A number of TCSA staff members had the opportunity to attend the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference, NCSC17, earlier this week in Washington D.C. There were approximately 4,000 attendees representing all aspects of the charter spectrum including charter CEOs, teachers and staff, governance boards, state charter support organizations (CSO) like TCSA, foundations and charter grant funders, charter management organizations, legislators, higher education institutions, charter authorizers, state education agencies, state and national policy organizations, and vendors representing every aspect of the charter sector including curriculum materials, human capital management, and charter facility construction and financing. More than 200 breakout sessions were loosely grouped into five major strands targeted towards charter school operations, leadership, instruction, policy, and governance, while state charter support organizations were able to participate in sessions that were “off the grid” and specifically focused on improving the performance of CSOs in their support of member schools through the sharing of best practices in areas of legislative advocacy, leadership practices, special education support, and school performance.

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, shared some recent public charter school accomplishments including that six out of the top 10 high schools in the U.S. are charter schools (US News and World Report); Colorado recently passed a law equalizing funding for charters and traditional public schools; the new administration has proposed an increase in spending for charter schools by 50 percent; and the creation of a unified traditional public school-charter board in Los Angeles. She also noted some setbacks to the charter movement, including the defeat of a Massachusetts amendment to lift the cap on public charter schools and the increase in litigation across the country that challenges the existence of public charters.

Two notable speakers highlighted the general session agendas. Dr. Steve Perry, CEO of Connecticut-based Capital Preparatory Schools, addressed attendees on Monday. You may recall that Dr. Perry served as one of the keynote speakers at our TCSA conference last October. Steve continued his “disruption of the establishment” theme, proclaiming that the most controversial thing we can do as educators is to give access to education to disenfranchised children. He declared that it should be offensive to us as educators that we must fight for something (school choice) that should have been given to us at birth. Perry’s message also outlined a call to action for charter leaders, including the admonition that our legislators should be notified every time a student enrolls in one of our schools or is put on a waiting list. He highlighted the need for more African American and Latino educators to take leadership roles in the charter movement, and he challenged educators to understand the necessity to support current political efforts to promote school choice, even if you may disagree with other elements of the current administration platform. At the conclusion of Dr. Perry’s remarks, IDEA CEO Tom Torkelson introduced the finalists for the $250,000 Broad Prize for the top public charter school, including the Denver School of Science, Texas’ own Harmony Public Schools and the Broad prize winner, Success Academy of New York.

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addressed a standing-room only crowd on Tuesday, expressing her support of the charter movement as well as other forms of school choice including traditional public education, private schools, and vouchers. She stated that “a system that denies parents the freedom to choose the education that best suits their children’s individual and unique needs denies them a basic human right – it is un-American, and it is fundamentally unjust.” She detailed her history of partnership with the school choice movement, including her contributions in crafting Michigan’s charter law in the 1990’s and her involvement in the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a public charter school founded by her husband. While reminding the audience that public charter schools prove that “quality and choice can coexist,” she added that they “are not the one cure-all to the ills that beset education” and provided an example of three successful Miami-area schools she recently visited – a public charter, a private school, and a traditional public school, noting that the common factor with all three schools was the satisfaction of the parents that their chosen school was providing their child a quality education.

As an association, TCSA staff members are working diligently to provide you leadership and value in the areas of charter school advocacy and quality member services for our great charter schools across the state of Texas. Conferences like NCSC 2017 help your organization to reinforce its commitment to the mission that we share with all of our member schools – to improve student achievement in Texas by advocating for and strengthening Texas’s diverse set of high quality charter schools.