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25th November 2022
Charter schools buoyed by pandemic gains
Charter school enrollment has held firm since soaring in the early days of the pandemic, according to a report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Debbie Veney, one the report’s authors, who believes the pandemic has “spurred parents to become more involved in the way that their kids were being educated,” says the steadying trend shows the initial enrollment jump was not just a fluke. Between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, charter schools saw their enrollment jump more than 7%, an increase of nearly 240,000 students nationwide, at the same time that public school districts lost more than 1.4m students. A year later, enrollment numbers at charter schools fell by just a fraction, according to the report, a decrease of about 1,400 students. In Oklahoma, for example, nearly 22,000 students left charter schools in the most recent school year — more than a quarter of the state’s overall charter school population and over half of the prior year’s enrollment spike. That drop was offset by other states like Florida, where just over 20,000 new students entered the charter system, increasing the state’s charter population by about 6%.
Recruiting and retaining school board members of color
Almost 90% of school board members are white, according to a 2020 EdWeek Research Center survey, often not reflecting their districts' student body. Just 38% of current board members are planning to return amid the politicization of board races and the national pushback against inclusive lessons and books on race, racism, and LGBTQ issues, according to a survey by School Board Partners. Recruiting and retaining school board members of color in particular is a challenge for many reasons, including little to no pay; a lack of background, expertise, and assistance in policymaking; and increasing scrutiny from parents and community members of equitable school policies. “It’s probably one of the most thankless jobs as elected officials go. And then on top of that, you really don’t get service, you don’t get paid for it,” laments Verjeana McCotter-Jacobs, deputy executive director for the National School Boards Association. Ethan Ashley, co-founder of School Board Partners, recommends that school board members of color, or of other historically marginalized identities, need greater financial assistance and also community-building support to not feel isolated.
Bronx school bus electrification project championed
A school bus fleet electrification project in the Bronx is among 10 grand prize winners in the Clean Transportation Prizes program administered by the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA). Under the Electric Truck and Bus Challenge, New York City School Bus Umbrellas Services launched a project following the city’s 2021 commitment to reach 100% school bus fleet electrification by 2035. Partnering with the World Resources Institute, NYLCV, Mobility House, and CALSTART, NYCSBUS proposed; an innovation cluster to train existing talent on electric school buses, charging infrastructure planning with vehicle-to-grid (V2G) preparation and a mobility hub demonstrating heavy-duty vehicle electric mobility can support other sustainable transportation choices benefiting the community. The Electric School Buses in the Bronx project aims to deploy 30 electric school buses in two phases, with the goal to fully electrify the entire 960 bus fleet by 2035.
Failure to reopen in-person learning hurt enrollment, report claims
Over 1.3m students left U.S. public schools following the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which blames some schools' failure to reopen before others made the situation worse. Nat Malkus, a senior research fellow at AEI and the founding director of its Return2Learn tracker, found the pandemic caused the greatest decline in public school enrollment the nation has ever experienced. "It’s definitely a story where politics drove school reopenings and school reopenings drove enrollments,” he claims.
Funding concerns as Oregon loses students but adds teachers
The total number of teachers employed in Oregon's public schools in the 2021-2022 school year hit an all-time high, while the number of enrolled students dropped to its lowest level in nearly 20 years. Overall, according to the Oregon Department of Education's annual “report card,” there were 32,836 teachers in state public school classrooms in the ‘21-22 school year, 1,508 more educators than in the 2017-2018 academic year. There were however 27,672 fewer students enrolled statewide last school year than five years ago. In Oregon, state education funding follows students so if enrollment trends don't recover, the state's 197 school districts could find themselves having to lay off staff. While the Portland Public Schools Board faced a wall of pushback from parents and teachers alike when they proposed to cut educator positions last winter, some members warned that they'd have to "pay the piper down the line," especially if enrollment didn’t rebound. PPS school board member Andrew Scott said at a March 9 meeting: “I have a feeling that is going to result in a huge cliff in one to two years.”
Miguel Marco interviewed
An interview with Miguel Marco, who earlier this month went to Washington, D.C. to receive the annual Terrel H. Bell Award, given by the U.S. Department of Education to outstanding principals. Marco, principal of Helen Wittmann Elementary in Cerritos, is one of nine recipients and the only one from California this year. Wittmann is one of 30 schools in ABC Unified, with 18,000 students in Los Angeles County. On how the pandemic helped him grow as a leader, Marco asserts: "I have learned to be flexible and pragmatic. It’s OK to take input from people and think differently. One reason we were able to navigate that period so well is we figured out as a staff it’s not business as usual. The relationship is very different than other places. We are not contentious. We listen to each other. Don’t get me wrong, it has not been easy. But at the end of the day, we walked away saying, we’re all in agreement on this matter and we’re gonna move forward."

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