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Growing and Replicating High-Quality Charter Schools | Commentary

As Congress looks to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the coming weeks, lawmakers should recognize the growing bipartisan consensus that public charter schools play an integral role in the American education system. With the freedom to innovate, flexibility to pursue a unique mission and an emphasis on results, many public charter schools are helping students achieve the highest levels of success. They are closing the achievement gap and ensuring that all students have the opportunity to reach their potential in college and in their careers.

We believe that a robust federal charter school policy should encourage the establishment of more high-performing schools, replicate best practices that have worked in education and ensure accountability for public dollars.

That’s why we have introduced the All Students Achieving Through Reform Act (All-STAR). Our bill updates and improves the Charter Schools Program, the federal government’s program to support the financing and growth of public charter schools across the country, by supporting the replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools, in addition to encouraging new charter school startups.

Replicating the most successful charter schools becomes even more important when considering the achievement gap that plagues our nation’s schools and communities. Only about half of our African-American and Latino students will graduate on time from high school, and only 1 in 10 students from low-income families will graduate from college by their mid-20s. That is unacceptable.

The good news: There are shining examples of what works! The nation’s highest-performing charter schools serving disadvantaged and minority students are demonstrating outstanding results.

A 2013 Mathematica report found that KIPP middle schools have positive and statistically significant effects on student achievement across all years and all subject areas examined, serving students that are 96 percent African-American or Hispanic/Latino and 83 percent low-income. Since the Democracy Prep Public Charter School network opened its doors in 2006, all eight of its schools have earned an “A” grade from the New York City Department of Education. In Texas, students in YES Prep senior classes, who are 85 percent Latino and 13 percent African-American, with 79 percent classified as low-income, have been admitted to more than 250 colleges and universities nationwide.

To be clear, not all charter schools are serving students well. All-STAR’s strong accountability protections will ensure that federal funds only allow the highest-performing schools to replicate and expand. Also, a strong charter school policy should focus on quality and provide strong accountability for results. It should emphasize and share what’s working and ensure that failing schools can no longer receive taxpayer dollars.

Every day, more than 6,000 public charter schools are educating more than 2.3 million students in 42 states and the District of Columbia, changing the lives of their students for the better. However, there are currently 600,000 students on public charter school wait lists, unable to attend the school of their choice. Federal policy must keep up with the growing demand for high-quality public charter school options. As we move through reauthorization, we should recognize the vital role that strong, accountable charter schools play in promoting innovation and educational success. The future of our nation depends on it.

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., serves on the Rules and the Education and Workforce committees. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., is a senior member of the Education and Workforce Committee.

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