With gratitude to the hard-working and dedicated education journalists and opinion writers, every December we share a run-down of the most impactful stories that defined the public charter school sector. How did this year impact students, parents, teachers, and public education, and how will this year shape the years to come? Take a look at the standout news that told the story of charter schools in 2022.
The Fight to Protect Charter Schools
In the Spring of 2022, the U.S. Department of Education proposed rules that would have seriously hindered the ability of charter schools to receive funding from the Charter Schools Program (CSP), the nation’s only source of federal funding for charter schools. Ironically, Congress had just approved $440 million in the annual budget for the CSP, and yet just days later, the rules would have rendered this funding essentially inaccessible. Advocates across the country were outraged because the growth of high-quality and free education options for millions of students was threatened. Parents from all over the country led a rally at the White House, bipartisan politicians co-signed letters in protest, and more than 25,000 letters were written to the Department of Education expressing concern for these rules. In the end, the proposed rules were amended and the final version was improved.
Here’s the news:
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board wrote A Case of Charter School Sabotage: “The Biden Administration is deep in the tank for the teachers unions, and it is proving it again by imposing new rules to sabotage a modest $440 million grant program for charter schools. The 28-year-old federal Charter Schools Program helps pay for charter start-up expenses such as technology and staff. The funds go chiefly to state agencies, which award the money to charters, and to nonprofit charter management organizations. The federal Department of Education recently proposed new rules that would discourage charters from even applying for grants—which may be the goal.”
The Washington Post’s Editorial Board wrote about the inappropriate approach the Department took when releasing these rules: “The Biden administration surprised the charter school community by what charter advocates called a sneak attack. There was no consultation — as is generally the case with stakeholders when regulations are being drafted — and the public comment period before the rules become final ends April 14. The norm is generally at least two months.”
The story of protest continued to gain steam, and Erica Green of the New York Times wrote New Biden Administration Rules for Charter Schools Spur Bipartisan Backlash, highlighting bipartisan outrage against these rules: “But state leaders, federal lawmakers, charter school operators and parents have continued to mount a pressure campaign to send them back to the drawing board. On Wednesday, an estimated 1,000 parents and advocates from across the country rallied at the Education Department and the White House in opposition of the rules.”
Regarding the impact of the parent-led rally at The White House, Laura Meckler of The Washington Post reported: “Under pressure from charter school advocates, the Biden administration on Wednesday said some of the tough new rules for federal funding are not as tough as they appear. The statement comes as hundreds of charter school parents and advocates arrived in Washington for a rally outside the White House on Wednesday, followed by lobby visits to Capitol Hill. In another sign of public interest, the proposed rules for the grant program have drawn more than 26,000 public comments, an unusually large response.”
Overall, the media aptly covered the damage the proposed rules might have caused to the sustainability and effectiveness of the charter school community and celebrated the power of grassroots advocates to lobby for change.
Parents are the New Swing Voters
The National Alliance partnered with The Harris Poll to conduct research to better understand how parents’ sentiment towards education shifted during the pandemic. Never Going Back: An Analysis of Parent Sentiment on Education led to several meaningful discoveries, including that more than four in five parents (83%) agree that education has become a more important political issue to them than it was in the past, 82% are willing to vote outside their party on the issue of education, and 93% agree one size doesn’t fit all in education.
Jeanine Santucci of USA Today reported that: “Schooling during the coronavirus pandemic forced parents to take a hard look at how their children were being educated, and many parents report being more concerned about their children’s schooling because of it,” and that “”It was clear from the research that those with a lot of different options were in a better position than those without,” said Aimee Vella Ripley of The Harris Poll.”
Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance, discussed the poll’s findings on MSNBC’s Morning Joe: “One of the things we discovered through this poll is that education, for registered voters who are parents, is now the #2 issue that is going to take them to the ballot box this coming fall.”
We Encouraged Leaders to Take Bold Action for Families
As we’ve seen from survey after survey, parents want something more and better for their child’s education. Our leaders must listen and take bold action for families, students, and for the future of our country. Setting the tone for the year, in January 2022, National Alliance President and CEO, Nina Rees, wrote an editorial in The Washington Post encouraging Governor Youngkin to remember his commitments to students and parents: “To be clear, Youngkin’s education platform goes beyond charter schools, including raising state standards and improving teacher salaries, but the most consequential action he can take is to follow through on his pledge to open more charter schools and give parents in Virginia the opportunity to send their children to schools that fit their unique needs. By doing so, he can usher in an era of public schooling in the commonwealth that helps all students find a learning environment in which they can excel and prepare for success in the 21st century.”
Ms. Rees went on to co-write an editorial in The Hill with Green Dot Public Schools CEO Chad Soleo, reminding President Joe Biden of his commitment to triple Title 1 funding on his campaign trail. Title 1 is a school designation where students from low-income families make up at least 40% of the student body, and according to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are more than 46,000 Title 1 schools in the US. Ms. Rees and Mr. Soleo write: “This year, Congress should prioritize getting their appropriations bills, including the increase in Title I, across the finish line. Public schools serving students from low-income backgrounds need a permanent funding increase they can count on. Then we need Congress, governors, state educational agencies and local educational agencies to do the right thing and ensure every public school, including public charter schools, entitled to Title I funding receives its fair share.”
The Increase in Charter School Enrollment is the New Normal
In 2021, the National Alliance released Voting With Their Feet, a comprehensive publication that reported on the spike of charter school enrollment during the first year of the pandemic and the simultaneous drop in traditional public school enrollment. In 2022, we led follow up research and published findings in Changing Course: Public School Enrollment Shifts During the Pandemic. Data shows that the 2021-22 enrollment trends held steady and that students who left their district schools at the beginning of the pandemic did not return the following year. On the whole, families were happy with their decisions to make a switch and charter school enrollment did not return to pre-pandemic levels.
Troy Closson of the New York Times reported on how this enrollment shift is playing out in New York City, the nation’s largest public school system, in his piece As New York City Schools Face a Crisis, Charter Schools Gain Students. Mr. Closson reports: “As traditional public schools in the nation’s largest system endure a perilous period of student loss and funding shortfalls, New York City’s charter schools are on an upward trajectory. The schools gained more than 10,000 children during the pandemic, though the expansion slowed last year, even as enrollment at other schools across the city — both public and private — fell steadily… It would seem an auspicious moment for the charter sector in New York, which has boomed from a nascent movement in the 2000s into a force of more than 250 schools. Gov. Kathy Hochul said for the first time last month that she would be willing to let more charters open.”
Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal wrote on this enrollment shift in School Choice Made Big Gains During the Covid Pandemic: “Parents took advantage of education options like never before during the pandemic, to the point where K-12 schooling in the years ahead could look a lot different than it did pre-Covid… Black parents who embrace education alternatives understand that a school’s quality doesn’t depend on the racial makeup of the classroom. For today’s Democratic Party, however, racial balance is the highest priority, even if it means keeping low-income minorities trapped in violent, low-performing schools with the least-experienced teachers at the head of the classroom.”
And finally, the New York Post Editorial Board outlined the sentiment clearly in Charter schools are now the last best hope to save US public education: “This puts the lie to the claim that charters kill public education: Rather, they’re its salvation unless and until regular public schools shape up — if the unions and other vested interests will let them. In New York City and state, charter schools are measurably better than nearby traditional public schools. Students in NYC charter schools that were approved by the State University of New York vastly outperformed traditional public schools on the state’s English and math exams.”
Most Importantly, We Honored Movement Leaders
It is essential to honor the people that make up public charter schools. This year, we celebrated these incredible individuals with several awards. We launched the Rising Leaders Initiative, a one-year program of 10 students that offers 1:1 training with experts in civic participation, education advocacy, leadership development, and public speaking. More than 100 students applied and the 10 students selected have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to leading by example to improve their school community.
Lisa Buie of reimaginED celebrated one of these Rising Leaders, Isabella Paez and her commitment to civic action: “Isabella Paez has always embraced advocacy. The whip-smart Florida 15-year-old is proud of her Cuban-American heritage and is active in school clubs that promote business ethics and social justice. A lover of literature, her favorite book is “The Hate U Give,” the 2017 New York Times bestseller by Angie Thomas inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. “It offers a really cool perspective on life outside my own community and my own heritage,” said Paez, who lives in the Miami area and attends Mater Academy, a Title I college prep charter school for middle and high school students in Hialeah Gardens.”
Stephanie Robinson of Coral Academy of Science Las Vegas was also celebrated in the Nevada Business Magazine for her admission to the Rising Leaders Initiative: ““We are incredibly proud that one of our students was selected to participate in the Rising Leaders program,” said Ercan Aydogdu, executive director and CEO of CASLV. “There were many applicants nationwide for this program and Stephanie being chosen speaks volumes about her character, dedication, and leadership abilities. On behalf of all the students, staff and teachers at Coral Academy, we congratulate her on this achievement and look forward to her continued success.””
Finally, we honored 10 exceptional people — teachers, parents, and school leaders — with the 2022 Changemaker Award to signify their contribution to making lasting impacts in their school community. Miranda Cyr of Las Cruces Sun-News shared the story of New America School-Las Cruces Superintendent and Principal Margarita Leza Porter receiving this award: “She also shared the news with the New America School staff who were excited for Leza Porter. She added that the award isn’t hers alone, she owes much of her success to the staff who has supported her along the way. “This recognition belongs to all of us; to school, the parents, the community, my governing board, the city and the state,” Leza Porter said. “I don’t do this job alone. I do it with everybody, together.””
Alanna Klein is the senior manager of media strategy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.