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Rees: Nat’l Charter Schools Week — Parents Push Back to Preserve School Choice

Parents and policymakers protest Ed Department rules that would make it harder for all children to access a high-quality school

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A parent-led rally today in Washington, D.C., is putting the charter school movement’s energy and passion on full display as supporters band together to fight for their schools and for every student’s right to a high-quality education. The event is happening during National Charter Schools Week, an annual celebration of charter schools and the students, teachers, leaders, families, advocates and supporters who bring power and purpose to the movement.

This year’s National Charter Schools Week theme is Charter Schools Rising, and the evidence for their rise is everywhere. Demand for charter schools has never been higher, and support is strong in all quarters. It’s true that charter schools have faced significant challenges on the federal policy front — from threatened funding cuts to proposed Charter Schools Program rules that would limit educational opportunities — but each challenge offers the opportunity to show how formidable and united the movement is. We have fended off funding cuts and organized a massive campaign to protect the rule changes.

Last week, a bipartisan group of senators added their voices to the chorus calling on the U.S. Department of Education to back off its proposed changes to the Charter School Program. The department has also heard from governors, state school chiefs, educators and parents who know firsthand that charter schools are vital to educational opportunity and equity. Today’s rally will keep that momentum going.

This week also offers the opportunity to honor and thank the 2022 Charter School Changemakers — some of the most inspiring advocates and community leaders in the movement — and the 2022 Champions for Charter Schools, federal and state policymakers who are blazing a path of opportunity for students across America.

Charter School Changemakers are unsung heroes and heroines whose exceptional efforts have touched the lives of people in their school community, brought innovation and creativity to tricky problems and consistently amplified voices around them. The honorees have proven their ability to go the extra mile to support their community’s unique needs. They come from 10 states, their and roles vary from classroom teacher to parent advocate.

Changemakers include people like Eric Tucker, a co-founder of Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools in New York, whose personal experience with undiagnosed learning disabilities inspired him to create the Educate All Learners Alliance website, featuring resources on teaching students with learning disabilities.

Another changemaker is Raquel Crader, a fifth-year teacher at Dolores T. Aaron Academy in New Orleans, who built an interactive reading YouTube channel and created virtual lessons for parents and students to continue their love of reading when pandemic disruptions were limiting access to books and class time.

Tonya Kelly is a changemaker and an Ohio mom who took action after her children experienced bullying in school. Tonya founded the Empower Our Youth Foundation, which provides mentoring, social and emotional support, health and wellness education, anti-bullying reporting and community education for students ages 5 to 17. For the past three years, she has shared her story and used her experience as a fourth-grade teacher to help design education and prevention programs for families. 

In addition to these grassroots activists, the charter school movement is honored by the support of Champions for Charter Schools — lawmakers from both parties who have listened to parents and students and responded to the increased demand for public charter schools across America. Without them, charter schools would not exist. Champions at the federal level are reliable advocates for better funding and equitable treatment for charter schools. At the state level, charter champions fight for legislation to make more charter schools available to students and ensure they have the funding, autonomy and accountability to fulfill their missions.

Thanks to this year’s charter champions, students in Kentucky will finally have access to charter schools after the state legislature approved a permanent funding mechanism. In New Mexico, a new revolving loan fund and a more equitable facilities funding formula will allow charter schools to spend more per-pupil dollars in classrooms than on school buildings. More communities in Ohio will have access to charter schools now that geographic restrictions on their creation have been removed. And Iowa and Wyoming charter school founders will be able to seek approval from statewide authorizers, bringing more clarity and accountability to the chartering process.

From Capitol Hill to statehouses to communities across the country, there is tremendous momentum behind charter schools, which have done so much to improve educational equity by increasing access to a high-quality public school for students from all backgrounds, neighborhoods and income levels. As the nation strives to overcome the educational challenges of the past few years and break down barriers to lifelong success for students, policymakers and parents know that charter schools are a key part of the equation. As charter schools continue to rise, more and more students are reaping the benefits.

Nina Rees is the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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