Education policy has initiated some bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. This week, the U.S. Senate followed up on the action of the House’s massive vote of 360-45 on charter school education. The House’s bill, The Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act, H.R. 10, passed right before this week’s recess and now its companion bill in the Senate introduced by Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Michael Bennett (D-CO) Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Actis gaining traction. The purpose of the bill is to reauthorize the federal Charter Schools program. Ultimately, encouraging more educational options for America’s school children and their parents, which benefits expand to the broader economy.
H.R. 10 consolidated two federal charter school programs and allocated $300M in funding that encouraged states to expand charter schools. The Senate bill differs only slightly in that it prioritizes grants to states that have policies to help charter schools acquire or lease facilities, contains no cap on funding, and allocates a higher percentage of funding to the highest-performing networks for their expansion.
From the earliest discussions of charter schools, a primary reason for my support has been encouraging innovation and providing lower income and minority school age children the same options that are available already to majority white and wealthier families. The unfortunate reality is Black and Hispanic children still trail their White classmates by substantial margins in their performance, and still underperform White children in reach proficiency in subjects such as mathematics.
In the most recent 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for fourth grade mathematics proficiency, only 18% of Black fourth-graders and 26% of Hispanic fourth-graders had scored at the proficient level, whereas 54% of White students scored proficient. By eighth grade, all three groups had fallen further behind, with Black school children trailing their White counterparts by 31 percentage points (14% versus 45%) and Hispanics’ trailing by 24 percentage points (21% proficient versus 45%). Similar results were evident in fourth and eighth grade reading proficiency.
Penley on Education and Energy has previously reported the substantial difference in scores for minority children in reading and mathematics proficiency. These differences matter to all of us – not just the parents and children who are non-White. As the demographics of this country continue to shift away from a white majority to a White minority, our economic prosperity will depend on Hispanic and Black professionals and Hispanic and Black workers in all types of jobs. Their capacity to perform the needed skills for employment and for access to higher education will determine the country’s future.
Charter schools represent a means for access to choice in education. This is the same choice that many White and wealthier families of all ethnic origins now have – the ability to pay extra for parochial or private schools of choice. All parents deserve that same option. In the late nineties, I supported choice in education long before it was popular, when I chaired an education task force. It mattered then before we understood fully the dramatic changes in U.S. demography. It matters far more now as we more precisely understand the face of this country in this Century along with the very substantial improvement in economic competitiveness of emerging and developing economies.
Thankfully, a bipartisan effort is underway to encourage further development of needed charter schools. Let’s hope that we can continue to find solutions to improve our economic and competitive future by focusing on education opportunities for all.