Lifting the Cap: How the Charter School Community Took on the Status Quo and Won

Outline
I.
II.

Overview
Goal, history and challenges

III. Strategy and the campaign
IV. Negotiations and striking a deal

V.

Next steps

VI. Lessons learned
2

Overview
Charter schools in New York have an impressive record of accomplishment – helping tens of thousands of children from disadvantaged communities and tough circumstances get a superior education. However, New York was fast approaching the maximum number of charters allowed by law in the state (200).

This would leave more than 40,000 kids on waitlists without an opportunity to attend a charter school, and would prevent the creation of new charter schools. To change this, the cap on the number of charters allowed had to be lifted.
In January 2010, the New York State legislature rejected legislation that would lift the cap – and they almost passed legislation that would have changed the way any future charters would be authorized to make it even more difficult to create new charter schools.
3

Overview
The only silver lining in their anti-charter behavior was that their failure to lift the cap doomed New York‟s application for federal education funding through Race to the Top, a national competition that asks states to make meaningful educational reforms, including an emphasis on charter-friendly legislation, in return for significant new funding. New York‟s failure to lift the cap helped cost the state $700 million in federal funds. The federal government created a second round for states to fix their applications by June 1, 2010, and re-apply. This created an opportunity to build a cap-lift campaign around winning Race to the Top. To pass a bill and battle the special interests in Albany, a smart campaign on behalf of the charter movement had to be developed, supported, funded, and executed quickly.
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History & Challenges

History & Challenges
• New York State law capped the number of charter schools at 200. Virtually all of those charters had been granted. Without lifting the cap, no new charters would be created and New York could not win Race to the Top (RTTT). The goal of the teachers‟ unions was to keep the cap firmly in place, even if it meant losing Race to the Top.

6

History & Challenges
• By failing to pass legislation in early 2010 that would lift the cap and implement other reforms like creating a real teacher evaluation system, New York failed in the first round of RTTT.

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History & Challenges
• With a $9 billion budget deficit – and expected combined budget deficit of $60 billion over the next four years – it became critically important for NY to win RTTT and collect $700 million in new federal funding for schools. • The next application deadline for RTTT was June 1, which created a real deadline and sense of urgency to pass charter reform and lift the cap.

8

The Strategy

Creating a Political Movement
• While charter schools have succeeded in educating children, they had failed in building bi-partisan political muscle to consistently advance and protect the interests of the charter school movement in Albany. • On the other hand, while the teachers unions are often obstacles to reform, they have done an excellent job developing relationships with legislators, contributing to campaigns, and creating a real political operation across state government.
– Both teachers unions provided field support for Get Out The Vote efforts for both chambers and both parties – Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver even declared that the unions would have no better friend than the State Assembly, and held his 2008 election night victory party at UFT headquarters.
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Need for a counterweight
Since the legislative process requires the consent of the Speaker for any legislation to move forward, the imbalance of political power put a virtual stranglehold on any progress for the charter movement. Until the charter movement began to develop its own political operation and build a counterweight to the teachers unions, it could never be successful in Albany, regardless of the results the schools produced. This would only come from the support of a group of committed, generous charter school supporters who could provide the resources and credibility for a real campaign. Thankfully, it did.
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RTTT as the Centerpiece
Despite the problems and obstacle the teachers unions would create, the political and budgetary climate presented a path to victory, especially the opportunities offered by Race to the Top. As a result, we developed a campaign based on winning the federal funding, rather than focusing completely on charters. Specifically, we framed it around:
• New York‟s looming fiscal crisis • The perception of Albany as dysfunctional • RTTT offering $700 million in desperately needed new funding
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Public Opinion & RTTT
Our polling showed that the public was generally favorable towards charters, but wasn‟t exactly sure what they are.
The favorability margin (50-18, Figure A) was far lower than the margin by which they wanted NY to do what it took to win RTTT (91-7, Figure B.).

Figure A

Figure B

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Public Opinion & RTTT
RTTT also gave legislators a justification for voting for a cap lift – they could to point to the overwhelming tide and public desire to win the money and tell the unions that their position on charters did not change, but it would be impossible to vote against getting the money. Most importantly, the June 1 deadline for Round 2 of RTTT created a sense of urgency for passing legislation within a specified period of time. With that said, most experts expected the cap lift to fail, again.

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Public Opinion & RTTT
Once New York was rejected from the first round of RTTT grants, editorial boards all over the state began to weigh in on the importance of submitting a viable Round 2 application. The editorial boards become a very valuable tool for our campaign.

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The Campaign

Making the campaign possible
• The cap lift effort would require four overall components:
– – – – Paid media Free media Field and grassroots Strong lobbying effort in Albany

• We began talking to major charter school supporters who were willing to help fund the campaign and willing to ask their friends to do the same.

• We quickly raised a substantial amount of money, allowing us to conduct a thorough campaign that would be taken seriously.
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Making the campaign possible
• A successful campaign could not even be launched without a committed group of charter school supporters willing to donate and raise significant amounts of money.
– Thanks to an exhaustive effort by a group of committed, high powered charter school supporters, the resources were raised to fund a several month campaign with the ability to make a compelling case to New Yorkers through paid media, free media and grassroots organizing.

• The presence of these supporters also sent two powerful messages to the legislature:
– The resources to drive the RTTT message and ultimately assign credit or blame would exist – The charter movement was quickly becoming a lasting political force capable of taking on the teachers unions and the entrenched interests in Albany

• This strong presence and clear commitment was critical to success – the campaign would have gone nowhere without it.
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Education Reform Now (ERN)
• Even with sufficient funding, finding the right entity for the campaign was essential. • Education Reform Now was the right home for several reasons:
– – – – Very credible national and local reputation Strong leadership in Joe Williams Existing 501c3 and 501c4 structures A strong donor base

• Through ERN, we put together a team to run and win the campaign.
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Campaign Org Chart
Executive Director, DFER & ERNA

Joe Williams

Campaign Management Bradley Tusk

Paid Media Josh Isay Bradley Tusk

Lobbying Patricia Lynch

Interactive Jonah Seiger

Polling Neil Newhouse

Field Patrick Van Keerbergen

Communications Stefan Friedman

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Grassroots Organizing
• Even before NY was formally rejected during Round 1 of RTTT, we began the process of organizing charter school parents.
– With 40,000 children already in charter schools and 40,000 more on the waitlist, a base of parents who could weigh in with legislators already existed. They just needed to be organized.

• State legislators typically do not receive widespread communications from their constituents, therefore they often overvalue the loudest voices, even if they don‟t reflect the majority. • The teachers unions do a good job of making themselves heard. The charter movement did not and we had to change that.
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Field Program
• We built a full-fledged field operation just like any political campaign:
– – – – – Hired a field director & staff Rented an office Developed a canvassing program Developed a phone program Created relationships with charter schools to enable access to parents we could then mobilize – Set up an email/ fax program – Created a visibility program

• To make sure the field team was organized from the beginning, we created and maintained a very detailed field plan.
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Detailed Field Plan (example)

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Banner Ads & Postcards
Our field efforts also included banner ads and postcards, urging constituents and supporters to contact their legislators and tell them to vote to lift the cap.

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RaceToTheTopNY.org

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The ads
• At the same time we started organizing parents, we began launching hard hitting, pervasive ads on tv and radio across the state. The ads framed the issue of winning RTTT. They showed we were serious and we couldn‟t be ignored. The first ads were designed with 3 goals in mind:
1. Make it clear that New York needed the RTTT money 2. Explain that the teachers unions were blocking the funding 3. Urge Albany to do something about it

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Example script, first round of ads
“Right the Wrong” “It‟s never too late to right a wrong. When the teachers union stood in the way of common sense education reforms, our public schools lost $700 million from the Obama administration. Money we could have used to stop devastating budget cuts. That‟s just wrong. But Albany can still get the money from Washington by raising the cap on charter public schools and demanding greater accountability from teachers in the classroom. Albany should do what‟s right.”

“Right the Wrong”
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Passing the Bill

Passing the Bill
• Traditionally in Albany, legislation is decided by 3 entities, with the support of two of the three typically needed to ensure success:
1. The Governor (David Paterson) 2. The Democratic Conference Leader (John Sampson) 3. The Speaker of the Assembly (Sheldon Silver)

• However, despite the Governor‟s support for charters, his lame duck status meant we had to win over both legislative leaders.

Paterson

Silver

Sampson

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Democratic Conference Leader
• While the Speaker was a staunch ally of the teachers unions, it wasn‟t clear the same was true for the John Sampson, the Senate Democratic Conference Leader. • Through talking with pro-charter Senators, it became clear that Sampson was open to talking with us:
– He had a strong desire to pursue education reform and thought charters were a part of the bigger picture – He was not afraid to take on the teachers unions – He really wanted New York to win RTTT

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Negotiations in the Senate
• Our initial plan was to try to put the cap lift in the budget, where Sampson would have the most leverage. However, the neverending budget stalemate made that impossible.
– We would have to instead pass our bill through the Senate and use the pressure of RTTT to try to force a deal in the Assembly

• We worked with the Senate to craft legislation that would lift the cap but address concerns from anti-charter advocates.
– The Senate bill addressed issues like special education, English as Second Language (ESL) and transparency and accountability.

• By doing this we were negotiating against ourselves, but we were also taking some objections against off the table.
– This sent the message that we were willing to be reasonable
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Negotiations in the Senate
• Labor didn‟t believe we could actually win in the Senate, so they didn‟t start working against it until a few days before the vote.
– The UFT also initiated negotiations on a compromise charter bill, but then decided that the bill would fail in the Senate, and broke off the discussions.

• We worked every Senator relentlessly and received broad support from both parties.
• On May 3, the Senate version passed by a margin of 45-15.
– A majority of these were Democratic Senators, support we have never seen before from that side of the aisle

This was a clear sign of Sampson’s leadership and authority within his caucus. That support was an important base for 33 the charter movement.

Nearing a deal

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Major Daily Headlines on May 3

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Pressure on Speaker, Unions
• With the bill headed to the Assembly, we faced a complicated situation:
– We needed to apply enormous pressure in order to force the Assembly to the table – But if we overdid it and applied too much pressure, we would give them an excuse to walk away entirely (to show the world that they couldn‟t be bullied).

• As a result, rather than targeting specific members in a negative way, we placed all the pressure on the unions.
– We framed the issue as an effort by teachers unions to block New York from winning RTTT, and Albany couldn‟t let that happen.
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Targeting the Assembly
• At the same time, our field campaign focused intensely on individual members, sending hundreds of calls from parents and voters to each targeted member.
– The script and message was never negative towards specific legislators. – This was the same for postcards, faxes and parent-legislator meetings. – We also launched a broad banner ad campaign on the web that could generate automatic faxes to specific legislators, and pushed our message via social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. – We created an attention-garnering poster and plastered it across Albany and in the districts of key legislators.
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Poster & Web Ads

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Field program stats
Over the course of the campaign, our phone and canvass program reached legislators in multiple ways, several thousand times.
Postcards Voicemails Canvass Visits

Assembly Senate
TOTAL

4,422 4,513
8,935

12,582 3,308
16,160

4,385 4,385
4,385

20 3
23

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Sample phone script
Constituents and supporters left over 16,000 voicemails for legislators. Here is an example of a script we used: “As you may know, New York has the chance to win $700 million in federal education funding. Given the disastrous state budget -- higher taxes, service cuts and new borrowing, we need this funding more than ever. To win, all the State Assembly needs to do is pass a few common sense reforms like increasing the limit on the number of charter schools allowed by the state. Many of our state and national leaders support lifting the cap, including State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Former President Bill Clinton. We're calling voters in [Borough/ County] to ask them to leave a message for [Assemblymember] and ask him/her to support lifting the cap on charter schools so that NY is in the best position to win $700 million in federal funding.”
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Sending the right message to members
• Our editorial board campaign placed more direct pressure on the Speaker and Assembly, but through the third party of a newspaper and never directly from us. • If we attacked them directly, it would have forced the Speaker‟s hand.
– He would have called and defeated the Senate bill to prove he couldn‟t be bullied.

• We also shifted our media buy to focus almost exclusively on NYC and Albany.
– The campaign essentially became an effort to convince one individual that there was so much pressure around winning RTTT that rejecting the bill was not a viable option.
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Important endorsements
• While the ads, the editorials, the field organizing, and the passage of the Senate bill, all helped make the case, we knew we would need high profile supporters as well. • Starting at the beginning of the campaign, we targeted several big name potential supporters to either endorse the legislation or campaign for it, including:
– Bill Clinton – Arne Duncan – Andrew Cuomo – Al Sharpton

– Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein were already strongly on board and expressed their support in every appropriate venue.
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A Tidal Wave of Endorsements
• Sometimes, even with endless planning and preparation, campaigns involve an element of luck, like the week of May 17:
– Monday: Andrew Cuomo announced his support for charter schools and our legislation – Wednesday: President Clinton and Rev. Sharpton announced their support (we orchestrated these stories) – Thursday: Secretary Duncan came to NY, visited a charter school, and made it clear that if NY wanted to win RTTT, it would need to lift the cap on charter schools

• We quickly capitalized on the cascade of support, creating a tv ad, a radio ad, direct mail and flyer all touting the support of each.
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Cuomo endorsement

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Clinton & Sharpton endorsement

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Duncan endorsement, visit

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Leveraging endorsements

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Leveraging endorsements
“OPINION” Radio ad
When it comes to improving New York schools whose opinion do you trust? “Barack Obama.” “Bill Clinton.” “I trust Andrew Cuomo - he‟s independent.” “Reverend Sharpton „cause he‟s always looking out for our community.” Well Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Andrew Cuomo and Al Sharpton all agree that Albany needs to increase the number of public charter schools in New York so we can quality for $700 million in new education aid from Washington. President Obama says that charters unlock potential in students. Clinton says Albany should lift the lid on charters, and Reverend Sharpton says charters are a choice that parents and students should have. “I trust the newspapers opinions on schools.” “The papers aren‟t in the pockets of the union.” While the Daily News, the Post, Newsday, Buffalo News, and papers across the state also agree, Albany should act now so we can get the $700 million and avoid deep cuts to our schools. Call Albany at 877-540-2717. Tell them to raise the charter cap. Give our kids a chance. 48 Paid for by Education Reform Now.

Roadblocks
• The opposition did not take our campaign lying down.
– They retaliated with their on tv and radio ads, as well as attacks in the media. – They focused on for-profit schools and our hedge fund supporters.

• While our buy was heavier and our ads were better, we also knew their efforts had to be counteracted.
• We hit back with a tough tv spot making it clear that failure to lift the cap would mean losing RTTT, greater cuts to schools and potentially higher property taxes.

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Hard hitting ads
“With each passing day our schools get closer to losing 700 million dollars. Every day that passes is another day we fail our kids. Unless Albany stands up to the teachers union and allows more charter schools, we will lose 700 million dollars from Washington. If they don’t act by June 1 it will mean deep school cuts and higher property taxes. Tell Albany to pass education reform now. Before time runs out and our kids lose out.”

“Calendar”
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Consistent pressure from editorial boards

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Consistent pressure from editorial boards
• Throughout the negotiations, we kept the pressure consistently coming from editorial boards. An op-ed from the Huffington Post (6/9/10), breaks it down:
“In the NY Post, there were 21 separate editorials and 21 opeds for raising the cap in less than three months; sometimes several on one day. Nine were written by charter school authorizers, operators or paid lobbyists. (And this doesn't count the slanted coverage of some of the reporters, with the bizarre headlines of "War on Charters") In the Daily News, there were 14 editorials and 11 opeds for raising the cap; with only one leaning against. Of the opeds, three were written by a regular columnist (Errol Louis) and five by charter authorizers, operators, or paid representatives of the charter industry.”
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Assembly negotiations
• About two weeks before the deadline, the Speaker tasked Mike Mulgrew (the President of the UFT) to negotiate a bill on his behalf. • We knew there were a couple of issues Mulgrew would want – some we could compromise on, some not.

• For example, the “co-location” issue:
– Banning charter schools from locating in empty space in existing public schools was tantamount to not lifting the cap itself, because 75% of charter schools are “co-located.” – On the other hand, we could compromise by requiring that improvements made to the charter school placed in a co-located building be provided to the entire school.
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Assembly negotiations
Another contentious issue was the debate over which entities could have chartering authority.
• Removing the State University of New York as an independent chartering authority was unacceptable.
– Since the alternative was the Board of Regents, whose head is appointed by the Speaker, removing SUNY as a chartering authority would end up giving the unions far more control in the chartering process, slowing down the creation of new schools.

• On the other hand, allowing the State Comptroller to audit charter schools was acceptable.
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Assembly negotiations
• The debate went on for over a week, with negotiations starting and stopping over many of these provisions. • As the opposition would insist on provisions like banning colocation, we would work with the editorial boards assiduously to ask them to speak out against the specific poison pills and help take them off the table. • Finally the negotiations shifted directly to the Assembly, starting and stopping for several tense days.
– It seemed like the Assembly was insisting on provisions they knew we would not accept, hoping we would walk away from the table, allowing the bill to fail but also giving them someone to blame.
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Negotiations, compromise
• But as the RTTT deadline kept approaching, we kept the pressure on. • One contentious area was “for-profit” charter schools:
– Based on the union ads attacking for-profits, it became clear that the for-profits were our weak spot from a public and political standpoint. – Explaining why some schools need to make money from educating children is a tough argument, even though less than 10% of current charter schools are for-profit, and many do an excellent job. – Mulgrew decided that a ban on new for-profits was a must for him.

• This was our final give in negotiations. With tensions mounting, an agreement was reached on the Thursday evening before the Tuesday (June 1) deadline.
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The Final Bill
The final bill included most of the legislation that passed in the Senate, but contained:
– A ban on for-profit schools going forward – Allowed the State Comptroller to audit charter schools – Required building-wide improvements and other new processes when co-location occurred

However, the major goals were achieved:
– The cap would be raised from 200 to 460 – Co-location would be permitted – SUNY would remain independent chartering authority

The result: 260 new charter schools and New York would 57 have what it needs to win Race to the Top.

Day of passage: Assembly
• The House remained in session almost the entire night heading into the Friday before the Tuesday (June 1) deadline. • The bill finally came to the floor that morning and while it passed by a margin of 91-43, an error was found that would have removed SUNY‟s independent chartering authority. • A chapter amendment was quickly prepared and passed fixing the mistake and the bill was on its way to the Senate.

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Day of passage: Senate
• Passage was expected to come easily in the Senate, given the margin on the first bill earlier that month. • However, because for-profits were banned going forward, the bill lost considerable support among Senate Republicans. • That meant Sampson would have to garner votes from each and every member of his conference
– 32 votes are required to pass legislation in the Senate, and the Democrats have exactly 32 members

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Day of passage: Senate
• After a frantic Thursday evening and Friday morning of lobbying the Senate GOP to still support the bill, the legislation came to the floor that Friday afternoon. • And while many GOP Senators did vote no, the bill passed by a 4514 margin, including all 32 Democrats. • It was signed by Governor Paterson on May 28.

• The State submitted its new and improved Race to the Top application to the US Department of Education the following Tuesday.
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Headlines the following day

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Headlines the following day

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Headlines the following day

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Winning the Race to the Top

Winning the Race to the Top
On August 24, Secretary Duncan announced that New York was among the 10 finalists to receive the more than $3 billion available in the second round of funding for the Race to the Top competition. • New York was granted $700 million in new educational funding, rewarding states like New York for embracing education reforms like tying teacher evaluations to test scores and allowing for high performing charter schools to thrive. • Lifting the charter school cap was a major component to New York‟s victory. In Round 2, New York received the nation‟s second highest score (after Massachusetts), improving its score from Phase 1 to Phase 2 by more than 50 points.

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Reaction to the Win

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Reaction to the Win

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Next Steps

Next Steps
• While the legislation‟s success represented a massive victory for the charter movement, more work remains this year, including:
– Showing appreciation for the members who voted for the final legislation so they see the upside in supporting charter schools, even at the expense of the teachers unions. – Supporting pro-charter candidates and opposing anti-charter candidates in the elections this fall. – Fighting for restoration of cuts to funding for charter schools.

• Taking that momentum into 2011, which means:
– Significantly more parent organizing. – A full legislative agenda for the 2011 session. – Continuing to educate the legislature and the people of New York about what charter schools are, why they are good, why they are important, and why they merit support.
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Next Steps
• Being a true counterweight to the teachers union means fighting the good fight day in, day out, year in, year out, to ensure the charter movement has the support it needs in Albany going forward.
– – – – Forming better relationships with legislators Defining the issues properly in the media Organizing and activating parents Using these campaign tools daily to continue the momentum every year in Albany

• If we let our guard down for one moment, we could quickly find ourselves on the short end of the legislative stick.

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Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned
This campaign offers a template to two major challenges:
1. How to take on teachers unions and pursue education reform in state capitols across the nation. 2. In Albany, how to take on specials interests to achieve other types of reform.

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Tools for a successful campaign
• This campaign shows how the special interests have kept a lock on power in Albany and why they are still formidable – by working hard to maintain their power. • These organizations have become successful by:
– – – – – Being smart and organized politically Forming and maintaining relationships Working with the media Aggressively using grassroots techniques Running ads whenever and wherever necessary

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Tools for a successful campaign
• These tools are not exclusive to any one interest or movement – We used all of these effectively in our charter campaign
• These same tools can be used to pursue other types of reform, from ethics reform to budget reform, pension reform or any of the other efforts needed to begin making New York‟s state government functional and responsible again.

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Replicating this campaign
What does this type of campaign require?
1. An issue worth fighting for 2. A way to talk about the issue that relates to average people in a tangible way (like whether or not New York would win RTTT) 3. A real campaign run by political professionals who are not indebted to the current powerful special interests in Albany 4. Funding that can take advantage of all the tools outlined above

Not every issue or cause meets these criteria, but with the right leadership and the right campaign, many can succeed.

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The National Education Picture
New York is not the only state where the teachers unions are powerful and can block reform.
• Unions like the UFT and NYSUT predominate in state capitols all across the nation, often standing in the way of a myriad of reform issues
– Teacher evaluations – Teacher tenure & seniority – Merit pay – Closing failing schools

• While RTTT may not always exist to help propel a campaign, the tools needed to run a winning campaign are not exclusive to the teachers unions in any state – education reformers can use the same tools just as effectively, if not better.
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The National Education Picture
• With the right components, reform efforts around the country can be won. That includes:
– – – – The right strategy and approach Specific issues A well run campaign Sufficient funding

We can learn from the campaign in New York to lift the charter cap to help make sure those efforts across the nation succeed.

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Contact information
For further information or resources, please contact:
Bradley Tusk btusk@tuskstrategies.com (646) 254-6718 Shelley Capito scapito@tuskstrategies.com (646) 435-2408 Joe Williams joewilliams@dfer.org (212) 614-3213 Stefan Friedman friedman@knickskd.com (212) 561-8730 x 223

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Joe Williams
Joe Williams is currently the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform and Education Reform Now (ERN). His focus as Executive Director is to reinforce DFER‟s goal on building a powerful national coalition in support of meaningful education reform. Williams previously worked as an award-winning education journalist for the New York Daily News. He also served as an education reporter with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where he won numerous local, state, and national awards for his coverage of the Milwaukee Public Schools and that city's groundbreaking school choice programs. In addition to studying reform efforts in Milwaukee, Williams has completed exhaustive research on the challenges of individual school districts in cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, and San Diego. He has developed expertise on national education policy such as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, and on state issues such as the growing Charter School movement. Williams has written in-depth pieces for the Hechinger Institute, the Thomas Fordham Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. He has contributed book chapters, articles and policy reports on numerous education-reform related topics, and for a variety of respected publications including: Education Next, Education Sector, and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government 79 Press.

Bradley Tusk
Bradley Tusk is the founder of Tusk Strategies, a political and strategic consulting firm based in New York City. Tusk Strategies helps clients facing complex goals involving government and politics both develop and execute full scale campaigns, like lifting the cap on charter schools. In 2009, Bradley Tusk served as the campaign manager for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg‟s successful re-election bid. The Bloomberg campaign was described by the New York Times as a "juggernaut.” The New York City Mayor's race was considered to be among the nation's highest profile elections in 2009.

Prior to serving as campaign manager for Bloomberg 2009, Tusk served as Deputy Governor of the State of Illinois from 2003-2006, where he oversaw the state budget, policy, legislation, communications, and operations.
After serving as Deputy Governor, Tusk served as Senior Vice President at Lehman Brothers, where he created the lottery monetization group and headed all of its efforts regarding U.S. based lotteries. Combining his backgrounds in finance and politics, Tusk developed a successful framework to help state's monetize their lotteries. Before his appointment as Deputy Governor, Tusk served as Special Assistant to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and prior to that served as Communications Director for New York Senator Charles Schumer.Tusk also served as Senior Advisor to New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, and was an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University. Tusk is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania 80 and the University of Chicago Law School.

Josh Isay
Josh Isay has spent fifteen years running and consulting for Senate, Gubernatorial, House and Mayoral campaigns and high profile corporate communications clients. Josh managed Chuck Schumer's 1998 upset of Al D'Amato and served as Schumer's first Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate. Since co-founding KnickerbockerSKD in 2002, Josh has helped elect or re-elect New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Manhattan District Attorney Bob Morgenthau and Governor Anibal Acevedo-Vila of Puerto Rico. He has also run communications campaigns for the firm's many corporate, labor and nonprofit clients, including the New York State Transportation Bond Act, the Working Families Party, 1199 SEIU, the Communication Workers of America, National Public Radio and Procter & Gamble. In 2008, KnickerbockerSKD was one of the direct mail firms on Barack Obama's successful presidential campaign and produced all mail sent to North Carolina and New Hampshire along with national mail to seniors and GOTV/early vote. In 2006, the Washington Post wrote that Josh's work as lead consultant to Senator Joseph Lieberman's general reelection campaign "totally changed the dynamic of the contest," to effect a "remarkable political turnaround" that earned the campaign a spot on the Post's list of "Ten Best Incumbent Campaigns."
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Stefan Friedman
Stefan Friedman is President of Strategic Communications and Public Relations for KnickerbockerSKD. After spending eight years at the New York Post as a political columnist, campaign correspondent and editorial writer, he came to Knickerbocker in 2006. Since then, he has rapidly grown our PR business, servicing dozens of clients in the healthcare, education and real-estate sectors. At KnickerbockerSKD, Stefan puts his deep experience as a working journalist to work for corporate and non-profit clients including St. Vincent's Hospital, The New York City Charter Center, The New York State Health Foundation, the Primary Care Development Corporation, Tavern on the Green and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. He specializes in helping organizations manage complex public relations challenges, both short- and long-term. At the Post, in addition to serving as a member of the Editorial Board, Stefan broke numerous high-profile stories, from allegations of sexual harassment against New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's decision to investigate the New York's controversial Independence Party on charges of child abuse. He provided lead coverage of Ronald Reagan's death, terrorist threats made against Jewish areas of Brooklyn and Mayor Bloomberg's re-election campaign. He was the Post's lead reporter on Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential race before returning home to write a twice-weekly column on the 2005 citywide elections that was picked up across the country.
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