The U.S. House of Representatives Education and Workforce committee has produced its first piece of legislation, seeing the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act passed this week. The aim of the new act is to promote the development of high-performing charter schools and give students in under-performing public schools more educational options. The bill enjoyed strong bipartisan support and passed with a vote of 365-54.
The bill aims to address the needs of families around the country who are clamoring for few available charter school spaces. According to the Committee's press release announcing the approval of the act, there are currently 420,000 students on charter schools waiting lists throughout the country. Representative Duncan Hunter, who introduced the bill, called for the Senate to take up its version of the legislation as soon as possible:
"For children stuck in sub par classrooms, a charter school can help these young Americans grow to enjoy learning and being challenged in the classroom, setting them on a stable path to future success and prosperity," he said. These schools have proven their value time and time again, and continue to make significant contributions to raising education outcomes in cities across the country. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have authored this legislation, and urge the Senate to do its part for the children who stand to benefit greatly from these innovative learning environments."
The support for the charter school movement, however, is far from universal. In an editorial for Truth-Out, Isaiah J. Poole disputes the notion that charter schools provide a "panacea" for the country's educational problems. Poole points out that twenty years of charter school data has not borne out a common assertions that they produce better learning outcomes than public schools:
On the contrary, a Stanford University study of charter schools in 16 states found that "17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students. Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools."
With that in mind, Poole accuses bill sponsors like Rep. Hunter of playing politics with education by diverting federal funds to states that promote the construction/renovation of charter schools while opposing proposals by President Barack Obama that would providing resources for fixing up aging public school buildings.