"This country is in the midst of the most dynamic education-reform atmosphere I've seen in my tenure in Congress," was the observation of House Education and the Workforce Committee ranking member George Miller, D-Calif., when the panel approved new legislation last week to encourage more development of high-quality charter schools. "It will be a tremendous disservice if we don't take the opportunity before us to fix the federal system that supports our states, districts, and our schools," he said. House Democrats are not happy with Republicans' idea to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act piece by piece, even though they generally support the charter-school component.
Still, unlike other education fights in the House where government-wary Republicans rule the day, the charter-schools bill passed the committee with wide bipartisan support. It encourages states to repeal caps on charter schools or the percentage of students that may attend them. It allows the Education Department to award grant funds directly to charter schools in states that did not win a quality charter school grant. It consolidates the current federal funding scheme such that state educational agencies, charter school boards, and governors can award grants to new charter schools and replicate existing high quality schools.
To what extent can charter schools change the education landscape? Absent other changes, will a renewed emphasis on charter schools actually improve opportunities and achievement for kids? Or does the education system need more fundamental changes to actually make an impact? How can charter schools complement traditional schools? Are there pitfalls to removing the state caps on charter schools?