Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Sr. VP of State Advocacy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Todd Ziebarth to the newsmakers line to talk about federal funding and state rankings.
Leahy: We have on the line now Todd Ziebarth the senior vice president for State Advocacy of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Welcome to The Tennessee Star Report Todd.
Ziebarth: Thank you. Good morning.
Leahy: And Carol Swain is in here with us our all-star panelist. We have a question for you Todd. President Biden during the campaign promised that he would in essence shut down federal funding for charter schools it seems to me. Is he following through on that? And what is the future of charter schools?
Ziebarth: Yes, you are correct. One point President Biden had made some comments about pulling funding from certain types of charter schools and were concerned about that. But we are working hard with both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate as well as with the Biden administration to ensure that we’ll continue to have funding for high-quality public charter schools available.
Leahy: And what is the Biden administration telling you?
Ziebarth: Well, we’re not hearing a whole lot from them right now about it. The president is going to be releasing his budget soon. And I think that will give us our first indication of where this administration is going to be when it comes to funding public charter schools.
Swain: I think that in a state like Tennessee where we have such over a billion-dollar surplus in funds that if the federal government were to pull back funding the state government could step in if they wanted to.
Leahy: What’s your thought on that Todd?
Ziebarth: Yes, the key part of the federal funding is a start-up grant program that Bill Clinton actually created when he was president and had been supported by Bush and Obama and Trump before Biden. So we’re hoping Biden continues to support it. And that program provides startup grants to charter schools when they’re just launching.
So it’s a critical program to ensure the quality of charter schools. Some states have done what Carol suggested which is they’ve created their own startup grant programs. And so they haven’t gone to the federal government. Not too many states have done load the federal government continues to be a key piece of funding charter school startup in a lot of states across the country.
Swain: Well, I think that it’s more important to support the charter schools that are already up and running and at some point, you can have so many startups, some of them will fail. They’re not all of the same quality and so my preference would be to identify the charter schools that are doing an excellent job and support those with funds rather than focus so much on starting up a bunch of new ones.
Ziebarth: Yes. I think we’ve seen in some communities charter schools are serving a really high percentage of the public school students, but we still see in too many communities where families need options. And I think those startup funds are important for schools to be able to open in communities where families don’t have a lot of good public school options and they can’t afford private school. And charter schools often fill that void. I think in some communities there are a fair number of charter schools already doesn’t mean we don’t need more but the need maybe isn’t as great in those places as it is in some other communities and states.
Swain: Well, I personally would rather see more, certainly I favor school choice, but with charter schools, since they are connected with public schools I think they have to be monitored very closely. And so it’s not just starting up charter schools. We have to maintain the quality and I would like to see the oversight. But I do believe that it’s important for the state governments and our state, in particular, to step into those areas where the federal government under the Democrats may cut funds to programs we value.
Leahy: Todd let me ask you this question. Let me follow up with this. You’re the head of state advocacy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Tell us in your view. What are the top five states? What are the five best states for supporting the growth of charter schools?
Ziebarth: Yeah. That’s a great question. We do an annual report where we look at the states and rank them and we’re not ready to come out with our new report. But typically some of the states that are in the top, Indiana has been at the top of the list for some time. And then we have states like Minnesota and even some states that have passed laws more recently like Washington state and Alabama as well as Colorado that sort of the top tier of states. And so we have some in the Midwest and have some in the far west and have some in the South as well. At the current time there actually 45 states that have charter school laws. Just about every state has these laws in the books and is providing this free public school option to the families.
Leahy: Last question Todd. Where does Tennessee rate? Are we top, middle, or bottom?
Ziebarth: Tennessee is sort of in the middle of the pack with their initial law that was enacted several years ago. Like a lot of first state laws were weak in some areas, but the state lawmakers there have done a lot of work over the years to improve it. Particularly to provide more equitable funding for students in charter schools as well as to provide more options for people who want to start charter schools in terms of who they have to go to get approved and overseen by. Tennessee’s currently in the middle of the pack but has been moving up for the last several years.
Listen to the full third hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Todd Ziebarth” by Public Charter Schools.