WASHINGTON, D.C. | June 1, 2011
Today we will review the important role charter schools play in the nation’s education system. As you may know, charter schools are public schools created through a contract with state agencies or local school districts. The contract affords the school more flexibility to meet the unique education needs of students, and in exchange for this freedom, charter schools are held accountable to parents and communities for achieving the goals set out in the charter.
Republicans on this committee have been strong proponents of charter schools for many years, as we recognize the opportunities they offer parents and students. Charter schools empower parents to play a more active role in their child’s education, and offer students a priceless opportunity to escape underperforming schools. These innovative institutions also open doors for teachers to experiment with fresh teaching methods and curricula that they believe will have the greatest positive impact on students in their individual community.
Charter schools have a proven track record for success, encouraging higher academic achievement in even the most troubled school districts. For example, a Louisiana charter school established in the wake of Hurricane Katrina enrolled many students who had fallen significantly behind other students their age after the disaster forced them to miss a full year of school. Despite these difficult circumstances, dedicated teachers tailored ground-breaking coursework to meet the needs of these students. As a result, student achievement levels soared and this charter school is now the third most successful high school in New Orleans.
Other areas of the U.S. could greatly benefit from the launch of similar high quality charter schools. Take Detroit, which has closed 59 schools and cut 30 percent of the school system’s workforce in the last two years due to enormous budget shortfalls. Parents and students in Detroit are desperate for new education opportunities, and that’s why the city is now exploring a plan to convert as many as 45 traditional public schools into charter schools.
As we work to improve the nation’s education system and raise student achievement levels, much can be gained from expanding access to high quality charter schools. Unfortunately, barriers to charter school growth exist in the form of state caps, limited authorizers, and hostile state legislatures. Efforts must be undertaken to streamline charter school funding and reduce unnecessary bureaucracy at the federal level. We must also explore ways to help states and authorizers support charter schools in meeting high quality standards, and provide incentives for states that encourage the establishment of charter schools.
Today’s witness testimony will be very valuable as we develop proposals to support the development of high quality charter schools in communities across the country. I look forward to gaining our witnesses’ perspectives on the successes and challenges facing charter schools, and learning what must be done so more families and students can benefit from these ground-breaking institutions.
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