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Hearing Recap: Charter School Edition

Today’s Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee hearing, led by Chairman Aaron Bean (R-FL), covered the role charter schools play in the thriving school choice ecosystem. 
Charter schools are relatively new in terms of the American K-12 education system but already having a profound impact on many young lives. Today’s parents have decided to send nearly four million students to attend charter schools because of their advantages in innovation, accountability, and academic success.

Chairman Bean opened the hearing with the story of charter school lotteries across the country, describing the anticipation families feel waiting to see if their children are selected. The reactions during the lottery process alone are sufficient evidence for the benefit of charter schools.

“A name appears, and happiness erupts. A lucky winner has been picked. With the good fortune comes the opportunity for a student to escape an abysmal traditional public school and enroll at a school that meets his or her individual needs,” said Chairman Bean.

Expert witnesses testified to the charter schools success story. Witnesses included Dr. Macke Raymond, Founder and Director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University; Kenneth Campbell, CEO of New Schools for Baton Rouge; and Robert Pondiscio, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Dr. Raymond, regarded as one of the foremost charter school experts in the world, used her opening statement to recount the results of her much-anticipated 2023 charter school analysis. “Findings showed charter school students had 16 more days of learning in a school year in reading and six additional days of learning in math than similar peers in local district schools,” she stated.

Mr. Pondiscio supplemented Dr. Raymond’s statistical findings with his own personal anecdote about charter schools’ boon to educational attainment. As a past teacher at the South Bronx’s lowest performing public high school, Mr. Pondiscio knew the dysfunction of many traditional schools. However, a research trip led him back to the Bronx to Success Academy, a charter school right across the street, where he witnessed the astonishing, transformative academic success made possible by allowing students to escape failing systems.

Charter school advocates believe that each student holds incredible academic potential, which sometimes can only be unlocked by giving them access to a vibrant, innovative education that breaks free of the rote mold of traditional school models.

Turning to witness questioning, Republicans used the opportunity to drive home the importance of student success. In doing so, some highlighted how, apart from school choice, low-quality traditional public schools often face little accountability.

“What happens to a public school when it fails?” asked Rep. Lisa McClain (R-MI).

“Well, we should make investments in…” stammered Democrat-invited witness Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, Founding Board Member of the Network for Public Education, before trailing off.
Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) pressed further, saying, “Seventy-five percent of the black boys in the state of California fail to read, write, and think. Should those parents have a choice of leaving those failing public schools to go some place where their kid has a chance to succeed?”

“The question has limited the responses I can provide. The response to the actual question is ‘we need to make an investment in these children,’” replied Dr. Heilig, failing to acknowledge that enormous sums are already spent on many traditional public schools. 

Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) questioned Mr. Campbell on the important case study of New Orleans charter schools. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans went 100 percent charter.

“What have the results been in terms of student achievement?” questioned Rep. Kiley.

“The results have been nothing short of remarkable. So, as we said, it was virtually a wasteland. It was one of the worst school districts in America prior to Hurricane Katrina. You look today, you actually see a vibrant school system,” remarked Mr. Campbell. 
“So New Orleans went from among the worst to among the best?” Rep. Kiley followed up.

“Yes,” confirmed Mr. Campbell.

Finally, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) asked, “Charter school results for urban and minority students are especially positive. Could you say something more about that?”

Dr. Raymond relayed the data: Urban charter students gained 30 extra days in reading and 28 days in math in a year over their district school counterparts. Black students gained 35 and 29 days, respectively. For students in poverty, it was 23 and 17.

Echoing how the whole Committee majority feels when faced with Democrat opposition to charter schools, Dr. Foxx said: “It’s just maddening.”

Bottom Line: Committee Republicans showed their unwavering support for charter schools and the opportunity they provide to students trapped in failing systems; Democrats, not so much. 
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