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Committee Statements

Hunter Statement: Markup of H.R. 2218, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The amendment in the nature of a substitute makes some slight technical corrections, clarifies some of the original bill language, and makes some minor policy additions to further improve the legislation’s overall goal of expanding access to high-performing charter schools.

I appreciate the opportunity to introduce the committee’s second piece of legislation to help improve the nation’s education system. One of the top priorities in our reform efforts is streamlining federal programs and policies affecting K-12 classrooms. To that end, the legislation we will consider today simplifies and modernizes the federal Charter School Program to better support the success we have seen from charter schools over the past 20 years.

Charter schools are amazingly innovative and have the potential to make a world of difference for children in communities across the U.S. Unlike traditional public schools, the charter school model is not limited by a one-size-fits-all approach to educating students. Instead, these institutions enjoy freedom from state and local rules and regulations in exchange for stronger accountability.

The flexibility afforded to charter schools allows teachers and school administrators to adjust schedules and coursework to better serve a wide range of students in their individual communities, including students with disabilities and English Language Learners. If a charter school believes mandatory summer sessions or classes on Saturdays or special curriculum will generate the best results for its students, it can do so. Charter schools can also offer full or hybrid-online options for learning outside the traditional classroom setting, which is particularly helpful for students in rural communities with fewer education choices.

As Chairman Kline stated earlier, charter schools are in high demand; more than 400,000 students across the country are on waitlists. Unfortunately, many states have imposed arbitrary caps on the total number of charter schools permitted, as well as the total number of students allowed to attend these schools. These provisions unnecessarily stifle parental choice and keep students trapped in low-performing schools.

Additionally, many charter schools have difficulty securing adequate funding. Current law awards funding for the establishment of new charter schools, but does not include support for replicating, updating, or improving existing quality charter schools. As a result, charter schools with a proven record of high student achievement may be unable to secure funding to replicate its educational model in a new community.

In order to support continued innovation and flexibility at the state and local level, the amendment in the nature of a substitute ensures charter schools are granted autonomy over budgets and operations. It also adds a provision encouraging charter schools and traditional public schools to share best practices so that both can benefit from innovative teaching methods that have generated positive results.

While we want to encourage the establishment of more high-quality charter schools, we must also protect limited taxpayer funds and make sure they are used effectively.  For this reason, the substitute encourages states to increase their support for quality initiatives to improve existing charter schools. The underlying bill includes an evaluation so that federal, state, and local policymakers can determine the program's impact on participating charter schools. The substitute ensures that student academic achievement is part of this important evaluation.

The Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act has garnered bipartisan support from members of this committee, and I am very pleased that we have joined together to craft a strong piece of legislation that will have a positive impact on states, school districts, parents, and their children.

The legislation has also garnered praise from numerous groups, including the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the Charter School Lenders’ Coalition, and the Knowledge is Power Program. Each of these groups recognizes the valuable role charter schools play in the nation’s education system, and joins us in our effort to expand access to high quality charter schools for more students. I request that these letters be submitted for the Record.

With that, I urge my colleagues to support the amendment in the nature of a substitute to H.R. 2218, and yield back the balance of my time.

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