Kirk, Landrieu, Alexander, Bennet Introduce Bill to Expand High-Quality Public Charter Schools

The Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Act Would Update Federal Charter Schools Program, Improve Opportunities for Students

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)  introduced the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Act, which makes smart updates to the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) that provides startup, replication and expansion funding for high-quality public charter schools. This bill aims to improve educational opportunities for all students by expanding the number of high-quality charter schools, helping charter schools access suitable facilities and supporting innovation and research in the charter sector. The legislation currently has 14 original co-sponsors in the Senate.

“As a longtime supporter of charter schools, I have seen these schools providing the education our children need to succeed in the 21st century,” Senator Kirk said. “Schools such as the LEARN and Noble networks throughout Chicagoland are proof of this. In Illinois, charter school students are 26 percent more likely to enroll in college – and it is critical that more of these educational opportunities are available for students in Illinois and across the nation.”

“A child’s zip code should not determine their educational opportunities, but it unfortunately does in many places in America. We’ve had proven success from well-designed and well-led charter schools that have transformed student outcomes. By making smart updates to the Charter School Program we can replicate the success across Louisiana and the country,” Senator Landrieu said. “I’ve seen, firsthand, the promise and opportunity charter schools bring to communities. I strongly support public charter schools because they are specifically designed to have the freedom and flexibility to create and implement new strategies for increasing student achievement while also being held accountable for overall success. With this bill, my hope is that we can expand charter schools success to rural communities and small towns. I’m excited to have support of both parties on this critical charter school legislation and look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to pass this bill so we can provide a quality education to the children of Louisiana and our country.”

“Charter schools enable teachers to use their firsthand knowledge, administrators to use their good judgment, and parents to choose better schools for their children,” Senator Alexander said. “This bill would help states open new charter schools and replicate or expand their best existing ones, giving more students access to a good education and an opportunity to succeed.”

“All children should have access to a high-quality education that prepares them to succeed in the 21st century global economy—no matter where they live,” Senator Bennet said. “In Colorado, many great charter schools have helped boost student achievement. This bill makes smart changes to the Charter School Program to support charter schools focused on student success, replicating proven high-quality schools, and promoting strong authorizer accountability. In doing so, this bill prioritizes support for schools that serve children from low-income families to ensure we are helping our kids most in need.”

What the Bill Does:

  • Updates and streamlines two existing programs into one Charter Schools Program, consisting of three grant competitions:

    • High-Quality Charter Schools: Grants to State entities to start new charter schools and to replicate or expand high-quality charter schools, including by developing facilities, hiring and preparing teachers, and providing transportation.
    • Facilities Financing Assistance: Grants to public or private nonprofit entities to demonstrate innovative methods of enhancing credit to finance the acquisition, construction, or renovation of facilities for charter schools.
    • Replication and Expansion: As part of national activities, grants to charter management organizations to replicate or expand high-quality charter schools.
  • Authorizes the Charter Schools Program at $300 million for fiscal year 2015 and such sums as may be necessary for fiscal years 2016 – 2020.
  • Solidifies federal support for expanding and replicating high-quality charter schools with a demonstrated record of success, while giving States flexibility to invest in new school models and encouraging them to strengthen charter school authorizing practices.
  • Continues federal support for financing charter school facilities and encourages States to ensure their charter schools are able to access suitable facilities.
  • Offers more flexibility to charter school developers to fund startup costs associated with charter school facilities and providing transportation to students.
  • Encourages charter schools to focus on special populations, including at-risk students, students with disabilities, and English learners.

There are 67 public charter schools operating 145 individual locations in Illinois, and more than 20,000 Illinois students are on waiting lists to attend public charter schools. More than 54,000 public school students in Chicago attend charter schools, such as the LEARN and Noble charter school networks, accounting for 22 percent of the city’s high school students. In 2013, the 11 highest-performing non-selective public high schools in Chicago were charter schools. Students in Illinois charter schools are 18 percent more likely to graduate from high school and 26 percent more likely to enroll in college.

Nationwide, there are approximately 6,400 charter schools in 43 states and D.C. serving over 2.5 million students. There are more than one million student names on charter school waiting lists. Under this proposal, as many as 500 new charter schools could open with federal support every year.

The federal Charter Schools Program was authorized by Congress in 1994 and most recently reauthorized in 2001.