Honorees are recognized for their exceptional support of charter schools and public education
The National Alliance for Public Schools honored a bipartisan group of 19 state and local lawmakers with the 2023 Champion for Charter Schools Award, recognizing these leaders’ commitment to seeing public education and charter schools thrive and expand in their state. These lawmakers earned this distinction for their tireless efforts in supporting these unique public schools and for displaying the political courage to prioritize high-quality public education options for students. Thanks to their work, many more students and families have access to high-quality education options and a solid foundation to succeed in life.
“This bipartisan group of lawmakers has fought for students, families, and high-quality public education options in their states,” said Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “We celebrate and commend their work in state capitols and city halls, and for putting the interests of students and families first. The ability for public charter schools to innovate and serve more families and communities is possible due to the sound policy put forth by lawmakers like our 2023 Champions. Please join us in expressing gratitude to these leaders for their steadfast support of public charter schools.”
The following leaders received the 2023 Champion for Charter Schools Award:
Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Arkansas, Republican: Governor Sanders led the charge in one of the country’s most ambitious pieces of education reform legislation enacted into law this year, the LEARNS Act. As part of this bill, the state lifted the cap on charter schools, created an expedited renewal process for high-performing charter schools, and created a facilities loan fund for charter schools.
“The education freedom movement is a national phenomenon, uniting parents, teachers, and students around the country. Here in Arkansas, we harnessed that energy to pass my landmark education reform, Arkansas LEARNS, and give every family the freedom to send their children to the school that fits their education needs best,” said Governor Sanders. “Thank you for honoring our work with this year’s Champion for Charter Schools Award and recognizing the success we’ve had in Arkansas. Our entire state is proud to be leading the nation in bold, transformational education reform.”
State Board of Education Chairman Jason Downey, Georgia, Republican: Chairman Downey worked tirelessly in 2022 to support charter schools. His commitment to fairness and quality charter school authorizing is a hallmark of his leadership. Whether he’s pushing school boards to honor their statutory and contractual obligations to the charter schools they oversee, advocating for transparency and open communication amongst policymakers in Georgia’s education arena, or collaborating with key stakeholders on policy changes that could improve public schools—including charter schools—Chairman Downey is determined to always choose what’s best for the students of Georgia.
State Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green, Rhode Island, Democrat: Two years ago, Commissioner Infante-Green authorized an unprecedented expansion of new charter school seats at great political risk. She is a consistent champion for the growth of charter schools in Rhode Island.
Senator Rachel Zenzinger, Colorado, Democrat and Senator Paul Lundeen, Colorado, Republican: As the prime Senate sponsors of this year’s Colorado School Finance Act, Senators Zenzinger and Lundeen are integral in ensuring many critical advancements for Colorado charter schools and their students. Not only did they help elevate education funding in Colorado to its highest level ever, but they also helped secure another $10 million in charter school capital construction support and put state-authorized charter schools on a clear path to funding equity beginning with the 2024-25 school year. These are historic accomplishments for Colorado charter schools, and none of them would have happened without the strong commitment of both Senators Zenzinger and Lundeen.
Senator Zenzinger said, “This award holds special meaning for me, because I have always supported all varieties of public education. If our children benefit from the laws that we pass, then I believe I am doing my job. I am especially focused on making whatever changes are needed to close equity gaps in our schools.”
Senator Lundeen said, “Charter schools have an almost thirty-year history in Colorado of meeting students’ academic needs and supporting families where they live. This strong and expanding tradition of choice is beginning to transform public education for all students in Colorado for the better. Choice challenges the stale status quo, choice creates quality educational opportunities for all students.”
Representative Matt Dubnik, Georgia, Republican: Representative Dubnik spearheaded an effort to fully fund Georgia’s charter school facility grant during the 2023 legislative session. Chairman Dubnik worked with House leadership to include enough funding in the FY24 budget to provide $100,000 in facility grants for every charter school in the state. While Chairman Dubnik’s recommended appropriation appeared in the General Assembly’s approved budget, the additional funding was vetoed, leaving charter schools without additional support in FY24. While this veto is a disappointment to all 92 charter schools and the children and families they serve, Georgia’s charter sector is thankful for Chairman Dubnik’s leadership and for his commitment to funding equity for all public school students—including the 70,000 kids enrolled in public charter schools.
Representative Scott Hilton, Georgia, Republican: Representative Hilton, Vice-Chairman of the House Education Committee, is currently sponsoring House Bill 318 which increases transparency for charter school funding, protects charter autonomy, and increases support for both local and state-approved charter schools by shifting all charter school oversight authority to a single government agency (the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia). Thanks to Representative Hilton’s determination and tireless support, House Bill 318 garnered broad bi-partisan support in both chambers of the General Assembly and awaits final approval by the House in early January 2024.
Senator Linda Rogers, Indiana, Republican: As a former teacher, Senator Rogers knows first-hand the impact of education on a student’s life, no matter which school they choose to attend. She has been a consistent champion for public charter school students and has championed legislation over the years for these students. During the 2023 legislative session, Senator Rogers successfully shepherded legislation, SEA 391, that will move Indiana toward parity in both funding and facilities for Indiana’s public charter school students.
Senator Rogers said, “As a former teacher, I appreciate the need for choice in education. Charter Schools are proven leaders in providing high-quality learning options for the next generation. With their ability to utilize innovative and specialized programming, Charter Schools have made outstanding education accessible to often underserved demographics. I am thankful that during my time in the Indiana State Senate, my colleagues and I have successfully passed legislation to provide additional funding to Charter Schools, which empowers families to make the best educational decisions for their students. With education as one of my top priorities, I look forward to continuing to work on behalf of all Hoosier children and ensuring that they all have quality choices to meet their learning needs best.”
Senator Cory McCray, Maryland, Democrat: This legislative session, Senator McCray prioritized his support for charter school facilities. He put everything on the line to sponsor a major charter school facilities bill, never wavered in his support, and is committed to keeping the fight going next year.
Senator McCray said, “I want to thank The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools for this honor. I made a commitment to youth in my district, in Baltimore, and throughout the state that I will do everything to ensure they have the resources to succeed. Making sure youth have the tools for a high-quality education sets the stage for a life of limitless possibilities. It has been a joy to see the great strides our Public Charter Schools have made over the years—in providing parents and students with great educational opportunities and experiences. Honored to receive this recognition and will continue to fight on behalf of all students and parents regarding education.”
Representative Doug Richey, Missouri, Republican: Representing part of Clay County in the Missouri House, Representative Richey sponsored HB 1552, a bill to close the funding gap between charter public school students and their district school peers of approximately $2,500 per student per year. His unwavering support helped pass this legislation in 2022.
Representative Richey said, “We owe it to parents and their children to make sure that we’re funding students’ education equitably, whether public charter schools or public district schools. I’m grateful to have joined a great team of advocates to see Charter Funding Equity accomplished!”
Former Representative Rasheen Aldridge, Missouri, Democrat: Representing the riverside district in St. Louis City. Representative Aldridge showed political courage and unfaltering support for all public school children by supporting Funding Equity legislation, bringing more than $60 million new dollars to the charter schools. This was accomplished while protecting funding for St. Louis and Kansas City districts.
“One of the primary motivations for embarking on a career in public service was to actively contribute towards a brighter future for the children of Missouri. In pursuing this goal, I am proud to have championed increased funding for charter schools while ensuring the protection of district budgets. This achievement should serve as a source of collective pride for all of us,” said Mr. Aldridge.
Representative Sue Vinton, Montana, Republican: Representative Vinton led the charge to create a strong public charter school law in the Big Sky State. The Community Choice Schools Act is a major victory for Montana families and educators and clears the way for public charter schools to finally be created in the state. Representative Vinton believes that educational opportunities should be expanded and parents and students should be empowered to pursue the best possible education that fits their needs.
Senator Kenneth Bogner, Montana, Republican: Senator Bogner introduced and supported the Community Choice Schools Act in the Montana Senate. He believes that charter schools will have a meaningful impact on any community looking to establish a choice school by providing students with greater opportunities to succeed and thrive in the education system.
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, New Jersey, Democrat: Assemblyman Wimberly combines his expertise as an experienced legislator with the concern and passion of a parent and veteran educator to improve education for all kids. He is a prime sponsor on a school construction bill that would include charter schools and has been supportive of charter school growth in his home city of Paterson.
“As I’ve said before, all students are our students. I don’t care if you’re in a traditional district school or a public charter school, they are all our kids and they need our support — that’s the bottom line. As a father myself, nobody’s going to tell me or legislate how I educate my children and I believe that all parents deserve to have that choice,” said Assemblyman Wimberly.
Representative Tricia Cotham, North Carolina, Republican: Rep. Cotham filters legislative decisions through her motto of “Kids First.” Being the mother of two and a former schoolteacher shapes her perspective. A true Changemaker, Rep. Cotham is a fierce defender of parental choice and North Carolina’s public charter schools.
“I am humbled and heartened by the honor of being named a Charter Champion. It is extremely rewarding to see so many North Carolinians working toward the common goal of putting children first, and to be recognized for being a part of that process is just incredible. As a single mother and former teacher/principal, I know firsthand that we need real solutions for the current state of our education system. It takes individual lawmakers working together and having meaningful dialogue to solve those problems that actually need to be solved. I am proud of the innovative work our charters do across North Carolina and the nation. I look forward to watching charter school students, faculty and staff continue their paths to progress and achievement as my colleagues and I move forward in the Legislature,” said Representative Cotham.
Representative John Torbett, North Carolina, Republican: Rep. Torbett’s sponsorship and defense of the Charter School Omnibus bill (H 219) is evidence of his continued support of North Carolina’s public charter schools. During his tenure in the North Carolina General Assembly, he has proved time and time again his support for public education and families served by charter schools.
“First let me say how honored I am to receive the recognition as a Charter Champion. Three years ago, I started off on a Fix Our Education System campaign. Over that time, we have won the battle on many issues needing to be corrected to better our public education system. I remain comforted by the educational opportunities offered to our students through our Public Charter Schools. Their approach to educating children is the example to follow to better our children’s educational outcomes. I look forward to our charter schools’ growth and continued success in educating North Carolina’s next generation of leaders,” said Representative Torbett.
Representative Charlie Baum, Tennessee, Republican: Tennessee State Representative Charlie Baum of Murfreesboro is a strong supporter of high-quality public school options for kids, and recognizes the vital role that charter schools play in the education landscape. As a member of the House Education Committee and the House Finance Committee, Rep. Baum champions numerous charter school issues, including the creation of the state Public Charter School Commission, dedicated charter schools facilities funding, the TISA funding formula which provides specific funding for students enrolled in charter schools, and numerous other charter policies that have strengthened Tennessee’s charter school landscape.
“All Tennessee students have unique needs and deserve excellent public school options that are free and open to all. High-quality public charter schools are one of the ways our state is making strides toward ensuring access to a great education is possible for every family across our state, and I’m glad to play a role in making that possible,” said Representative Baum.
Monica Garcia, Former Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member, Democrat: Monica Garcia consistently fought for charter schools while a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board. Ms. Garcia continues the fight as an advisor to Great Public Schools Now in Los Angeles.
“It has been my honor to work with so many families, community partners, and school leaders in the service of increasing Graduation, interrupting poverty and lifting the genius of our community in Los Angeles. Thank you for this recognition. I accept it on behalf of all of those who have benefited because we have worked together,” said Ms. Garcia.
Mayor Adrian Mapp, Plainfield, New Jersey, Democrat: Mayor Mapp is steadfast in his support of charter schools and expanding charter schools to serve more Plainfield families.
“I am a firm believer in public charter schools and their impact on student achievement. The city of Plainfield is fortunate to be home to some high-performing charter schools. The opportunity that charter schools provide to parents and students as well as the autonomy given to teachers and the smaller class sizes are key factors that promote academic achievement and success,” said Mayor Mapp.