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Remarks for National Charter Schools Conference 2018

June 19, 2018
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by K-12 Education Program Director Marc Sternberg

It is in this moment that I am reminded of how far we’ve come.

Thanks to the people in this room – the teachers turned school founders and the school founders turned advocates. All of you are a source of inspiration.

Thanks to you, there are hundreds of thousands of children in schools learning in ways we could only dream of a few decades ago. You are proving that quality schools in low-income communities are in fact scalable and sustainable successes.

Yet the need remains great. We know that despite all of this progress, for far too many families, good schools remain out of reach.

This reality creates a simple imperative: to do more. So we’ve got to press forward in ways that are both familiar and new to harness the power of what we’ve learned with our search for new ideas about how to reach more children and more communities.

Today Walton reaffirms our commitment to doing our part to do more. I will share more about what this means, and we hope you read more about this in the report on your chairs.

We’ll continue to do our part to grow high-performing charter networks that change lives across this country, like DSST, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools – this year’s finalists for the Broad Prize! These organizations – and others like them – have accomplished something remarkable that we celebrate and commit to supporting their continued growth.

We will also do some new things. Our school startup work, and our support for leadership pipelines, will prioritize the growth of new and different models, that aspire to bring communities together across old and arbitrary boundaries.

We’ll do more to seek out leaders with ideas for how a new school can transcend difference by recruiting demographically diverse student bodies.

We’ll pursue partners eager to put aside tired lines between district and charter schools to do what is best for children. That means supporting more innovative district leaders willing to partner with charter operators like we’ve done in Indianapolis and Atlanta.

We will invest more aggressively earlier in the leadership pipeline with organizations proven to recruit the best educators and leaders to open new schools, like Camelback Ventures and 4.0 Schools.

And we’ll grow our support for teachers and entrepreneurs of color, working to break down barriers that keep these educators, emerging entrepreneurs and leaders from opening and improving schools.

We will ask schools to hold all students to the highest standards, and support educators who are designing schools that help our most vulnerable students – who are far too often left behind – reach their highest potential.

And we will support the innovators with ideas about what school should look like that are fundamentally different from how school looks today. They will push all of us to think creatively and dream bigger.

All of this – more proven schools, new models, deeper pipelines – will take deeper fellowship with partners, old and new. Our vision of success, one in which every child receives an education that prepares him or her for success in college, career and life, calls for people and organizations to work together to build systems that allow great schools of all types to grow and thrive.

The need is greater than any one person or funder or organization. That’s why strong policy, especially at the state level, is so important. Governors and mayors and legislators should follow the lead of so many that have enacted strong policies over the last last year. These policies get the bureaucracy out of the way and put the needs of children and families first.

A vision like this is a pipe dream without deep partnership with other funders. We can’t do it alone, and we’re enormously grateful for the enduring partnership we’ve enjoyed with a number of peer funders. We are committed to working with the nextgeneration of funders from whom we have so much to learn.

The late John Walton, for whom this was a profound passion, testified in Congress in 1999 – the year before the first National Charter Schools conference. He said, and I quote, “This is not a political issue. This is an issue about children. It’s an issue about empowering parents – you’re empowering that parent to send their child where they think they’ll receive the best education.”

Over nearly three decades, I’ll tell you what has changed in the way the Walton family sees that imperative:

Nothing.

Thank you for the vital work that you do. I’m so optimistic about what comes next.

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