WASHINGTON, D.C. | March 12, 2014 -
The charter school model began in 1991 when my home state of Minnesota passed legislation to create the nation’s first charter schools. In the years that have followed, more than 6,000 charter schools have opened in 42 states and the District of Columbia, serving approximately 2.5 million children each year.
As you know, charter schools are public schools that operate under a contract, or charter, negotiated with the local school board or other authorizer. The charter school agrees to meet certain student achievement goals and metrics, and in exchange, the institution will be exempt from certain state laws and regulations. This enhanced flexibility encourages charter schools to pioneer new programs and teaching methods that are meeting the unique needs of students and getting real results.
In Indianapolis, for example, the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School expects every student – no matter his or her background or circumstance – to have a college acceptance letter upon graduation. The school’s rigorous curriculum and laser-focus on preparing students for higher education has helped more than 80 percent of its alumni earn a bachelor’s degree.
Yes Prep Public Schools in Memphis and Houston also have an impressive record of success. The schools, which primarily serve low-income families, offer SAT prep courses and classes that help students learn the financial aid system and practice writing college application essays. And the hard work pays off: for fifteen years in a row, every Yes Prep graduate has been accepted into college.
For many children and their parents, charter schools are a beacon of hope for a better education – and a better life. The schools are extraordinarily in demand; wait lists for charter schools have grown steadily in recent years, reaching a new record of 920,000 students in 2012.
As we work to help more students access a quality education, we must support charter schools as a valuable alternative to failing public schools, and work together to encourage their growth. Expanding choice and opportunity remains a key pillar in the committee’s education reform efforts.
Last Congress, we advanced the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act. The legislation, which passed the House with bipartisan support, would reauthorize the Charter School Program and allow successful charter school models to be replicated across the country.
Similar language to support charter schools was included in last year’s Student Success Act, our legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and revamp the nation’s education system. However, the Student Success Act has been awaiting Senate consideration for more than six months. Each day without Senate action is another day thousands of students remain trapped in underperforming schools.
We cannot make these families wait any longer for the education their children need and deserve. If the Senate refuses to bring education reform legislation up for a vote, then the House will explore opportunities to advance targeted legislation to encourage charter school growth.
Recent news highlights the challenges the charter school model faces, and underscores the importance of reauthorizing and strengthening the Charter School Program to help ensure these institutions can continue raising student achievement levels nationwide.
I look forward to discussing with my colleagues and our excellent panel of witnesses ways the House Education and the Workforce Committee can help strengthen the charter school model and support the expansion and growth of these innovative institutions.
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