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NEWSWIRE: May 6, 2014

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Vol. 16, No. 18

Across 42 states and the District of Columbia, families, students and educators are celebrating National Charter Schools Week. Here are a few recurring themes you might hear this week from those who have directly benefitted from having charter schools and the power of choice in their communities:

CHOICE. In case it’s not completely obvious from our Twitter feed, CER is pretty psyched about National Charter Schools Week. And for good reason, because the inspiration and positive results from students, parents and educators exercising choice are insurmountable. What makes charter schools so unique is they present opportunities for parents to get involved in education on a deeper level, giving parents confidence that the school they have chosen will deliver a better learning opportunity for their child. Parent Power and choice are the main catalysts for all reforms and innovation. Without these pieces, other components of lifting student outcomes cannot and will not fall into place.

ACCOUNTABILITY. Charter schools demonstrate that choice and accountability are a package deal, but before you can have accountability, you must allow for choice. Parental access not only to education options but also transparent data about schools inherently creates a new level of accountability, because now there is a compelling interest for schools to improve through competition but also collaboration on what works best for kids. While some think automatic closure policy for charter schools is good practice, CER President Kara Kerwin reminded a group of legislators in Kansas City last week that it in fact is not, because accountability is a hallmark of the charter school movement. What we need are stronger laws to ensure that these basic principles of the charter movement are maintained, and not automatic closure policies that put decisions in the hands of bureaucrats instead of those closest to overseeing charter school operations. Eighty-six percent of Americans agree we need greater accountability in our schools, and 69 percent do not feel that their legislators are listening to them. This should be a wake up call to lawmakers that we need strong laws that allow charter schools to thrive.

EQUITY. Once accountability is established through choice, it then becomes critical to give charter schools necessary protections through strong laws to allow for a vibrant and innovative charter school sector. Many lawmakers accelerate the growth of charter schools by getting a law on the books allowing for their creation, but fall back into neutral when it comes to funding all schools equitably. Some even go into reverse, exhibited by current proposals in Pennsylvania that would have devastating financial effects on charter schools serving special education students. The trend of charter funding inequity is unfortunately all too common across the states, with charter schools receiving 36 percent less revenue on average than traditional schools. As a result, charter operators who are already tirelessly creating a new school must take the extra step of becoming creative to secure funding, mainly for basic costs such as facilities. Strong funding models ensure equity for all public school students, and that includes charter school students!      

AUTONOMY. Charter schools open and remain successful in response to parental freedom and demand, but freedom is a two-way street. Charter school educators require autonomy to educate at the classroom level, and authorizers require autonomy to set expectations and find a level of quality in accordance with the mission of each individual school. The progression of counterproductive oversight, whether by state commissions, lawmakers with a penchant for overregulation and redundancy, or a well-intentioned federal government, unfortunately ends up constraining charter schools. Allowing both multiple, independent authorizers and quality teachers to do what they do best provides staying power for charter schools, so they can continue to innovate for future generations.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU. Share your story with CER, whether via email or on Twitter and Facebook on how charter schools have had a positive impact in your community. Whether large or small, brick-and-mortar or blended, success stories come from all types of schools and students. Click here to read about just some of the many examples of quality charter schools.