May 2013 Message to Members from Jed Wallace

June 25, 2013

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JedWallaceSmall.jpg As we wind up the school year during which charter schools celebrated our first two decades of success and momentum in California, we find that something of great importance has occurred in the past few weeks which has the potential to provide charter schools the long term stability we will need to have even higher levels of success and impact in the decades to come.

I am referring of course to the passage of Governor Brown's Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), one of the most important reforms of our public education system to have happened in many years. Not only does the LCFF create a fairer and more rational system for funding all of California's public schools, including charter schools, but it directs increased resources to support the learning of the highest need students. We commend the Governor and the Legislature for having collaborated to make what is surely one of the best examples of good governance this state has seen in generations.

For charter schools, the LCFF may be even more historic in its impact. It signals perhaps in as fundamental a way as possible how the State of California has grown to embrace charter schools as full partners in the effort to improve educational opportunity for California's public school students. Instead of being seen and treated as second-class citizens with separate funding streams constantly at risk of reduction or elimination, charter schools will now be funded in the same way that traditional public schools are funded. As such, we think it legitimate to claim that, for the first time since the inception of our movement more than 20 years ago, charter schools have become fully vested members of the public education community.

Over the next 8 years as the LCFF is fully implemented, charter schools will see many of its age-old funding problems diminish - problems such as the ongoing underfunding of the Charter School Categorical Block Grant, the freezing of certain categorical programs that many young charter schools have experienced, and the perpetual annual risk of charter school growth funding being reduced or eliminated. Of particular importance is the fact that new charter schools will be funded in ways allowing LCFF benefits to come to the schools more rapidly, putting the schools on firmer financial footing during those critical early years of operation. Given these indisputably beneficial aspects to the proposal, we believe that anyone looking at the big picture will recognize that the LCFF represents a major stride forward for California's charter schools.

Are there charters making faster, greater gains than others? Of course there are, and roughly the same proportion of charter schools are experiencing changes as are school districts in the state. But for us, we think that question rather off the mark. At CCSA, our funding equity advocacy efforts have always been grounded in the premise that a public school student should generate the same level of funding whether the student's family chooses to enroll in the traditional system or in a charter public school. And using that premise as our continued guide, we think it simply inarguable that the conceptual design and overall application of the LCFF proposal positions charter schools structurally to achieve greater funding equity over the long term.

If there is one aspect of the LCFF that fails to live up to the spirit and intent of the rest of the proposal, it is the decision to cap charter schools' concentration grant funding at the rate of the surrounding school district. Next year this design problem will disadvantage more than 300 charter schools serving higher percentages of high needs students than their surrounding district and has the potential, if not addressed, to create levels of funding inequity for California's charter schools reminiscent of the inequity levels generated by the prior system. We understand that this is a complicated issue and do not claim to have simple answers, but we think there are a number of ways to address this issue in future years and we look forward to working with the Governor's team to come up with creative solutions that will be equitable for charter schools as well as for the broader public education system.

Meanwhile, we are beginning to think about the next chapter of developing and implementing the LCFF, and that requires that we shift our attention to the regulatory process which will be driven by the State Board of Education. As many in our community have noted, there are new accountability provisions within the LCFF that could have significant impact on charter schools. Many of the new accountability provisions - ones focusing on holding charter schools accountable for outcomes and giving authorizers and the SBE additional leverage to close persistently underperforming schools - we see to be positive steps forward that could help bolster the "flexibility in exchange for accountability" proposition that lies at the heart of our movement. Other accountability provisions - ones that could impose new funding constraints and bureaucratic requirements on charter schools - will be determined in the regulatory process, and we look forward to working with the SBE to implement regulations that continue to provide charter schools the flexibility they will need to succeed with students.

In sum, we recognize that the LCFF represents a historic moment for California's charter schools. We encourage our members to make use of the resources that CCSA is providing to help educate charter school stakeholders about the new funding system - both so that all in our community are fully aware of the LCFF's implications for their school as well as to understand more deeply the positive impact the LCFF is destined to have on charter schools more broadly. Finally, we encourage all within our community to become as knowledgeable as possible about and prepared to give voice regarding the future implementation of the LCFF so that it may achieve its potential of positively transforming our public education system to more effectively serve all of California's students.

I wish you the best summer and look forward to another year of momentum and impact in 2013-14.

Jed Wallace
President and CEO
California Charter Schools Association

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