July 14, 2011 – A new education bill, championed by Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), is making its way to the floor of the House of Representatives. The bill is a part of a series of education reform bills looking to overhaul current elementary and secondary school laws.
Hunter’s measure, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 2218), has made its way through the committee stage, passing by a vote of 34-5. The hope is that the bill be heard on the floor before the August recess.
The bill will look to update an existing federal law to help develop and expand upon high-quality charter schools.
“An estimated 420,000 students in the U.S. are on charter school waitlists, desperate to escape underperforming public schools,” said Rep. Hunter, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education. “It’s time we enhance school choice by improving access to charter schools. These innovative institutions empower parents to play a more active role in their children’s education, open doors for teachers to pioneer fresh teaching methods, and promote high academic standards.”
Charter schools are publically funded institutions, with contracts, or charters, with state agencies or local school districts. The schools are part of the budget for their local school districts, but students who attend charters do not count towards the student population count that is key to the amount of funding each district receives.
Currently, the federal Charter School Program awards grants to states for the development of new charter schools, but does not include support for the replication or expansion of successful charter schools. The new bill will look to streamline the charter school program, as it will look to give more opportunities to the states to support and develop more charter schools.
“Rep. Hunter’s legislation will help get the federal government out of the way of local innovation and pave the way for a more challenging, rewarding classroom experience in communities nationwide,” said John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Workforce.
The bill has been met with some bi-partisan support as it makes its way through the committee stages. Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) shares Hunter’s aspirations to improve the nations fledgling education system.
“Congressman Hunter and I share the goal of ensuring that our children have a great school with great teachers,” said Davis. “I believe we can strengthen charter schools and make them a viable option for students and parents. My goal is to also ensure every school – charters and traditional schools – has great teachers and principals.”
Some parent organizations have voiced reservations about the charter school proposal, however.
“We are concerned that the overall effect of the bill will be to rapidly increase the quantity and not the quality of charter schools, without the necessary safeguards, and to weaken the public school system, which we believe is the very backbone of our democracy,” stated the group Parents Across America in a statement regarding the proposed legislation.
The PAA and other parent organizations have raised concerns about charters, stating that there is a lack of equity, parental rights, and accountability in most charter schools. The parent groups also point out that many endorsers of the bill are affiliated with charter school operators.
Along with H.R. 2218, the House Committee of Education and Workforce also proposed the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act, which looks to provide states and local school districts maximum flexibility in how they can use federal education funding.
“Without the proper flexibility, our nation’s schools and school districts will continue to face hurdles that constrain academic achievement and put students at a disadvantage,” said Rep. Hunter of the proposal. “The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act is a common sense approach that puts the decision making process where it belongs.”