U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is one of a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress pushing for the passage of federal legislation which would increase funding intended to encourage the growth of charter schools across the U.S. Bills have now been introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Both the House and Senate versions would consolidate the existing federal grant programs which provide funding for charter schools, and boost federal financial support for charter schools from the $250 million budgeted in fiscal year 2014, to $300 million for fiscal year 2015. Both bills are intended to “increase the number of quality charter schools available” (S.2304), While the bills are very similar, there is a relatively significant difference. With the Senate bill, the Expanding Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act (S.2304), more dollars would be reserved for the replication of successful charter schools as opposed to starting brand new schools.
The House bill, the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 10), passed out of the House Committee on Education and Workforce with bipartisan support in a 36-3 vote, and it passed with bipartisan support in the full House with a 360-45 vote. The Senate bill is currently under consideration with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. It too has relatively strong bipartisan support and a good chance of passing favorably out of the committee and passing in the full Senate.
Bipartisan sponsorship and support for these bills in both the House and Senate is evidence that charter school policy is no longer the politically divisive education reform issue that it has been in the past-at least not at the national level. This is not to suggest that lawmakers’ political affiliations never factors into policy making decision about charter schools, but it is no longer the case that one can assume a Democrat lawmaker will be unsupportive of efforts to support charter school expansion and strengthen charter schools. While the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are not likely to become fast friends of charter school advocates, I do believe even those groups are having to come to terms with the fact the charter schools will be a growing part of the public education landscape in the U.S. And as they come to terms with the reality that charter schools are going to be around, it is my hope that charter school policy conversations will turn to ensuring that charter schools have adequate resources and the autonomy they need to be truly innovative, and ensuring that across states, charter schools are consistently held to the high performance accountability standards that are central to the charter school concept.