I am obviously way behind on this thread as the next Charter Commission meeting is this week.
It was held at the Technology Access Foundation headquarters in White Center. Very nice building and great staff. One of the Charter Commission members, Trish Millines Dziko, runs TAF and its programs.
Chair Steve Sundquist, in his chairman remarks, stated that the Commission had sent a letter to the Board of Education. The Commission would like to influence the BOE on the issues of timelines and fee schedules. It appears they did get what they wanted.
One, there will be a requirement of a letter of intent to apply for a charter. This is great because it gives everyone a heads up to who is coming and where they intend to apply (either through the Charter Commission or a school district).
Two, the timeline for extending the deadline for decision-making has been moved to Feb. 24th.
The BOE rejected their ideas on the fee schedule.
Sundquist also pointed out there was now a Washington State Charter School Association. He said "they have a different mission than we do" and that the WSCSA would have services for charter applicants. He said he would recommend sending people there. Interesting as I will wait to see if any other "charter associations" pop up and if the Commission will recommend all groups to people seeking charter help.
He said a budget for their work had been drafted (I haven't seen this). Naturally, this is all contingent on what the Legislature does on the budget.
They then had a report on the search for an Executive Director for their group. It was reported that they had received 14 resumes and reviewed 13 of them. They stated they would look to see who fit the basic criteria, then drill down and then whittle that down to four to move forward and then three for review by the Commission.
One of the members of the search committee, Trish Dziko, told the group that it was an interesting mix of people, some K-12 and some higher ed and she was a bit surprised there were not more applicants (but at that point, it had only be advertised for a little over two weeks). I can confirm that the Commission has been interviewing candidates as this is what their website reflects.
It appears that Superintendent Dorn has offered space in the OSPI headquarters in Olympia for the Executive Director and his support person. It is unclear what the financial arrangements will be.
They then moved onto issues around proposed rules for their work. They would like to work with authorizer school districts to create "consistent quality" of authrorizing. They still do not like the idea that, in the first year, they could get so many applications approved that any number over the eight per year would then rollover into Year Two or even Year Three.
One member, Cindi Williams, said they want quality over "a timestamp" and there she was referring to the race to get approved charter applications to the BOE as fast as possible to get their timestamp which delineates the order each application came in.
They seem to want to move cautiously on their own approvals with Sundquist saying they might have "a small number of schools in their own portfolio." It seems like their fear is approving charter applications too quickly and seeing more failure than success.
There was a bit of discussion around CMOs - Charter Management Organizations. Those are management groups with large numbers of charters. The issue for Washington State in attracting those groups is because CMOs work in networks and want to open a number of schools at once and boo hoo, Washington State only has room for eight. (I do think it would be horrible if a CMO came in and managed to take multiple spaces and WA State ended up with one network of charter schools.)
There was also discussion around whether to approve applications as they come in or wait and view them. It seems a bit unclear what the law wants here but the feeling is that they are not pitting applications against each other but considering them on their own merits.
Ms. Williams also said there is a group of Evergreen College students following this issue. She said that many rural areas don't like charters and wondered what could be done to educate the public? Maybe an op-ed?
There was a bit of a flare up over how much to work with authorizing districts. Larry Wright, Vice-Chair, said the intent of the law is to have distinct authorizing bodies. But, how do they coordinate with other districts and not cross that line? (I think it possible to find common ground with districts over what quality looks like and timing and leave what is best for each region to each authorizer.)
It is unclear if the Commission will receive individual notification about when districts put out RFPs for charter applications (although that will be at the BOE's website).
Then there was public comment. Ken Morland, a teacher, said he was concerned over news stories about KIPP and enrollment in online charter schools. He said KIPP drives out students with poor test scores.
Roger Franklin, who runs a private school in Eumclaw, said he was looking forward to charters. He said he was concerned that authorizers might only recognize quality from more "traditional" types of schools.
I spoke up and thanked the Commission for asking for letters of intent. I suggested that they include the requirement that charters state if they are going to be new or conversion charters. I stated this would be a courtesy to communities involved since the law does not require charters to state this at the public meeting they are required to have in the community they want to be.
Then they had Don Shalvey from the Gates Foundation who worked for Green Dot (a charter group) and was also a school superintendent. He had some interesting things to say about CMOs, among them:
- all charter schools need start-up and scale up dollars (and where would that come from?) He said it runs about $500k for elementary, $600k for middle school and at least $2M for a high school. He said the money sometimes comes from philanthropic sources.
- He noted that it was easier to start charters in the NE United States because they fund at a much higher rate than Washington State (wait! you mean having lower funding might actually stunt charter growth?)
- he state that "human capital"was important and CMOs like to see a strong TFA, both in numbers and community support. (Well, that's not the case here so I wonder what they will make of that.)
- Many CMOs are not interested in hiring certified teachers.
-Facilities are very important and charters want access to any and all school buildings they can use. He said they want occupancy costs fully covered, permanent sites, no sharing with other schools and under the full control of the CMO.
- He said CMOs like friendly authrorizers (whatever that means), strong legislators and strong mayors.
-in terms of markets, the CMOs want to make an "impact", not be in an over-saturated market, have geographic proximity to a on-hour flight from a regional hub
He said questions for districts might be:
- what is the optimal saturation rate for your district
- what are key opponents saying and how might a communications strategy work
- low-performing schools might need to be closed faster to make room for charters
- Green Dot does NOT want a warehouse building but wants an existing school and students (i.e. the conversion model).
He said Chicago is a model of what they don't want with all that in-fighting. He said districts need to "drive expansion of TFA" and rally local and national funders around capital needs and take inventory of district buildings and, passing "enabling legislation to establish charters as national school systems."
Then, in a very odd moment in his Powerpoint, you hear John Lennon singing Give Peace A Chance. He said districts and charters have more "common ground than battleground."
Then, we heard Al Green singing Let's Get it On (no kidding) and then he talked about unity among cities with charters.
He finished by saying they like charter commissions because there is too much politics and pressure for local school boards.
The Commission then had questions.
1) What is Gates Foundation role? He said they wanted to increase the number of graduates and that their work is primarily in "compacts." Meaning, a district and charters in the district working together. He again stated how it is better to have a commission doing authorizing.
2) what about communities that want home-grown charters and not a CMO? He said it is actually valuable to have 2-3 similar charters because they can learn more from each other. He mentioned a great charter that serves 13 kids in a motorhome. (Yes, that a scalable model.)
3) how do you hold them accountable? He said you hire someone from the local community to be on their board and said Green Dot likes to pair with someone from the local Urban League.
4) What do authorizers learn from bad charters? He said "it is difficult to eliminate a failing charter. It's like making a bet you wished you hadn't." He said if you deny renewal, you then get angry parents (which I'll bet is akin to trying to close a regular public school). He said to look at the team, the business plan and look for real buy-in from the community.
The Commission then moved onto a review of the proposal for services from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. NACSA's guy brought up the Gates Foundation in the first three minutes. He urged Commission members to go to their annual conference in La Jolla, California (but where would those dollars come from?).
Larry Wright asked about how to pay for the contract "through an external funder." He also raised the issue that if a third-party pays for NACSA's services, who is their boss - the Commission or the funder?
He was told the Commission was the "primary" client. BUT he did say that they would have performance metrics to meet, "tangible deliverables" that they would sign with the Commission and submit to the Gates Foundation and "we hope them to be identical." Keep in mind that the Gates Foundations funds the NACSA along with another fun group, the Walton Foundation.
Commission member Margit McGuire seemed uneasy with all this and asked if this all seemed too cozy (especially since the Gates Foundation is also underwriting the Washington State Charter Schools Association). She asked why Gates would do all this.
The reply was that the Gates Foundation is suited to this work especially in espousing a "free market" for charters.
McGuire then pressed the point on who they would report to and the NACSA guy said that, from his standpoint, he would have no hesitation to share their input to Gates with the Commission but that he would have to ask them first. Oh.
Dziko pointed out that the new Washington State Charter School Association would have a lead on other groups as they would help charter applicants (of their own choice) and that they would better know how to organize an application.
The NACSA guy said that they help manage the process but don't review applications. He agreed it probably wasn't a level playing field.
Sundquist asked for a vote to send to NACSA and the Gates Foundation about the Commission being in charge of review of NACSA's work.
Dziko spoke up again and said she was not comfortable with using private funds to do state business. She said, "We have to live off our own dime."
The Governor's aide, RaShelle Davis, who is serving as the Commission coordinator until they hire an ED, said that the Walton Foundation had reached out to the Commission several times and wanted an answer soon. But Commission members were wary of getting funds from anyone before they had even signed off on the NACSA proposal.
They then moved on to their travel policy.
It seems LEV and "others" had offered to send members to Denver to see their charter school system. Several members felt this would be a conflict of interest in terms of the charters that are in Denver that may, in turn, apply to be in Washington State.
The AG rep said that travel is exempt from gift prohibition but that they could only accept from certain entities for official appearances or training. That seemed to indicate that the Commission should NOT accept this offer from LEV especially since LEV is a 501c4. But, the Commission could accept from another non-profit that isn't political.
McGuire said that the Commission might understand the distinction but the public may not. Wright said there could be a perception of preference or influence. McGuire agreed that it might be better to be very cautious on these offers.
Dziko said, look, I can only say that if I was looking at applications and had visited a school operated under that charter group, it would influence my thinking. She said there was a difference between a "paper visit" and an actual tour. Wright said it might be a barrier to visits if they couldn't go see high-performing charters. (To which I say, then don't go to charter groups - visit the home-grown ones.) McGuire said she would have no problem if she was going to see a school in the context of a conference but not just to visit as a charter.
It was noted by the AG that any past visits by individual commissioners to charter schools are okay at this point. It is what they do going forward.
Interestingly, the guy from the NACSA said this was the first commission he had ever hear discuss this issue. He also said school visits are overrated (I agree) and he said the CMOs would just pick their best school for the commissioners to go visit.
I was then quite shocked to here Commissioner Quall say that it was "inhibiting" to have this discussion. He said he went to some charters in the Bronx and he wouldn't want to recuse himself because of it and "they earned their right to our support." Uh oh.
Dziko also pointed out that a visit could work against a charter if the visit wasn't good.
Then there was the dead silence question to the NCSA guy. How do you make sure you give preference to a charter application to make sure they serve at-risk students? He had no answer.
Here's where it got sad for me. Keep in mind that, from the very first Commission meeting, I had wondered how many members had actually read the law. Apparently, still not many.
Larry Wright thought 1240 was written off of what the RCW defines as "at-risk." Wrong, it has its own definition. He also thought they would get into trouble with the law if they didn't make sure that they only considered charters that would be serving at-risk students. Wrong again. There's nothing in 1240 that prevents ANY kind of charter from opening. He also said he lived in Sammamish and that they don't need charters there and if one came in people would be surprised. I'm sure, if charters continue in our state, he will get that surprise someday and it will not be a happy one.
Commissioner Cato said they could make up their own definition of at-risk but the AG rep was quick to say, no, it is defined in the law and they can't make up rules that already exist.
They talked about making serving at-risk students a core value of the Commission and making that clear to the public. The other NACSA person said that other values like facilities could be put in that values statement.
They then asked a few questions of the AG rep around changing rules later on. She said yes, using lessons learned but there is a process. They also asked about notifying charter applicants who are disapproved with an explanation of why. Cato asked the AG rep if a rejected charter applicant could appeal but there is nothing currently in the law to do that but that they could create that.
So that was most of it. Clearly, the things we talked about here about charters are now coming to pass.