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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

National Charter Advocacy Day in DC

“I support charter schools only because at this point in history charter schools are a mechanism to get the education of our children. The issue is not charter schools, the issue is the education of our children.”

“If this movement is going to mean anything, we’ve got to close that achievement gap. We’ve got to eliminate that achievement gap.”

So said Dr. Howard Fuller, founding Chair of the Alliance, and feature speaker at the National Charter Schools Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. just a week ago. Dr. Fuller’s stirring speech reminded many of us of what is at the core of the charter schools movement: the education of all children across the nation.

Those of us in the field, at the school level, and in the classrooms know first-hand of the amazing achievements going on in some of the most innovative charter public schools across the nation. For instance, a parent who sees her 6th grader’s reading skills steadily improve from a 2nd grade reading level to a 5.5 reading level in just one year, another parent surprised but proud that her son would rather go to school in below-zero Chicago temperatures and not miss his science class than stay home, and teachers watching their students learn and their ambitions grow as they enroll, and stay, in college in neighborhoods where the drop-out rates are higher than college enrollment rates are just some of the stories that show the direct impact charters have made. It is not surprising that the waiting lists to enroll in a charter in many states are at the thousands.

To be sure, not all charter public schools, and schools in general, are at the same playing level. But, that is what the charter school movement strives to do – allow charter holders and operators the opportunity to provide the quality education that our children need. It is our job as parents, teachers, school leaders, and advocates in the movement to make sure that our stories of what works and what doesn’t are heard so that public officials understand how to best improve public education in the nation and to ensure that successful models of schools can be applied in the communities that need it the most.

Last Wednesday, about 1500 charter advocates stormed through Capitol to visit their representatives, bringing the charter school movement to the national stage. Participants included members of the INCS Team and other leaders in the Illinois charter school movement. At the federal level, we asked members of Congress to co-sponsor the All Students Achieving Through Reform Act (ALL-STAR) which would support successful charter schools that are replicating and expanding, and we also asked Senators to approve President Obama’s budget which will increase funding for charter public schools by $52 million.

At the state and local level, we rely on the voices of parents, teachers, school leaders, and community members to get the charter school message across to public officials. Your show of support through the various actions we’ve had, including our very own Charter Public Schools Lobby Day in Illinois, have shown politicians the demand there is for charter schools and have led to this year’s huge legislative victory doubling the number of charters that are allowed in Illinois!

The groundwork for charter public schools has been laid, but it is still up to leaders in the community and to families waiting for their children to receive the public education they deserve to step up and start the conversations needed that will bring charter schools to communities across Illinois. To quote Dr. Fuller again, “nobody is just going to make the changes we need for our kids. We have to struggle to make that happen.”

To listen to his full speech, check out the video below and the link to other video recaps from the 2009 National Charter Schools Conference. You can also view pictures of the Illinois Advocacy Team at DC (and become a fan of INCS!) on the INCS facebook page!

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