The National Charter Schools Conference concludes today with a rally at the Capitol where pro-charter school legislators will speak.
Speakers at the 11 a.m. event include former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Howard Fuller, Georgia House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, and state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell.
The conference has had an impressive slate of speakers, beginning with President Bill Clinton and Newark Mayor Cory Booker on Tuesday. (These speeches are now online so you can watch them here.)
On Wednesday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke via conference call from his office in Washington.
Essentially, the secretary told charter supporters to spread their good ideas; he praised collaboration between charters and districts, as is occurring in Denver; he held out Common Core Standards as a boon to states and charters rather than a straitjacket and he said the only help the feds can give underfunded charter schools to get more cash is to use its bully pulpit and its incentive grants to prod states into more advantageous charter funding policies
He noted that the feds are a small part of education funding, providing only 8 percent of overall funding. The rest, he said, comes from state and local funds.
Duncan urged charters to get into the turnaround school business. His agency is focusing on turning around the lowest-performing schools by replacing management and staffs in some instances.
Duncan set out three areas for charter schools to get more involved:
Duncan took questions from the audience, most of which had to do with funding. But his answers underscored the reality of school funding; it is largely a state and local issue, and the federal government can’t tell them what to do with their own money.
Nor can Race to the Top grants be used to help the 16 charter schools in Georgia who lost local funding due to the May 16th state Supreme Court decision, said Duncan, in response to a question from Nina Gilbert of Ivy Prep Academy in Gwinnett, one of the affected schools.
As to the court decision that the state’s alternative authorizer, the state Charter Schools Commission, was illegal, Duncan said that he had met with Gov. Nathan Deal and the mayor of Atlanta, although it was unclear how Kasim Reed could play a role in charter school funding for schools outside his own city.
Most of Duncan’s comments reflected his usual themes: “I think one of the most insidious things that’s happened in this country over the past couple of decades has been the dumbing down of standards for children. In far too many states, including the state I come from, Illinois, we have been lying to children and lying to families in telling them they are prepared for college and careers when, in fact, they are nowhere near ready.”
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog