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Education & Labor Committee Republicans

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McKeon Statement: Hearing on “Building on What Works at Charter Schools”

Thank you, Chairman Miller, and good morning.

I want to thank you for holding this important hearing and thank our witnesses for being here to shed light on a key opportunity to improve educational options for students and families. Republicans on this Committee have been strongly committed to the charter school movement for quite some time, and we’re pleased to see that the cause is now bipartisan.

Charter schools are essential to turning around our nation’s ailing public schools system. They offer choices to parents and children, many of whom would otherwise be trapped in chronically underperforming public schools. And they have made great strides in raising achievement and tackling unique educational challenges from urban centers to rural areas.

But despite their many successes, charter schools are not growing as they should. They face overwhelming barriers to expansion, from arbitrary state caps to hostile state legislatures. 

Forty states and the District of Columbia have charter schools; of those, 26 states and the District have a cap, or limit, on charter school growth – be it the number of schools per state or the number of students per school. 

These caps are often the consequence of legislative trade-offs, representing political deal-making designed to appease special interests who prefer the status quo rather than reasoned education policy.

As a result of these caps, children across the country now languish on daunting waitlists, just waiting to enroll in the public school of their choice simply because it happens to operate as a charter. An estimated 365,000 students are on charter school waitlists today. That’s enough students to fully enroll 1,100 new, average-sized charter schools.

As I’m sure our witnesses will tell us today, charter school advocates have always aspired to a rather humble goal – they simply want access to the same equal playing field as traditional public schools. To receive equal funding, equal facilities, and equal treatment so that this commitment to innovation has a real chance to succeed.

And what makes these schools so innovative? While charter schools must adhere to the same guidelines and regulations as traditional public schools, they are freed from the red tape that often diverts a school’s energy and resources away from educational excellence. Instead of constantly jumping through procedural hoops, charter school leaders can focus on setting and reaching high academic standards for their students.

As we look to the future, our goal should not just be charter school expansion, but the expansion of charter school excellence. It is not enough to talk about the importance of charter schools; we have to take action. Paying lip-service to charters while failing to enact the right policies – or, worse, expanding charters while eliminating the features that make them work – would be unfair to these schools, the innovators behind them, and the students they serve.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take to expand and replicate high-performing charter schools. Last Congress, Rep. Charles Boustany introduced the Charter School Program Enhancement Act – legislation that would have increased awareness of the best practices among successful charter schools and incentivized their growth by focusing funding on states without restrictive caps. It was our hope that this legislation would have made it into the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

In fact, the renewal of NCLB is a perfect opportunity to support high-performing charter schools. We can promote reform at the state level through both funding and policy decisions.

Under current law, chronically underperforming schools that face restructuring have the option of reopening as a charter school. I think this is an important option for local leaders. Unfortunately, that option was watered down by the majority under the NCLB discussion draft developed in 2007.

Mr. Chairman, I think that was a mistake – and given the obvious bipartisan support for charter schools that we’re seeing here today, I hope we can revisit that issue when we reauthorize NCLB in the coming months.

With that, I look forward to hearing from this excellent panel. Thank you, Chairman Miller. I yield back.

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