Releasing the Collective Power of the Parent

September 14, 2010

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The charter schools community is no stranger to the power of the parent. Charter schools rely on parents to demonstrate "meaningful interest" in their charter petitions and Proposition 39 requests, for example. Many charter schools also rely on parents for the governance of their programs, and in their day-to-day operations, through volunteer hours and campus participation. Charter schools also expect parents to actively take responsibility in support of their own children's education.

Twenty years since its inception, the charter school community is beginning to rely on the growing parent constituency to help take control of their students' education in a broader sense as well. There are approximately 340,000 students in California public charter schools today. That translates to at least half a million charter school parents.

The power of charter school parents to move an advocacy agenda was recently on display in Los Angeles, when thousands rallied in the weekday heat to support Los Angeles Unified's Public School Choice Resolution, the next big step down the path toward giving parents greater control over their children's public education. Other examples include parent efforts on SB 740 facilities funding, state budget matters, and other state and local legislative matters.

CCSA has recently joined forces with Families That Can (FTC) to harness that power, helping parents understand their latent advocacy potential and converting that potential energy into kinetic, sustainable momentum for charter school advocacy goals on behalf of their children. FTC began as a small group of charter schools in Los Angeles, and their more active parents, working toward common ends on one-off advocacy activities. The organization now seeks to create an expansive network of charter school parents and community members who are willing to engage on matters such as charter school funding and facilities solutions, legislation and regulation, programmatic freedoms and operational flexibility.

"Parents and families should help drive the agenda on behalf of their children," said Antwaune Goode, Executive Director of Families That Can. "We hope to build an informed base of parents across the state who can provide the voice of the charter school advocacy presence in California."

CCSA will assist FTC by providing structure and coordination on state and localized advocacy actions. Gary Borden, the Association's Senior Vice President for Statewide Advocacy, notes the role parents can play in the political process.

"Parents can be a powerful constituency of voters with influence over elected officials. State and local officials should know that charter schools are an instrumental part of the California public school landscape, not fringe participants."

FTC, which has obtained funding and hired staff, plans to begin its work by intentionally growing its presence in Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.

"We'll start by building on promising grassroots efforts in those cities," said Goode. "In the future, Families That Can will expand organically into other areas across the state, in places that are ready for collective activity by charter schools and their parents."

In the short-term, FTC will be conducting direct outreach to school leaders and launching the group's website. FTC will be also coordinating specific advocacy actions, like rallies and letter writing campaigns. Looking forward, FTC will hold an annual Parent Leadership Summit, beginning in 2011, and will organize visits by parents to key legislative and elected officials.

Throughout the entire process, FTC will provide regular updates to CCSA members because the engagement of charter school leaders is a key to FTC's success. Goode and his staff are working closely with CCSA's regional teams to make connections with school leaders, parent coordinators and parents; more than 100 charter schools have already expressed interest in participating.

Stay tuned for further updates as Families That Can harnesses the endless potential to change the nature of public education through the engagement of educated and active charter school parents. If you are interested in getting involved, contact FTC at info@familiesthatcan.org.

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