Yesterday Congress passed a bill that, according to Education Week, “would allow states to tap federal funds to replicate charter school models that a proven track record of success.” The New York Times account states that the bill “tweaks an existing federal grant program that provides start-up money for new charter schools – currently about $250 million– and adds some quality control provisions.” You have to read a little further to realize that this vote launches a new House of Representatives strategy for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aka No Child Left Behind.
Still, in federal budget terms, $250 million is not a lot of money, and the verb “tweaks” suggests that the bill does not represent a whole lot of change, either.
So why do I think this vote is big news?
First, the 365-54 vote signals strong bipartisan support for charter schools, and considerable impatience with obstacles that some states and school districts have placed in their way. As Education Week put it, “the floor speeches on the bill showed a lot of bipartisan love.” Since teachers unions have often opposed charter schools or at least sought to limit their growth, this vote suggests that parent and community support for charter schools must, at least for now, be trumping this opposition.
Second, the House soundly — in another bipartisan vote – defeated an amendment that would have exempted charter schools from the No Child Left Behind requirement that schools publish “disaggregated” data. In plain English, this means that charter schools, like all other public schools, will still need to report how minority children, English language learners, special education students, and other “subgroups” perform. As a charter school supporter, I applaud this vote. Perhaps the best feature of No Child Left Behind is the spotlight it has shown on how well we are serving some of our neediest young people. I don’t see any reason why charter schools should evade this requirement. Many urban charter schools, for that matter, have a very good story to tell.
Finally, by casting this vote the House of Representatives is launching a strategy of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (NCLB is its latest version) in small, discrete bites. Meanwhile, the Senate is still plodding, without much progress, toward enacting another omnibus education bill. (This is the same Senate that hasn’t passed a budget for more than two years.) To my mind, breaking important issues into smaller chunks makes a lot of sense, but I’m even more pleased to see the House put some pressure on the Senate to act . . . especially since Secretary of Education Arne Duncan seems so willingly to revise the bill by executive fiat.
Here are links to the Education Week and New York Times stories: