Congress to consider charter-school legislation

A bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce a bill Wednesday meant to encourage the growth of charter schools across the country, mirroring legislation expected to be taken up in the House later this week.

The legislation would consolidate existing federal grant programs that encourage new charter schools to open and that help charter school leaders afford suitable buildings. The bills would also boost charter-school funding from the $250 million budgeted in fiscal 2014 to $300 million, though the Senate version would reserve more of those dollars for replicating existing successful schools as opposed to opening brand new schools.

States that are using charter schools to turn around long-struggling traditional schools, or that have policies in place to help charter schools secure facilities, would have an advantage in the grant competition.

“We're going to build on the success of charter schools with this bill,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a key sponsor, who said the legislation would permit the development of 500 charter schools per year across the country.

Along with Landrieu, the bill’s supporters include Michael Bennet (D-Colo,), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Senate’s education committee.

On the other side of Congress, the effort has been spearheaded by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the chairman and ranking member of the House education committee.

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded but independently run. Most are not unionized, and their rapid growth across the country in recent years — helped along by the strong support of the Obama administration — has stoked endless debate in education policy and political circles.

The House bill is widely expected to pass, and Landrieu said she’s hopeful that a strong show of support from Democratic representatives — especially Miller — will spur the Senate to act.

“He’s a very well-respected, more liberal voice on schools,” Landrieu said of Miller. “I think his endorsement and support is going to go a long way to convince a lot of Democrats to join this effort.”

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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