National Conference of State Legislatures: School choice among top issues across the country – eyes on charter public schools

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that this is “school choice week.” And says that this year, the issue has taken on unusual prominence.

This week, expect to see state legislatures around the country pass ceremonial resolutions in support of school choice. This is also the week when many legislators like to officially introduce major school choice legislation in their states.

School choice can mean many things. Public choice options like charter schools and magnet schools are the most common, with 45 states having at least one of these two programs. School choice can also refer to programs that provide financial aid to students that wish to attend private school. There are 27 states with at least one of the three types of private school choice programs.

NCSL expects school choice to be one of the top issues in states as well as Congress in 2017. 

The Obama administration supported charter public schools, as is clear from the former president’s 2016 proclamation of National Charter Schools Week

Charter schools play an important role in our country’s education system. Supporting some of our Nation’s underserved communities, they can ignite imagination and nourish the minds of America’s young people while finding new ways of educating them and equipping them with the knowledge they need to succeed. With the flexibility to develop new methods for educating our youth, and to develop remedies that could help underperforming schools, these innovative and autonomous public schools often offer lessons that can be applied in other institutions of learning across our country, including in traditional public schools. We also must ensure our charter schools, like all our schools, are of high quality and are held accountable — when a charter school does not meet high standards, we need to act in the best interest of its students to help it improve, and if that does not prove possible, to close its doors. 

Charter schools have been at the forefront of innovation and have found different ways of engaging students in their high school years — including by providing personalized instruction, leveraging technology, and giving students greater access to rigorous coursework and college-level courses. Over the past 7 years, my Administration’s commitment of resources to the growth of charter schools has enabled a significant expansion of educational opportunity, enabling tens of thousands of children to attend high-quality public charter schools. I am committed to ensuring all of our Nation’s students have the tools and skills they need to get ahead, and that begins with ensuring they are able to attend an effective school and obtain an excellent education. 

President Trump also campaigned on a commitment to choice and innovation, as NCSL points out. As NCSL writes, it’s not clear exactly what that will mean legislatively.

It remains unclear what the expanded federal role in school choice will include or what existing federal funds might be redirected. Possibilities are an expansion of the Charter School Program, a competitive grant program for states that supports the expansion and replication of high-performing charter schools. CSP was recently expanded under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal education law. Any expansion of CSP would likely require an amendment to ESSA.

Other rumored federal actions on school choice include something called “portability,” which would direct federal education funding to wherever qualifying students enroll in school, including private schools. This would be a significant shift in policy.

Our state has endorsed charter public schools, both in legislation and in on the statewide ballot. Despite efforts to curtail or eliminate this vital educational alternative, including an ill-advised lawsuit, the move to increase opportunities through these schools continues to gain momentum.

The Washington State Charter Schools Association has announced a policy agenda designed to make sure students continue to have access to charter public schools.

he Washington State Charter Schools Association has announced it will pursue two definitive priorities for the upcoming 2017 legislative session:

1. Supporting every Washington public school student and parent in securing a public school funding solution that is equitable, fair for all kids, and eliminates reliance on local levies to provide for basic education;

2. Protecting the integrity of the charter law by promoting a greater understanding around the function and role of charter public schools and how they benefit families across the state.

The group emphasizes,

“Keeping charter public schools open and making a difference for students in diverse communities is a big step toward educational equity in Washington, but there is more work to do that includes meeting the state’s obligations under the McCleary decision. The 2017 legislative session is an opportunity to set aside tired political battles, and focus on making sure we are doing as much as we can for all students,” said WA Charters CEO Tom Franta. “To that end, WA Charters will work in support of a state public school funding solution that promises a quality education for every Washington student. It’s time for public education advocates to quit attacking each other, and begin building a more equitable funding system together.”

In most of the country, that’s a modest goal, largely already realized. Surely, it can be achieved here this year.