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Friday, April 12, 2013

Charter Commission Meeting, Part Two

I ended Part One explaining that there had been two large issues that arose during the meeting.  One is the rabbit hole I mentioned and the other is the funding of the Commission's work.

Here's the rabbit hole explained.

To get a charter from the state two things have to happen.  A charter applicant has to apply to just one authorizer and, after getting the authorizer's approval, then that approved application has to get to the State Board of Education for certification. 

However, as you may recall, 1240 is quite vague on the timing of turning in approved charters to the State Board of Education.  Many of us who opposed this measure called this section out, asking "what does this mean?"  It's actually much worse than I thought.  Here's the original text:

3) Upon the receipt of notice from an authorizer that a charter school has been approved,
the state board of education shall certify whether the approval is in compliance with the limits on the maximum number of charters allowed under subsection (1) of this section. If the board receives simultaneous notification of approved charters that exceed the annual allowable limits in subsection (1) of this section, the board must select approved charters for implementation through a lottery process, and must assign implementation dates accordingly.
(4) The state board of education must notify authorizers when the maximum allowable number of charter schools has been reached.


Now I had thought - as did many others who read this - that beyond it being vague, that it meant that if the SBE had received more than 8 approved charter proposals (either from the Charter Commission or any authorized school district), then ALL of them would go into the lottery.

That is NOT the case according to the AG's reading of the law.

No, what happens is that it is one big race (and one that favors established charters).  

It is a race because of two reasons.

Once the SBE completes its work about how school districts are to apply to be authorizers and completes its work around the rules in the law that they need to address, then the 12 districts who have filed a letter of intent start their work to become authorizers.

When the districts do file their own RFPs, let's say that eight out of the 12 get approved by the SBE.  The approved districts then have to advertise (that's part of 1240) for any charter applicants and start their own process in receiving and reviewing charter school applications.

Here's where it favors established charters.  They know how to do this already.  Grass-roots, home-grown charter hopefuls in Washington State will probably have to really scramble versus the KIPPs, Rocketships, etc. who have years of doing this behind them.

What happens is that whoever gets in the first 7 approved applications to the SBE  (and this could happen the first day when they are to be turned in) and after SBE does its check that everything is there that is supposed to be delivered to them, those 7 are approved.

The eighth approved application?  Ah, that's where the lottery comes in.  Any approved charter applications at or after the eighth one go into the lottery.  (Now, I am not entirely sure if this covers ALL approved applications submitted during the period or just the ones that come on the same day when they hit the number eight.)

The second part of the race is again about getting your ducks in a row and getting that approved application in as quickly as possible to the SBE.

That's because even if you are in the unlucky eight category, if you are approved, your approved application rolls over into the next year and you will get your charter then.

This process favors those who have experience in writing charter applications and who can get that application into the SBE the minute it opens its doors on the first day to submit.  (Forget Fed Ex - I'm sure every single application will get hand-carried into the building.   You might even have a line waiting overnight.)

Now if you had asked me before this meeting if I thought all eight charters would be filled in the first year, I might have said no.  That's because I would think that the Commission and the approved school districts could be mighty cautious.

But I believe they will get tremendous pressure to approve eight if ONLY to allow any others that are approved (but don't win the lottery) to know they will roll into the next year.

You can see the tactical thought that might be needed by charter applicants.

School district or Charter Commission?  You can only apply to one so choose carefully.

How speedy will either one be in examining and then approving a charter?  You need to pick the one you think most likely to approve your charter BUT what if they are slow?

The writers of 1240 were pretty crafty.
I see it as a rabbit hole because I'm not sure how we know what we will get in charters given that:
1) every authorizer can do it differently (within some boundaries)
2) it's a race to get approved
3) it's a race to get your approved charter to SBE

Does that all sound like really well-thought out decision-making?  Not to me.

The other issue at the meeting was the funding of the Commission.  Now if you read the initiative, it states that the Governor's office funds it until such time as it has its own funding.  It's quite vague.  Currently, a staffer in the Governor's office is handling it and she was polite but you could understand that this is not work she really wants to be doing (and it adds to her workload).

The Commission is going to hire two staff members (although I did see one budget where it was 2.5).  They want to hire an Executive Director and a half-time support staff person.  Both would be housed in the Governor's office.

This was an unexpected discussion for two reasons.

One, initially the Governor's staff member said the group had $200k in the budget.   If you consider you are hiring an Ex Director, a half-time staffer plus meeting coordination costs, travel costs, office costs - it's just not a lot of money.  The draft budget had the Ex Director at about $96k (that's before benefits) and $24k for the half-time administrative person.  As well, there was talk about hiring consultants and those people don't come cheaply.

What made it odd is that the staffer then said that the Commission needed to get the Ex Director soon as that person would need to start looking for funding money.  She said she had identified a Gates grant that they might apply to get to fund their work.

Now, keep in mind that this is something of "start-up" money as the Commission will be getting fees to cover their oversight work of any charter schools they themselves authorize.  (That will be about 4% of whatever the charter school will get annually from the State.)  Naturally, that won't cover all Commission costs but it will help.

Right away, you could tell the Commission members were confused.  One said that getting grants might be difficult because grants have reporting requirements, etc.  Dave Quall said that it would be tricky taking money from anyone to support the Commission's work.  Another asked why, as volunteers working on a state commission, did they have to find any money at all?  Wasn't it in the Governor's budget?

The staffer seemed unsure and then someone on the Commission checked and sure enough there was money in Gregoire's budget AND Inslee's budget.  (It's also in the Senate's budget but I couldn't find it in the House's budget).  The figure ranges from $1.2M to $1.5M for the biennium.  (Personally, I think the office could run at about $500-600k so those both seem high to me.)

The other issue was over finding the Executive Director.  Some wanted a national search and others said they want someone from our NW region (particularly from Washington State).  There was discussion over getting someone from out-of-state who already knows charters.  But it came back to the idea that it is better to have someone who knows our state rather than charters because every state does chartering differently.

It was quite a vigorous conversation with one member saying that the salary should be higher if they want the best.  Another member shot back that this was a state job with a state salary.  Another member felt our state would have the talent needed for the job.  Additionally, the AG lawyer did say, in response to a question, that members could tell friends/colleagues about the job BUT would have to disclose any relationship (and possibly recuse themselves from any vote on the person).

I was particularly impressed with Trish Dziko who stated that the newest states to get charters are now operating at "Charters 2.0."  Meaning, with 20 years of experience to look at and then make decisions about, it is unlikely that Washington State would necessarily follow any other state's lead.  She said the culture "we create as a Commission" will guide our charter law.

It felt like an SPS meeting where it "we have so much to do, let's rush it."  What's the rush?  Wouldn't it be better to start with a solid organizational foundation BEFORE approving charters?

Or maybe that's not really the point.

5 comments:

Just Saying said...

Section 225 of I 1240 will allow for additional dollars to flow into charter schools. Get ready for boatloads of dollars to fly.

Just Saying said...

Brian Rosenthal did an article that stated KIPP and others won't come to Washington until they see how things will shake out.

Melissa Westbrook said...

JS, and again, the way this is playing out, that's a calculated risk. If the authorizers keep churned out approved charters that don't make the 8 a year cutoff, then you could have approved charters from last year roll-over into the next year (and so on).

I do understand what KIPP and Rocketship are saying; they want solid ground and don't want to risk money if there is a chance (and I think a good one) to overturn some or all of 1240.

Again, it's very hard to know what we will get but the timeline favors those who know what they are doing.

Anonymous said...

KIPP, how'd they get that out of shut up and sit down? Shouldn't that be SUASD?

What's their motto, KIPP, funner than a root canal?

-nonamenocredit

Charlie Mas said...

When I read the initiative, my understanding of the timing was the same as the AG's office. The first eight approvals relayed to the SBE from authorizers will get implementation approval - provided they come with time gaps between them.

If the ninth approval from an authorizer arrives simultaneously with the eighth, then all of the authorized applications received at that time go into the lottery. It could be more than just two or three.

The meaning of "simultaneous" will be determined in Court the first time any of the actual first eight to arrive doesn't win the lottery. If seven had been approved and you hand-delivered number eight when the office opened - and got a time stamp for 9:03am - you wouldn't want to be in a lottery with someone who had their FedEx delivery time stamped at 11:26am that same day.

The commission is going to need a staff and a budget once they have some schools to supervise. Before then, I think they can get by with a director who will do all of the work assigned to the commission - making the rules, etc. I'm sure that a majority of the nine commissioners will allow themselves to be led by their hired executive. You know, just like any other school board.