Charter Education Schools

Mississippi Legislators’ Visits Precede Charter School Push

Charter School Mississippi
Students at KIPP Delta in Helena, Ark., wear uniforms with a message extolling the school’s philosophy. When these middle school students move to high school, they’ll wear blazers to class. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Senate education leaders will visit the charter school Tuesday.
Read more: – Visits precede charter school push
Mississippi legislators have toured charter schools in Florida, New Orleans and Arkansas as they prepare to tackle the controversial issue again during the upcoming 2013 session.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, who toured charter schools in Florida recently, said he hopes a charter school proposal can be drafted in the coming weeks that can pass the House in 2013.

In the 2012 session, the House Education Committee rejected charter school legislation that had passed the Senate.

The tours of charter schools in other states are designed in part to build support for allowing the schools, which receive public funds but do not have to adhere to many regulations governing traditional public schools, to locate in Mississippi.

On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, and Senate Education Vice Chair Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, all strong charter school proponents, will tour the KIPP charter school in Helena, Ark., and meet with parents.

“The KIPP school in Helena has been successful in preparing students from the Arkansas Delta for college and careers,” said Laura Hipp, a spokeswoman for Reeves. “Lieutenant Governor Reeves wants to talk with parents, who had a choice in their children’s education, and see classes at the charter school. Their model of success could and should be replicated in Mississippi.”

Charter school supporters say they provide parents and students a choice, especially in areas where the traditional public schools are struggling. Opponents say they siphon funds and the best students from traditional public schools.

Gunn said he hopes to put many of the concerns about charter schools to rest in drafting the legislation the House will consider in 2013, though he stressed he does not anticipate being the primary author of a House bill.

The first issue, Gunn said, is concerns that the schools will be “religious in nature … The bill we are working on says non-sectarian – will not have a religious purpose.”

While choosing his words in a manner to leave room to negotiate, the Republican speaker also indicated that charter schools might be best suited in Mississippi for areas with chronically low-performing schools.

“We want them to succeed,” Gunn said. He said the “objective is to provide a quality educational opportunity to every kid in the state and many kids in the state live in areas that already have good educational opportunities…, but some live in areas where they have not be provided (quality educational opportunities.) That seems to be the obvious place to start.”

Gunn cited schools performing at D and F levels – based on state standards – as obvious areas to allow charter schools. During the last session, Reeves and the Senate leadership were insistent that C-performing or successful districts also be allowed as location of charter schools without the approval of local school boards.

Another issue, Gunn conceded, is what governing agency would oversee the charter schools.

In Florida, Gunn said the state board oversees the schools and has authorizing power, but there is an appeals board if someone believes a charter school has been unfairly or illegally denied from locating in the state.

Gunn said under any law the decision on whether to authorize a charter school “should not be a subjective decision.”

After the 2012 session concluded with charter school legislation dying in the House, Reeves, who presides over the Senate, said he would work to develop support for “real education reform” in 2013.

Charter schools will be one of many education issues debated during the 2013 session, in which Gov. Phil Bryant has said he wants to focus on education. Charter schools is also part of Bryant’s education agenda.

Mississippi currently has a law that allows parents of a chronically low-performing school to convert it to a charter school. Thus far no group has tried to use the law.


Charter Education Schools

Two High-need School Districts Let Families Choose Education

New York, NY – A revolution is brewing in the South Bronx and in Ocean Hill/Brownsville, Brooklyn, as parents there can now declare independence from some of the city’s worst-performing elementary schools.

The local Community Education Councils have empowered mothers and fathers of incoming kindergarten students to choose the schools that offer their children the districts’ best opportunities for education.

No longer will the kids be force-funneled into failing schools based solely on where they live.

Choice in education can drive higher achievement. Parents flock to schools that do well and shun those that fail to get results — while administrators and teachers are forced to compete for students by raising their games.

There is plenty of failure in both districts.

Encompassing Mott Haven, Melrose and Concourse in the Bronx, District 7 has a population that is both poor and minority.

Just 25% of the children met or exceeded standards in English last year, and a mere 38% made the grade in math. And those numbers are an improvement over the 23% in English and 35% in math posted two years ago.

In contrast, the district’s 10 charter schools scored 57% proficiency in English and 71% in math. Serving the same cohort of neighborhood children, the charters are filled with kids whose parents secured better choices by applying for admission and being selected by lottery.

In Brooklyn’s District 23, an equally impoverished and minority area, a mere 30% of students scored at or above grade level in English this year, and a dismal 38% did the same in math. That’s up from 28% in English and 34% in math in 2010.

Those fortunate few children who claimed spots in district charter schools attained 56% proficiency in English and 82% in math this year.

Now, a broader range of parents will get a greater degree of choice as well.

While none of the traditional schools in either district perform at the level of the top charters, the best will draw the largest number of applicants and the worst should face intense public pressure to improve.

“If you have no choice,” said District 7 council President Neyda Franco, “you can’t do anything.”

The two councils’ break with the traditional system is a mark of intense frustration on the part of the volunteer panels, made up primarily of parents, grandparents and guardians of students.

Schools in the districts have defied reform, thanks in large part to an entrenched system — solidified by the teachers contract — that denies principals the power that charter leaders have to demand excellence from their instructors.

True education reform will arrive only when school leaders have the freedom to build their staffs, reject mediocrity and then be held accountable themselves.

Allowing parents to spurn bad schools should be an important step in that direction.


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Merton Teams Up With UEA On Eco School Project

United Kingdom – Merton Council has partnered up with the University of East Anglia to launch a new project to improve energy efficiency across a number of schools in the borough.

This pioneering project, called ‘Green School Giving: A London Schools Carbon Initiative’, will raise sponsorship from the private sector to fund school energy reduction measures. It is being led by the UEA’s Carbon Management MBA students and the council’s Climate Change team.

The project aims to provide opportunities for businesses to demonstrate their corporate citizenship through an initiative that combines an economically sound social investment with fast action on climate change. The council will be going to businesses in Merton and beyond, asking them to invest in energy efficiency measures as part of their corporate social responsibility.

Merton Council has a strong track record of low carbon investment and innovation. Its groundbreaking ‘Merton Rule has’ influenced national planning policy, requiring new developments to generate at least 10 per cent of their energy from onsite renewable energy. Most recently, the council has been successful with its Wandle Valley Low Carbon Zone, where residents learned about how to save energy in their homes.

Naomi Baker, a student on the UEA’s Carbon MBA, said: “The UEA MBA team is excited to work with Merton Council by leveraging our expertise and network to build a bridge with London’s Corporate Community. This will help schools deliver a high-quality low carbon learning environment for children, keep school running costs down, and meet our collective commitments on climate change. It is paramount that learning facilities reflect and enable children to become sustainable citizens early on and complement their education on climate change”

Councillor Andrew Judge, Merton Council’s cabinet member for environmental sustainability and regeneration, said: “Tackling climate change on a local level, as well as a national level, has long been one of Merton Council’s priorities. So often environmental sense makes economic sense, and in these financially difficult times being environmentally conscientious is financially beneficial. This project will help our schools save energy. It will also build on our solar PV programme, which has already seen panels going up on school roofs, harnessing renewable energy to help power the buildings. If we can use this project to educate our children about practical ways to save energy, it will stand them in good stead for a green future.”

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Lots of Money to Make California Schools Greener

During the fall campaign, California’s attention was focused on the presidential race and Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure. But in a historic, largely overlooked environmental shift, the state’s voters also triggered a multibillion-dollar tidal wave of new green spending.

By overwhelmingly passing Proposition 39, voters closed a tax loophole on out-of-state corporations that will generate $1.1 billion a year. But the measure, buried in a crowded ballot, also required that half of that money fund projects to install new windows, better insulation, modern lighting and more efficient heating and air conditioning at thousands of public schools and other government buildings over the next five years.

That windfall, roughly $550 million a year, or $2.75 billion before it sunsets in 2018, dwarfs anything that California or any other state has ever spent on energy efficiency for public buildings.

The new program is on par with the $3 billion that voters approved in 2004 for stem cell research and the $3.3 billion that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger committed to his “Million Solar Roofs” plan in 2006.

Critics worry, however, that lawmakers will fritter the Proposition 39 money away because they have too much power to decide the details.

While not as flashy as money for solar or wind projects, many experts say such seemingly routine changes as weatherizing buildings and replacing leaky windows is actually one of the cheapest ways to reduce smog, greenhouse gases and utility bills.

“If we do this well and people see it as money well spent, as an investment that should be mimicked in the private sector, then this could really be a very big deal,” said Tom Steyer, a San Francisco financier who spent $32 million bankrolling Proposition 39.

U.S. schools spend $8 billion a year on energy bills. If those were cut 25 percent, it would save $2 billion, enough to buy 40 million new textbooks. Steyer sees that as easy money for cash-strapped schools, and views his ballot measure as a demonstration project for other property owners.

A 55-year-old Stanford MBA with a net worth of $1.3 billion, Steyer cofounded Farallon Capital Management in 1986 and built the company into the world’s 17th largest hedge fund. In 2010, he funded a large part of the campaign to defeat a ballot measure by Texas oil companies that would have suspended California’s global warming law.

His latest campaign is energy efficiency.

One of Steyer’s favorite examples is the Empire State Building. Two years ago, a Sunnyvale company, Serious Materials, replaced all 6,500 windows on the New York City landmark. It was part of a $13.2 million upgrade with new insulation, lighting and ventilation, which the building’s owners calculate will cut energy costs 38 percent and pay for itself in three years.

“People in the public sector often confuse expenditures and investments,” Steyer said. “If you go out to dinner that’s an expenditure. If you send your kid to college, that’s an investment. If this money is used wisely, we will get multiples of it back in savings down the road that can be used for schools.”

All the new money has some Sacramento observers nervous, however.

“Look at the High-Speed Rail Authority, the stem cell money, the tobacco tax funds and the state recycling fund,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “There have been slush funds and corruption in all of them. We have very little confidence this money will be spent effectively unless there is a sea change in Sacramento.”

Proposition 39 does not spell out in much detail where the $550 million a year should be spent. It says the money should pay to retrofit schools, colleges, universities and other public buildings; it can also be used to fund job-training programs in energy efficiency — and incentives to put solar panels on homes.

Joe Caves, a longtime environmental lobbyist who wrote the measure, said the lack of specifics is on purpose. The measure notes that the Legislature must appropriate the money, which means next year lawmakers will pass a bill to create new programs in one or more agencies like the state Department of Education or the California Energy Commission, he said. Those agencies will set up grant programs for school districts and other local governments to compete for the money.

“It’s got to go through existing public agencies, and the projects have to be evaluated as cost effective,” Caves said. “It’s not like legislators are going to be able to say, ‘I want $100,000 to go this project or $50,000 to that one.’ And they can’t make the grants to private businesses. We built in a lot of controls.”

The measure also creates a new nine-member oversight committee of engineers, architects and economists to commission yearly audits and post the results online.

For now, Steyer said, he’d like to see much of the money go to schools.

“When you drive around California and look at the physical condition of some of the schools, it can be a little shocking, don’t you think?” he said.

As soon as next week, state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, will introduce a bill to spell out how to spend the money. De Leon said he would like to see most of it go to schools, with strict criteria, such as ranking schools by kilowatt hours of electricity used.

“It’s not going to be a program of pork,” he said. “We are going to go to schools of highest need, schools that don’t have the resources to move forward with energy-efficiency projects, and do the work there and create jobs.”

De Leon said that for roughly $500,000 each, crews could retrofit half of California’s 10,000 public schools using Proposition 39 money. For that amount, they could replace windows, boost insulation, and fix leaks and lighting. In some cases, they could upgrade heating and cooling systems.

A study last year by the EPA found that public schools can easily save 20 to 40 percent on utility bills — which run in the tens of thousands of dollars a year — through simple energy-efficiency work.

Since 2009, the California Energy Commission has doled out $132 million to retrofit public buildings. But much of that came from federal stimulus dollars that have now run out.

There are success stories: The Sacramento City Unified School District, for example, replaced lighting, put in LED exit signs and made other upgrades, saving the average high school $53,000 a year, with a payback of seven years.

One of the state’s top energy experts, Stanford University engineering professor Jim Sweeney, said he’s watching the rollout carefully.

“Fixing insulation and leaky windows isn’t as sexy as saying, ‘Look at our new solar installation,'” he said. “But for every $1 spent you will save more on energy efficiency than a solar array.”