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Mississippi Senate approves expanded charter school bill

by Jeff Amy, Associated Press
Sun Herald
January 17, 2013

A bill to expand charter schools in Mississippi easily cleared the Senate on Wednesday, and attention shifts to the House for the second year.

In a 31-17 vote, the bill had two Democratic supporters but no Republican opponents. The vote came after more than three hours of debate, a day after Senate Bill 2189 was introduced and passed by the Senate Education Committee.

Charter schools are public schools that agree to meet certain standards in exchange for freedom from regulations. Mississippi has a charter school law that allows a small number of its schools to convert to charters, but none has done so.

Wednesday, the Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter group based in Washington, called Mississippi’s law the “worst charter law in the country.”

Proponents said charter schools can improve achievement in Mississippi. “I think more than anything this is about closing the achievement gap in our state,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison. The Oxford Republican wrote SB 2189.

Opponents, though, fear charters will weaken traditional schools by skimming motivated students and money. “The overriding concern is what is going to happen to school districts when you start separating students out,” said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory.

Coast officials weigh in

Superintendents in South Mississippi had mixed reactions to the Senate’s bill.

Wayne Rodolfich, superintendent in Pascagoula, said he thinks the state should concentrate on improving the failing schools rather than open more schools.

“If you have a magic way of improving education, give us all that flexibility,” he said. “Let all of us do it.”

He also is concerned about money for current programs.

“Funding is going to be a major issue,” he said. “I think it’s important that we don’t destroy existing programs for charter schools. You can’t underfund education and then expect it to excel.”

Arthur McMillan, superintendent

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Nashville Charter On Hold

“Great Hearts school ends charter bid in Nashville”
by Lisa Fingeroot
The Tennessean
September 13, 2012

Great Hearts Academies’ decision to pull out of Tennessee until state law creates an impartial charter school approval process is setting the stage for a legislative battle over who will grant approvals in the future.

After the Metro Nashville school board denied a charter to Great Hearts for the third time, the Arizona-based charter school company released a statement Wednesday saying it was withdrawing from the state.

However, Great Hearts said it might apply for a charter “when Tennessee’s laws and charter approval process more effectively provide for open enrollment, broad service to the community and impartial authorizers.”

The idea of creating a state agency to grant charters has been discussed in Tennessee and elsewhere. The Tennessee Charter School Association is researching methods used in other states to take politics out of the conversation.

“Every application should not be a brand-new political discussion,” said Matt Throckmorton, association executive director. “It is the children of Nashville that lose out to adult problems, again.”

Throckmorton called the state charter school law “flawed” and hopes to find a system that will allow charter applicants to work with local boards of education during the application process, but will not allow politics to affect the decision. That model will probably find its way into the association’s legislative agenda for January, he said.

“We are going to have charter schools — the law has been written,” he said.

Metro Nashville board members don’t consider their decisions to deny a charter to Great Hearts three times to be political. They have said the main issue was whether the school would cater to an affluent, largely white population or work to create a more diverse student body by providing transportation to students from other areas of the city.

Great Hearts, on the

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Newswire: July 10, 2012

Vol. 14, No. 28

NO OSCAR, YET. Finally, the state of Maine enacted a charter school law, with collective applause from around the country. But, it’s too soon to give the state star status in the charter school world. CER’s Alison Consoletti, vice president for research, told the Kennebec Journal, in a strong article on Maine’s foray into charters, that the state’s Charter School Commission, appointed by the State Board of Education with three members overlapping between both boards, does not pass muster. “If you have the strong, independent authorizers, they can hold the charters accountable,” explains Consoletti. “So the schools tend to be higher quality and better managed.” Consoletti also points out that the state’s law is so new, it is unclear precisely what the climate will be to instill flexibility and accountability in charters statewide. “All we really have to go on is what the law says,” according to Consoletti. “While some pieces, like the funding, seem to be better than average, it’s still difficult to see until a charter school is open how funding flows; how the law is going to work.” Calling on Maine charter fans to do what it takes to ensure a strong charter program is created and maintained with appropriate authorizers.

BOOOORING. Students nationwide are not challenged by school. Yes, there is a sliver of kids stressed out over mountains of homework, seeking the Holy Grail of an Ivy League education, but, in general, students say they are not expected to rise to higher standards in the classroom, according to a study just released by the Center for American Progress titled “Do Schools Challenge Our Students.” Pivotal in the survey of students is an “increasing be that student surveys can provide important insights into a teacher’s effectiveness.” The report’s authors, Ulrich

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Mixed grades for Maine's initial charter school efforts

by Susan McMillan
Kennebec Journal
July 9, 2012

When one to four charter schools open their doors this fall, they will be paving a new path for Maine, guided by a new law and accompanying regulations.

Outside Maine, however, the charter school movement is more than two decades old and has many lessons and examples to offer.

Based on that history, national pro-charter organizations say the policies Maine has on the books have strong points but also important drawbacks that could limit the development of high-quality charter schools.

Maine’s charter school law, passed last year, was rated best in the nation by the National Association for Public Charter Schools and is also well-regarded by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

The Center for Education Reform, on the other hand, gives Maine a C-minus and says it’s too soon to tell what kind of environment state policies will create for charter schools.

All three groups said it’s key for states to balance strong authorization and accountability practices with autonomy for charter schools. Concerns include a cap on the number of charter schools initially allowed in Maine and the funding available to them.

The Maine Charter School Commission is negotiating a charter for the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield and will meet July 17 to consider the proposed Baxter Academy of Technology and Science in Portland. It also may reconsider an application for an elementary school in Cornville that was rejected last week.

The commission has yet to take action on the latest application, for a primary school in Gray called the Fiddlehead School of Arts and Sciences.

Based on the model

Charter schools are public schools that are relieved of some of the regulations and restrictions on traditional public schools. Proponents say they offer much-needed alternatives to traditional public schools and foster educational innovation.

Out of the District

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Charter schools must be accountable

by Tonyaa Weathersbee
Florida Times Union
April 5, 2012

So Florida gets a B for the unfettered way in which it allows its charter schools to operate.

It’s too bad that the performance of those schools isn’t above average as well.

The Center for Education Reform, a pro-voucher, pro-charter school organization in Washington, D.C., recently graded the state a B and ranked it eighth highest in the nation for its laws that govern the creation and operation of charter schools.

Among other things, the center lauded Florida for having blanket waivers for most state rules and regulations governing traditional public schools and for exempting charter schools from most local school rules and regulations.

It also cites the Pembroke Pines charter school system as an example of how all that operating freedom can work to the benefit of students: It consistently earns As on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and has a waiting list of around 11,000.

It’s understandable that the center would grade states on how easy they make it for charter schools to proliferate.

That’s because the main promise behind those schools is that if they’re allowed some flexibility to teach students without being hamstrung by rules that other public schools have to abide by, they can produce better students.

So Florida has given charter schools a lot of flexibility, but it’s hard to see how that flexibility is working for students.

In 2009, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University did a study that found that charter school students in Florida, Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas posted lower academic gains than their peers in traditional public schools.

Then last year in Florida, charter schools received 15 out of 31 of all the failing FCAT grades that went to public schools. Charter elementary and middle schools were seven times more likely to get

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Grade for New Jersey's charter school system slips, according to national report

by Diane D’Amico
Press of Atlantic City
April 5, 2012

New Jersey’s charter schools remain underfunded and too highly regulated by the state Department of Education, according to an annual report on education reform.

The Center for Education Reform report gave New Jersey’s charter school law a “C” as the state slipped from 19th to 24th among the 41 states, as well as the District of Columbia, with charter school laws.

The drop in rank comes as suburban backlash against charter school funding grows, though Gov. Chris Christie and acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf continue to promote the concept in struggling school districts.

“There are a lot of problems in New Jersey,” Center for Education Reform President Jeanne Allen said in a teleconference on the report, which was released Monday. She said the state’s charter schools remain highly regulated, get less funding than public school districts, and are authorized and monitored only by the state Department of Education.

In a phone interview, Allen said the fact that almost a third of all charter schools in the state have closed indicates there is something wrong with the current law and how charter schools are regulated. She said that nationally the closure rate is about 15 percent.

Christie has proposed several changes to the law, but in 2011 got Legislative support only for a provision to allow private schools to convert to charter schools. Christie wants to allow successful private companies to open schools and expand the pool of authorizers to other public entities, such as colleges or public school districts.

“These findings speak to the critical need to update and strengthen New Jersey’s out-of-date charter law,” DOE spokesman Justin Barra said in an emailed statement.

There are several bills in the state Legislature to modify the law, but some are on opposite sides of the issue. One bill

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NC charter school law misses the mark in a national ranking

by Bruce Ferrell/David Horn
North Carolina News Network
April 2, 2012

North Carolina’s law on charter schools received a grade of “C” and ranked 29th among the states. That is according to the Center for Education Reform.

The Center’s director Jeanne Allen said raising the cap of charters did not go far enough. She also said the approval process for such schools needs to be changed.

“It limits the approval to the State Board of Education which is not very inviting when it comes to applications and school districts have not been very positive in helping encourage people and groups to actually apply,” said Allen. She added that other states such as Indiana and Minnesota provide multiple ways for charters to get approved.

Charter schools operate separately from traditional public schools, but they receive government funding. The Center for Education Reform is a national education reform advocacy organization.

Florida Is the 8th-Friendliest State For Charter Schools, Report Says

by John O’Connor
StateImpact (NPR)
April 2, 2012

Florida ranks eighth in the nation for laws which promote innovation, equal funding and ease of expansion of charter schools, according to a ranking from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform.

That moves Florida up two places from last year’s report as the Sunshine State improved its score slightly.

Among the short-comings in the CER rankings? Florida does not allow enough independent groups to authorize charter schools, most of which must be approved by local school districts. That puts schools districts in the position of approving schools they may see as competition for public funding.


Florida also scores lower than other states for funding charter school facilities. The legislature has set aside money in the state budget, but a proposal requiring school districts share local construction and maintenance dollars was rejected by the legislature.

Florida scores well for the number of schools allowed — there’s no limit — and for “teacher freedom,” the ability of charter schools to set their own teaching policies outside of union contract negotiations.

The Center for Education Reform is a school advocacy group which favors policies that expand the availability of charter schools and other choice options and also promotes the use of virtual and online learning.

Charter schools backers say new approach needed

by Marquita Brown
Jackson Clarion Ledger
March 3, 2012

While state lawmakers debate how best to make allowances for charter schools in Mississippi, some people are still questioning why traditional public schools can’t be given the same freedoms.

It’s a question Tracie James-Wade asked Friday during a forum on charter schools at Koinonia Coffee House in Jackson.

James-Wade said her concern is the cost of opening charter schools in an already cash-strapped public school system. The traditional public schools that are performing well should be used as models for duplication across the state, she said.

“Why have a model school that you never duplicate?” James-Wade asked.

But charter school supporters argue traditional public schools have had decades to figure out what works best to boost student achievement.

“The problem is how we operate schools, and that is what charters are one solution to,” Jeanne Allen, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform, told The Clarion-Ledger last week.

The differences between charter schools and traditional public schools, she said, include how teachers are hired, retained and paid and how textbooks are chosen. All the money and time can be put into the traditional public school system, “but nothing very good happens in that school, nothing changes in that school.”

Like traditional schools, public charter schools do not charge tuition. Charters can be newly formed schools or they can be converted from existing public schools. Both bills getting most attention at the state Capitol include provisions for conversion schools, and lawmakers supporting those bills have said they hope that is the option most charter applicants take.

Charter school advocates say one major selling point is freedom from bureaucracy. Each school operates independently instead of being governed by a central office of administrators.

State representatives still need to take up House Bill 888, which would allow charter schools across the

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Maryland charter school law ranked seventh worst

“State charter school law ranked seventh worst”
by Blair Ames
Frederick News Post
February 29, 2012

The creation of great new public charter schools in Maryland requires just one simple thing, according to Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, an advocacy organization.

“It’s a law that is very clear and open to actually allowing people to step forward to get those schools,” Allen said Tuesday.

Maryland is far from having what CER officials consider an adequate charter school law, she said. According to the center’s 2011 annual ranking and score card of charter school laws released in January 2011, Maryland’s law ranks 35th of 41 laws on the books.

As reasons for the poor rating, the report cited limitations with district-only authorizing, union requirements, school board control of charters and lack of funding for charters.

Mississippi claimed the worst ranking, while Washington D.C. was deemed to have the best charter law.

Allen will visit Frederick tonight to discuss Maryland’s charter law, what she believes is lacking and what needs to be done to improve the law. The event at the C. Burr Artz Library will be hosted by FrederickEducationReform.com.

Tom Neumark, a founder of FrederickEducationReform.com, said his organization wanted to inform the public and elected officials about the rankings and how the law could be changed.

According to Allen, fixing the law won’t be easy.

The state law would need to be totally rewritten for Maryland to have a quality charter school law, she said.

She suggested starting with adding an independent authorizer to form charter schools rather than school boards because school boards don’t know what it’s like to operate a charter school.

“They’re not set up to review, approve and even consider what a new school looks like,” she said. “They’re not in the new schools business.”

Allen said the Maryland legislature has shown no “appetite”

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