While last year’s teacher walkouts were focused primarily on stagnant wages and crumbling classrooms, the strike demands now are more far-reaching. Teachers are pushing back against education reform policies such as charter schools and performance-based pay. They’re also fighting for social-justice initiatives like sanctuary protections for undocumented students. Although some experts say there’s a risk of losing public support as teachers become more political in their demands, the strikes so far have retained community involvement and have all been relatively successful. Even as the protests move from red states to blue cities, there is still a coherent narrative in place: Teachers are underpaid, asked to do more with less, and fed up.
At the urging of Gov. Gavin Newsom, a bill that will require charter schools to be more accountable and transparent is making its way swiftly through the legislature and may be the first of several bills seeking to tighten oversight of charter schools. Senate Bill 126 would require that California charter school boards comply with the same open meeting, conflict-of-interest and disclosure laws as district school boards, including holding public board meetings, opening records to the public upon request and ensuring board members don’t have a financial interest in contracts on which they vote.
Just hours after West Virginia teachers went on strike for the second time in a year, the state House of Delegates voted, 53-45, to indefinitely table an omnibus education bill the educators saw as retaliation for the job action they took last February. But while Senate Bill 451 — loathed by teachers because it proposed establishing the state’s first charter schools and funds for private school vouchers — appeared dead, the state’s three biggest teachers’ unions continued the strike for a second day on Wednesday to “make sure this is a dead deal.” The vote prompted the teachers’ unions to announce they would return to classes on Thursday.
Chicago’s second charter school strike ended early Monday with the teachers union winning concessions on pay raises for teachers and paraprofessionals that will put their salaries on par with educators at non-charter schools. CICS had warned during the strike that it could face bankruptcy if it implemented all of the union’s demands. In a statement Monday, the network said that “In order to pay for such a significant salary increase, we will be forced to make certain cuts and compromises. For example, we will likely need to limit the number of instructional coaches, assistant principals and other valuable support staff members.”
From union ballots to election ballots: A look back at the top 10 credit stories affecting U.S. charter schools in 2018
It’s been an eventful year for the U.S. charter school sector. Some schools edge closer to possible defaults, some have dealt with striking workers, and many lost some allies at multiple levels of government following the midterm elections. At the same time, options for charter school financings beyond rated debt have expanded substantially. S&P Global Ratings analysts recently discussed what they thought were the most impactful events in the sector that have had or could have credit quality implications. Here are their picks for the top 10 credit stories for charter schools in 2018.
The claim that charter schools divert money from traditional public schools seems correct on its face. Because most states allocate education money based on each district’s enrollment numbers, districts that lose students to charter schools will, by definition, receive less funds. But this is hardly unfair or inequitable. The state shouldn’t maintain the same level of funding for students who are no longer there. Funding also falls when students transfer from one traditional school district to another — but nobody would say public dollars are being “stolen” in that case, even though that’s exactly what happens with public charter schools. To be fair, charter school expansion does contribute to declining enrollment in traditional districts, which leads to pressure on those districts to downsize. It is difficult in the short run to get rid of staff and scale down school facilities. But it is absurd when charter opponents suggest that traditional districts simply cannot survive downsizing in the long run.
Teachers and administrators agreed Sunday to suspend the nation’s first-ever charter school strike, ending a four-day work stoppage at one of the largest charter networks in Chicago. But the fight could portend more to come in the labor movement’s long-running battle with the alternative schools. The strike against the Acero charter school network affected only about 7,500 of Chicago’s 371,000 public school students. But the impasse over pay, class sizes and other issues was closely followed by labor leaders and charter advocates around the country… The tentative agreement calls for staff raises over a four-year contract, a shorter school day more in line with the traditional city public school schedule and the incorporation of a “sanctuary schools” provision that Acero says meets staff concerns.
Analysis: How Bloomberg’s $1.8 billion gift to Johns Hopkins will elevate the national conversation about helping first-generation students complete their college degrees
What Bloomberg did is just one sliver of a barely noticed breakthrough playing out around boosting the college success rates for first-generation students. For decades nothing much worked to boost the college success rates for low-income and minority students. Although their rate of entering college rose impressively over the past decade, their actual degree-earning rates have been little better than flat. Instead of walking away with degrees, they walk away with disappointment, debt, or both. But that grim story appears to be changing, Richard Whitmire, author of The B.A. Breakthrough: How ending diploma disparities can change the face of America, outlines three factors driving this breakthrough: 1) The top charter school networks serving low-income students, which always promised parents they would find a way to ensure their children would earn college degrees, have carved out pathways to actually make that happen, 2) Colleges and universities have redoubled efforts to both admit more first-generation students and make sure they succeed, 3) Smart college advising aimed at first-generation students has always been sparse, which means many promising students end up at universities where they are unlikely to earn degrees. But that’s changing fast, thanks to an explosive growth in foundation-sponsored college advising programs.
Declining enrollment has contributed to a growing inventory of vacant and half-empty school buildings in cities across the U.S. Private and charter schools often want to purchase or lease space in these facilities. But school districts and union-backed politicians frequently balk. The Milwaukee Public Schools currently have at least 11 vacant school buildings and 41 schools operating below 70% capacity. St. Marcus Lutheran…which ranks in the top 1% statewide among schools with a majority of low-income and minority students, offered $1 million in 2013 to buy Malcolm X Academy, a large public-school campus that had been closed since 2008. The Milwaukee Board of School Directors said no and instead chose to sell the site to…a newly formed corporation registered to a pair of construction-business operators. That deal fell through, and in 2016 the school district opted instead to spend $10 million relocating the struggling middle school and its roughly 400 students to the Malcolm X campus.
The Education Department has awarded nearly $400 million in grants to help start, expand, and finance new charter schools. The federal charter school grant program has seen some of the biggest funding increases of any federal Education Department grant in recent years. Congress allotted $440 million, a 10 percent increase, for fiscal 2019. Though last year’s winners included a who’s who of big-name charter school organizations like Success Academies and IDEA Public Schools, the 32 school grantees this year are smaller, like the York Academy Regional Charter School Program in York, Pennsylvania, which is expanding to a full K-12 school with an International Baccalaureate program. The grantees won a total of $29.5 million to be given over up to five years.