By Stacey Gauthier, Principal, Renaissance Charter School
First Charter Sector Advocacy Efforts
Reflecting on the Charter Center’s ten year anniversary, I want to take you back to a historic summit that took place in June 2007 when, for the first time, representatives from the Charter Center, CEI-PEA, NYC DOE, NY Charter Schools Association and UFT sat down in a public forum to address a broad set of policy and advocacy issues facing New York City’s charter schools.
I was there leading the Advocacy and Equity Committee that had been formed a month earlier at the Charter Center’s New York City Charter School Leadership Summit – a first of its kind convening which brought many charter leaders together to start advocating on behalf of the sector. The Committee, co-chaired by Mark Waxman, founder and former head of school of Future Leaders’ Academy, had established key priorities areas for the summit discussion.
Back then, we had just begun to understand that there was strength in working together as a sector, and thanks to the tireless efforts of many people, charters had become their own LEAs for federal funding, received enhanced special education funding and had favorable facilities arrangements. But, we knew that our work had just started.
As a committee, we believed we would be able to act as a catalyst for much-needed positive reforms in charter school governance which would promote equity and sustainability for all charters. We identified three key priority areas to be able to establish action plans. These were 1) lifting the cap on charters, 2) ensuring financial equity, and 3) increasing parental advocacy. These topics guided the June public summit.
At the summit, the panelists also pondered over: How can charters better serve at risk students and will they receive necessary funding? Can labor unions and charters co-exist? How is it determined that a charter is a public or a non-public school for purposes of funding and other resources? We asked the panelists to share their thoughts on what parent advocacy would look like in a charter school and what kind of systemic reforms could they expect to affect?
Charter opponents cited concerns over charter school quality, oversight and the fiscal impact of increasing the number of schools so rapidly. Panelists attempted to shed light on these issues. We had to explain how charter schools were currently funded and discuss the implications of charter schools - as LEAs only for federal funding, not state funding - being rendered ineligible for categorical funds and the impact of this on a charter school’s revenues.
Our Committee’s mission statement became: “The mission of the Advocacy and Equity Committee is to comprehensively understand the laws, regulations and policies that impact charter schools in NYC (including those pertaining to charter school funding) and to work toward promoting such laws, regulations and policies that ensure fairness for charter schools, their students, families and staff.”
I must say, this was one of the memorable collaborative meetings of the public education sector that I ever took part in. While more questions were posed than answered that day, we all appreciated the necessary discourse. Reliving this memory, I realize how far we have come, but how far we still have to go. Wouldn’t be great to have a reunion? Onward and upward fellow advocates...