha Academy, and Durham Charter School.

Tim Hedgepeth, the director of operations for United Community School, said:

We are very thankful to the Coalition for advocating on our behalf to be added to the NC State Health Plan. Lee went above and beyond with his communication and with his drive to see this through. There is no way our school would have successfully got on the State Health Plan this year without the advocacy of the NC Coalition for Charter Schools. It’s good to have this support in Raleigh!

Renee Faenza, the principal at North Carolina Leadership Academy, said:

For our charter school, joining the State Health Plan provides tremendous savings to our staff and allows our school to retain quality teachers! Words cannot express our gratitude!

Eugene Slocum, the CEO and superintendent of Alpha Academy, said:

We’re so appreciative of the Coalition’s effective advocacy in Raleigh, and especially in ensuring Alpha Academy could join the State Health Plan this year. Lee Teague worked tirelessly to secure this outcome, which will now directly benefit our teachers and staff in the upcoming school year. Charter schools have a strong and powerful ally in the Coalition.

Alex Quigley, the executive director at Durham Charter School, said:

Lee Teague has secured a significant legislative victory for Durham Charter School that will directly impact the month-to-month finances of our teachers. By securing S.B. 559, enabling Durham Charter to enter the State Health Plan, he has single-handedly given a raise to almost all of our teachers and enabled many of them to now afford providing quality insurance to their dependents. Lee kept us updated throughout the process and provided specific action steps for us to support him along the way. We’re very grateful for Lee and the Coalition’s leadership, and we believe this bill will pave the way for all charters to eventually have the option of participating in the State Health Plan.

We’re glad that charter schools can now get in to the State Health Plan at any time, but we will continue to seek flexibility for them to exit the State Health Plan as well, if desired.

Read more

  • View Session Law 2024-42. In addition to its provisions impacting the State Health Plan, the new law also addresses parental leave for certain charter school employees.
  • See the Governor’s press release outlining the 12 bills he signed into law on Monday (including S.B. 559). Read an article from WRAL.

*This post has been updated since its publication.

Permanence, postponed: A charter facility built on personal loans and delay

By News

Situated on 11 acres in Asheville, North Carolina, the Franklin School of Innovation offers families a charter school experience amid sweeping vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The school, which launched a decade ago, serves 700 students in grades 5-12, melding real-world learning with soft skills and character education. It’s working: Accolades are rolling in. In 2023, FSI garnered “Best of Asheville” awards in middle, high, and charter school categories. This year, it ranks among the state’s top 20 charter high schools.

It’s all happening in a facility that’s beautiful, commodious—and new.

Is FSI an archetypal school success story? Surely, in some ways it is. But it’s also a story of obstacles overcome. “There were so many opportunities where it totally could have fallen apart,” Michelle VruwinkFSI’s founder and executive director, says of the school’s start.

Finding an initial facility to lease was arduous. “Everybody said no,” says Vruwink.

Funding a facility was even more challenging. In North Carolina, public charter schools receive no facility funds, unlike district schools. Instead, charters must cobble together funds from loans, grants, operating dollars, and other sources. That can push leaders to the point of extremity. “I took a second mortgage on my house and made a loan” to fund modular classrooms early on, Vruwink says. Two board members provided personal loans.

Temporary spaces and years-long construction projects followed. The school’s 10th year, 2023, marked the first time students were all together in one building.

From concept paper to charter school

FSI began with a concept paper Vruwink wrote herself. She envisioned a school that would provide an engaging, equitable education—but could help resolve her own parenting dilemma. In middle school, her son had shifted from an engaged, happy student to “not wanting to go to school at all,” Vruwink says. Other parents of adolescents voiced similar sentiments. “Nobody was really thriving,” says Vruwink.

Moreover, external factors seemed favorable for a charter launch. Asheville had no charter high schools, and state lawmakers had removed the 100-school cap. Vruwink saw an open door.

Securing approval was easy, but start-up was difficult. “None of us was connected to money or sources of funding,” Vruwink says.

Fortunately, a local philanthropy, the Glass Foundation, agreed to purchase 11 acres of land and lease it back to FSI. The foundation also provided a grant to fund the lease. But the land was undeveloped and preparing it for modulars was costlier than expected. Reluctantly, Vruwink returned to the foundation, and its leaders agreed to an interest-free loan.

But there was another problem: Modulars wouldn’t be ready for FSI’s August 2014 opening. With one month to go, Vruwink signed a lease for a vacant preschool building, housing the 6th and 7th graders. Nearby, a local university’s satellite campus could accommodate the older students.

Conditions that first year were far from optimal. “We had tiny preschool toilets for our middle school students!” remembers Vruwink. At the university campus, teachers packed up classrooms daily.

Early finances were tenuous. “We didn’t have any money other than those loans from board members to get us through until that October drop of [state] funds,” says Vruwink.

A bank loan, a bond, and a building 

Circumstances began to turn, albeit slowly. The land gained value, and Vruwink won a federal start-up grant award. “By the end of that first year, we were able to retire the loans that everybody had made, and we had some critical cashflow,” she says. The next year, students moved to modulars on FSI’s land.

Five years in, school leaders were ready to begin building a permanent facility. But procuring a bank loan was like déjà vu. Again, “everybody said no to us,” says Vruwink. Banks were risk-averse and ill-informed, she says. “Their favorite line is, ‘What if [lawmakers] change the law and there are no charter schools next year?’”

Determined, Vruwink hired a consultant, who helped FSI access an $8 million bank loan. The school began construction on first floor offices, classrooms, and a multi-purpose space. The building’s second level would have to wait.

During FSI’s seventh year, Vruwink took a cold call from an organization offering bond financing. The bank loan, topping out at $10 million, would allow her to finish the second floor—but she couldn’t build the gymnasium. Vruwink believed FSI could afford both. So, she moved forward with a bond, wrapping construction during the school’s ninth year.

What does Vruwink wish lawmakers and the public knew about charter facility financing? “It’s just so hard,” she says. “It takes away from our ability to invest in our educational programs. I had to learn how to write a bond. We did it all ourselves.”

After nearly a decade of temporary or unfinished structures, the new and finished building is a powerful emblem of stability. “It gives a sense of permanence that helps people feel more secure,” Vruwink says.

 You feel real. You have a building you can be proud of.”

 

Photo credits: Franklin School of Innovation.

U.S. House proposes Charter Schools Program funding increase

By Legislation, News

More federal funding may be coming to support charter school growth nationwide. Congressional lawmakers have proposed a $10 million FY 25 funding increase for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). CSP helps with start-up funding, charter expansion, and more.

This increase is modest but still encouraging, since the program has been level-funded at $440 million since 2019. Moreover, President Biden’s proposed FY 25 budget included a $40 million cut to program funding.

In response to the proposed funding increase, Eric Paisner, the acting CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, released this statement:

We thank the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee members for recognizing the value and educational opportunity public charter schools provide to families across the nation by putting forth a proposed increase of $10 million to the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). The CSP is the nation’s only source of dedicated federal funding for the creation of high-quality and in-demand public charter schools.  

Given the strong support for charter schools from families, CSP funding helps to meet the growing demand for charter schools and help serve America’s students and families with more high-quality public education options. Charter schools are the only type of public schools that have seen enrollment growth over the past five years. 

We are very grateful for this support and had also hoped to see an increase in Title I funding for schools that serve low-income families. Charter schools are unique public schools that overwhelmingly serve students who are Black, Brown, or from low-income families. The majority of charter school students are Title I students. 

Charter schools will surely benefit from increased funding for the CSP, but our schools would also be negatively impacted by a cut in Title I funding. 

Read more about the Charter Schools Program. View the Alliance’s 2024 impact report for the Charter Schools Program.

 

Thirteen charter schools seek to open in 2025 and 2026

By News

Thirteen North Carolina charter applicants are hoping to open schools in 2025 or 2026. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) announced the outcome of the 2024 application cycle in a press release on June 27. Two of the 13 charter applicants seek to open in 2025 on an accelerated timeline. The other 11 applicants hope to open in 2026.

See the list of 2024 applications. The application process to open a new charter school in North Carolina is extensive and involves myriad components.

DPI’s press release noted:

Each applicant paid a $1,000 application fee and conducted criminal background checks on all proposed board members. In addition, applicants provided a detailed description of the proposed school’s mission, governance, education, operational, and financial plans … All applications then underwent a mandatory completeness check phase. Each application deemed complete is then assigned to external evaluators before being distributed to the NC Charter Schools Review Board (CSRB) for review.

Members of the Charter Review Board are reviewing applications over the summer, with applicant interviews slated to begin in September.

The 2024 charter applicants hope to open in the following 8 counties:

  • Wake (3 applicants)
  • Mecklenburg (1 applicant)
  • Guilford (1 applicant)
  • Chatham (1 applicant)
  • Forsyth (1 applicant)
  • Union (1 applicant)
  • Iredell (1 applicant)
  • Warren (1 applicant)
  • Statewide (3 applicants for remote schools)

The year ahead for charter schools

When the 2024-25 school year launches next month, 210 charter schools will open their doors to students. During the 2023-24 year, more than 140,000 students attended charter schools, with an additional 85,000+ student names on charter waitlists. Two new charter schools will open for the 2024-25 school year; this past year, state leaders closed two charter schools.

Charter schools are free, public, and open to all. Like district schools, public charter schools receive their funding from state, federal, and local dollars.

OK Supreme Court rules religious charter school is unconstitutional

By News

In a 6-2 decision issued on Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the nation’s first religious charter school is unconstitutional and violates state and federal law. Oklahoma’s Virtual Charter School Board approved the school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, in June 2023. Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond then sued the Charter Board.

In issuing its opinion, the Court concluded:

Under Oklahoma law, a charter school is a public school. As such, a charter school must be nonsectarian. However, St. Isidore will evangelize the Catholic faith as part of its school curriculum while sponsored by the state. This state’s establishment of a religious charter school violates Oklahoma statutes, the Oklahoma Constitution, and the Establishment Clause. St. Isidore cannot justify its creation by invoking Free Exercise rights as a religious entity. St. Isidore came into existence through its charter with the state and will function as a component of the State’s public school system. This case turns on the State’s contracted-for religious teachings and activities through a new public charter school, not the State’s exclusion of a religious entity. The Constitution grants the extraordinary declaratory relief sought by the State. The St. Isidore Contract violates state and federal law and is unconstitutional. By writ of mandamus, we direct the Charter School Board to rescind its contract with St. Isidore.

In response to the Court’s ruling, Eric Paisner, the acting CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, released this statement:

The National Alliance applauds the Oklahoma Supreme Court for affirming the unconstitutionality of religious public schools. The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision is a resounding victory for the integrity of public education

All charter schools are public schools. The National Alliance firmly believes charter schools, like all other public schools, may not be religious institutions. We insist every charter school student must be given the same federal and state civil rights and constitutional protections as their district school peers. The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision reassures all Oklahoma families that their students’ constitutional rights are not sacrificed when they choose to attend a public charter school.

The National Alliance thanks Attorney General Drummond and his team for their tremendous work.  The National Alliance and our partners will continue to stand with people of Oklahoma who are fighting to uphold the constitution and preserve public education.

What’s next?

St. Isidore, which planned to open this fall, is expected to appeal the Court’s decision. Archbishop Paul Coakley, Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and Bishop David Konderla, Diocese of Tulsa, issued a joint statement saying they would “consider all legal options.”

Analysis of the Court’s ruling, published by Education Next, indicates this case is just the “opening salvo” in debate over religious charter schools: “Even if no appeal is made in this case or if the Supreme Court declines to hear one, the thorny issues that the majority elided will come up again and need to be resolved.”

Read more

See coverage from AP, The Hill, USA Today, and The 74. View the Court’s opinion.

*This post has been updated since its original publication.

Coalition welcomes Win Group as corporate partner

By News

We are delighted to extend an official welcome to the Win Group as our newest corporate partner. Win Group is a health management consulting group providing a proactive Health Management Plan through a self-insured Section 125 Plan.  Charter school leaders may remember Win Group founder Bill Terryberry, who headed up Spider ERC. Bill has a strong record of experience working in the charter sector to optimize charter funding and employee retention.

Under this plan, the employee receives:

  • Zero copay for primary care doctor and urgent care visits.
  • A customized, self-managed health assessment plan.
  • Access to 24/7 telemedicine for self and up to 6 family members (plus pets).
  • Zero/$1 copay for 400-plus Tier 1 and Tier 2 drugs for self and family.
  • Net income increase (averaging $1,500 annually).

In addition, the employer receives:

  • Fixed FICA tax savings of $573.60 per qualified employee, per year.
  • A Health Management Plan that fosters a healthier and happier staff.
  • An added incentive for attracting and retaining the best talent available.

 PLEASE NOTE: This is a positive enhancement to major medical coverage. In fact, several providers are offering discounts on premiums, if this health management plan is in place. For more in-depth information, please contact Bill Terryberry at 910.724.9445 or
Bill@WinGroupConsulting.com.
Find the Win Group on the Coalition’s Preferred Vendors page in the Health Management Services section.

Coalition releases 2023 Annual Report, elects new officers

By News

We’ve just released our 2023 Coalition Annual Report. We’d love for you to take a look and learn more about our work in 2023, as we sought to protect and promote public charter schools in North Carolina. See how our work impacted the charter sector in our three core areas of advocacy, communications, and education!

In other Coalition news, we just seated new directors to our Board. All are incumbents who have previously served as directors. Last week, our directors also elected a new slate of officers for 2024-25:

  • Chair: Jonathan Bryant, Chief Administrator, Lincoln Charter School
  • Vice Chair: Dr. Shelly Shope, Headmaster, Pinnacle Classical Academy
  • Treasurer: Gregg Sinders, Board Member, Pine Springs Preparatory Academy; North Carolina Development Director, Charter One
  • Secretary: Helen Nance, Chief Administrative Officer, Gray Stone Day School

See the list of directors and officers for 2024-25 here. Thank you to these talented charter leaders for their ongoing service!

Click on the image below to access the Annual Report. Thanks to Brian Jodice for his work on report design.

Despite long waitlists, NC charter school growth is flatlining. Why?

By News

There’s a puzzling paradox for public education in North Carolina right now. This past year, charter schools reported over 85,000 students on waitlists. But when school opens for the 2024-25 school year in August, there will be no increase in the number of charter schools. Veteran education reporter Ann Doss Helms, who noted the shift following more than a decade of steady growth trend data, has written about flat growth in a new WFAE story. This year, she writes, will be the first with no increase in the number of charter schools since lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap back in 2011.

Why is that?

Charter school facilities are hard to find and fund

Flat charter school growth is due to a couple of converging factors. First, state leaders closed two charter schools this year, and only two new charter schools are opening in August. Those two schools, which received final approval to open at last week’s Charter Schools Review Board meeting, are American Leadership Academy-Monroe (K-8 charter school in Monroe) and Riverside Leadership Academy (K-7 charter school in New Bern).

Still, any simple recounting of closures and openings does not capture the full story. Seven other charter schools were originally slated to open in 2024, and all of those schools ended up requesting a delay year. As others have noted, it has become increasingly difficult to open a charter school. Why? For many charter schools, finding and funding a facility is the single most challenging obstacle—and it is much harder than it needs to be.

We’ll cover much more around facility challenges in the coming months, but parents and other charter supporters who care about charter growth need to understand the gravity of the problem and how it’s impacting the charter movement. Unlike district schools, North Carolina charter schools–which are also freepublic, and open to all students–do not receive any separate facility funding. Instead, they must pay for their own facilities through loans, grants, operating funds, or other sources.

Lindalyn Kakadelis, the Coalition’s executive director, outlined the dilemma for the state’s charter sector:

Unfortunately, the number of North Carolina charter schools next year will stay flat for the first time since 2011, when lawmakers removed the 100-school cap. No growth stands in direct opposition to what the state’s parents want. The best measures of unmet demand, charter school waitlists show more families than ever want access to a charter school for their child. Yet outdated and unfair policies are making it harder for new schools to find and finance facilities. That fixable problem, and not a decline in demand, is why we will see no growth in the number of schools for 2024-25.

Other states aren’t waiting to act. Nevada lawmakers recently established a $100 million revolving loan fund managed by the State Infrastructure Bank (with $15 million in public dollars and another $85 million from private philanthropy partners) to provide charters with facilities loans. Five other states have revolving loan programs “that self-replenish by using interest and principal payments from one loan to make new loans to other charter schools,” notes the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in a state policy snapshot. It’s a great model for North Carolina to consider as well.