WASHINGTON, D.C. | February 24, 2010
Thank you Chairman Miller, and let me begin by welcoming our distinguished panel of witnesses. We’re here this morning to talk about proposals to expand access to high-quality charter schools – a cause we’ve long embraced on this side of the aisle, and one that is drawing increasing support on the other side.
The nation’s first charter school law was passed almost 20 years ago. Since that time, charter schools have firmly taken root in our educational system, providing parents with a choice and communities with the innovation and competition necessary to begin transforming their schools.
Charter schools are the epitome of performance-based education: In exchange for flexibility and autonomy, they are held accountable for producing results. If they fail to meet accountability standards or attract enough students, their charters can be revoked.
As it turns out, attracting students has not been a problem for quality public charter schools. In 2009, an estimated 365,000 students were on charter school waiting lists – enough to fill more than 1,100 new, average-sized charter schools. In fact, more than half of all charter schools nationwide have a waiting list.
Although charter schools are public, they face significant disadvantages compared to traditional public schools. Charter schools generally do not receive facilities funding, nor can they raise funds through local tax levies. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have caps that limit charter school growth.
And while the teachers at many charter schools have chosen to remain independent, there is a growing movement among labor leaders to organize these schools and impose rigid collective bargaining agreements that prevent creative instructional approaches such as longer school days and years or weekend learning opportunities.
As states and local communities keep working to improve opportunities for their students, we need to ensure federal policy keeps pace with – and does not get in the way of – local innovation. The bill we’re discussing today is one of several promising ideas to expand access to quality charter schools by allowing new schools to be established under an existing charter. Other opportunities include eliminating state charter school enrollment and growth caps and improving access to facilities funding.
As with all federal programs designed to foster local innovation, we must be careful not to tie the hands of educators on the front lines. Too many federal mandates could undermine the flexibility and autonomy that make charter schools so successful.
At the same time, we must not dilute the value of charter schools or the funding they receive by broadening the definition in a way that allows schools without true autonomy to absorb their limited resources or cloud this unique subset of the public school system.
This morning’s hearing is a welcome display of bipartisanship on the broad issue of expanding access to high-quality charter schools, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how to make that goal a reality. Thank you, and I yield back.
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