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Gates Foundation Supports District-Charter Collaboration with Grants

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This post, written by Sean Cavanagh, originally appeared in the Marketplace K-12 blog.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said Wednesday that it is awarding $100,000 each to schools in five cities to promote collaboration between charter schools and traditional public school districts, part of a program that has channeled $25 million in awards to such efforts to date.

The grants for "district-charter collaboration compacts" will go to school officials in Aldine, Texas; Lawrence, Mass.; San Jose, Calif.; Spokane, Wash.; and Tulsa, Okla.

Since 2010, schools in about 20 cities have been awarded compact grants, according to the philanthropy. The Gates foundation has promoted the compacts as a way for those independent schools and regular public school systems to work cooperatively and avoid the friction that has frequently engulfed the two sectors in states and communities.

To that end, a number of the compacts receiving grants said the money will support attempts to create "universal enrollment" systems that establish consistent, transparent, and fair standards for parents trying to get their children in either charters or traditional schools.

Charters have faced increasing criticism from those who say some set de-facto standards for admission and in disciplinary policy, resulting in some schools accepting students with stronger academic backgrounds and fewer behavioral problems than do traditional public schools.

In a conference call with reporters, officials from some of the winning school systems said they also hoped to use the money to support co-location of facilities, or the sharing of space among districts and charters, which often tussle for space.

The grants will also help the districts and charters develop joint programs in professional development and personalized learning, and come up with common measurement to evaluate schools, Gates officials said. (Education Week receives funding from the Gates foundation, which supports the newspaper's coverage of the education industry and K-12 innovation.The newspaper retains sole editorial control over coverage.)

Spokane schools superintendent Shelley Redinger, whose district recently approved its first charter school, said the grant will support cooperation on professional development and the creation of a common enrollment system between the two sectors. (Washington voters in 2012 passed a statewide measure allowing for the creation of charters in the state.)

But she also said the money will help her come up with a clear policy for who gets into charters and other public schools in the eastern Washington district.

The goal is to reduce any "mystery" in the the enrollment process and ensure that the two systems work together to serve "economically disadvantaged populations," Redinger said. 

The objectives are different in the Lawrence, Mass., school system, which had been placed in receivership by the state after years of academic struggles. Jeffrey Riley, the state-appointed receiver and superintendent of the school system, said the money would help the system and its charters support the aggressive recruitment of highly skilled teachers, who are coveted by districts across Massachusetts.

The plan is to "really go after the best talent in the Boston area," Riley said.

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