Chartering in Guam: A Bipartisan Model

Guam Governor Eddie Baza Calvo and his Lt. Governor are both Republicans. The Speaker of the unicameral Guam Legislature (Iliheslaturan Guahan), Dr. Judith T. Won Pat, is a Democrat. The Chair of the Education Committee, Senator Nerissa Bretania Underwood, is a Democrat and former Superintendent of Education.

All support charter schools. In fact, Speaker Won Pat was the author of the original law. And former Republican Senator Marilyn Manibusan, a key organizer of the inaugural charter schools week, continues to be a driving force in ensuring that new charter schools are successful.

Why the strong bipartisanship? It could be that extraordinary island hospitality. Or maybe it is because everyone is related to each other!

Whatever it is, all of these political leaders, including the governor, met with us during the celebratory week. We discussed multiple ways to improve and strengthen their charter school law—together.

I can’t help but think back to chartering origins over twenty years ago in Minnesota. Does this sound familiar? We had a Republican governor, Democratic legislature, and Democratic chief author(s) of the charter school bill. The only way the bill passed was with strong bipartisan support. That doesn’t happen much anymore, I’m afraid.

The good news is that the Guam leaders appear united in addressing key policy improvements:

Create a charter school office. Currently, the one and only authorizer is providing both support services for new charter schools as well as functioning in its traditional oversight role. That’s because there is no office in government or in the private sector that exists for that purpose. An authorizer can’t—and shouldn’t—do both functions.

Remove the cap. Currently the law caps the number of charter schools at seven, and defines the types of schools allowed. Some must be conversion schools. A cap has a “chilling effect” on parents and teachers coming forward to create new educational opportunities for kids.

Ensure funding stream goes directly to the charter school. Charter school funding follows the student. Government funding should go directly to the board of the charter school based on student enrollment, and not be subject to a special appropriation.

Here’s the story in pictures. Governor Calvo meets with school leaders. I join three women senators:  Senator Underwood, Senator Muna Barnes, and Speaker Won Pat. And charter school leaders help us celebrate the legislature’s proclamations!