U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.); Mark Kirk (R-Ill.); Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.); and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) have introduced the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Act, a bill aimed at improving educational opportunities for all U.S. students through the expansion of high quality charter schools; giving assistance to charter schools searching for suitable facilities; and by giving support to the innovation and research needed for continued improvement in the charter sector.
The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), which provides start-up, replication and expansion funding for high-quality charter schools, will be on the receiving end of the updates included in this bill.
Sen. Alexander stated that American children should not have their educational opportunities determined by their zip codes.
"As a longtime supporter of charter schools, I have seen these schools providing the education our children need to succeed in the 21st century. Schools such as LEARN and Noble networks throughout Chicagoland are proof of this. In Illinois, charter school students are 26% more likely to enroll in college – and it is critical that more of these educational opportunities are available for students in Illinois and across the
Sen. Landrieu was enthusiastically in favor of the fact that charter schools provide a "freedom and flexibility" to establish strategies that increase a student's performance. She especially looks forward to the expansion of charter schools to rural communities and small towns across the country.
Student achievement in Colorado has been much improved by many great charter schools. Sen. Bennet believes that this bill will allow all children the solid education needed to succeed in the 21st century.
Details of the bill were listed:
Two existing programs will be combined into one Charter Schools Program, which will consist of three grant competitions, which are:
- High-Quality Charter Schools – which address funding for new charter schools or replication of high-quality charter schools
- Facilities Financing Assistance – which will offer grants to public or private non-profits for research in how to enhance credit needed for the construction, acquisition, and renovation of charter school facilities.
- Replication and Expansion -which will offer grants to charter school management organizations to replicate or expand existing high-quality charter schools.
The bill will supply the CSP $300 million for the 2015 fiscal year, and more funding for the 2016-2020 fiscal years, if necessary.
It will offer federal support for expansion of and replicating of current charter schools with a demonstrated record of success. It also will allow leeway for states to invest in new school models and and encourages them to strengthen charter school authorization policies.
The bill continues funding support for charter school facility financing and encourages states to ensure that charter schools have suitable facilities.
It offers more flexibility to charter school developers to fund facilities for start-ups and to provide student transportation.
It encourages charter schools to focus on special needs groups, such as at-risk, disabled, or English learner students.
Today, there are approximately 6,400 charter schools in 43 States and D.C. serving over 2.5 million students. There are more than 1 million student names on charter school waiting lists. Under this proposal, potentially as many as 500 new charter schools could open with federal support every year.
The federal Charter Schools Program was authorized by Congress in 1994 and most recently reauthorized in 2001.
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers began a campaign in 2012 to establish better schools for 1 million children.
By closing underperforming charter schools and opening or replicating great new charter schools, these changes could impact 1 million students by creating the foundations for a better education.
In its 2013 publication, The State of Charter School Authorizing (NASCA) found that it needs to improve its survey to allow for more accurate data. The bottom line is, however, that those who authorize these decisions, school boards, universities, and state departments of education, among others, are the people who approve the opening of a charter school.