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Charter School Regulation and Congressional Action

October 29, 2016

In large cities with underperforming school systems, charter schools, with flexible educational practices and varied management, seem like the answer. Charter schools are growing rapidly in the United States. How can Congress ensure that charter schools keep the education of their students, and not the payout of their shareholders, as their main priority?

By Maria Formoso

In June, the New York Times published an article highlighting the state of charter schools in Detroit, Michigan. Charter education, once hailed in Detroit as the answer to a failing public school system, has produced disappointing results overall. Peppered with both underperforming and disappointing public and charter schools, Detroit families find themselves faced with “lots of choice[s], [but] no good choice[s]”. [1]

On the other hand, charter schools in other metropolitan areas, such as New York City, have produced favorable results. What, therefore, determines the success of a charter school? In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education released a report highlighting successful charter schools. Certain characteristics were highlighted- for example, successful schools had a clear mission, ensured parent involvement in education and student life, and regulated board members to ensure that learning, not profit, remained the top priority for all parties. [2]

Charter schools can be headed by non-profit or for-profit management organizations. [3] Naturally, one of the fears of having a for-profit company manage a charter school is that the focus can easily shift from quality, flexible education to making the most money for a school’s shareholders. These companies have found pushback in a number of places, from teachers’ unions, to parent committees, to Capitol Hill.

H.R. 1639 and H.R. 3795 are two bills recently introduced in the 114th Congress intended to regulate charter schools and their management. H.R. 1639, the Charter School Transparency, Accountability, and Quality Act, was introduced on March 25, 2015 by Rep. Mark Takano of California. [4] This bill would require charter schools to meet national professional standards, disclose audited financial statements every year, and enter into a performance contract between the state and the charter management company. This contract may influence the renewal and revocation decisions for charters based on the state’s standards of evaluation and improvement.

A bill with similar standards for charters is H.R. 3795, the Charter School Accountability Act of 2015, which was introduced on October 21, 2015 by Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio. This bill would promote more educational opportunities for traditionally underserved students to attend charter schools and meet state academic standards. In order to help these groups and all students, H.R. 3795 would also evaluate successful charter school programs and develop a way to disseminate successful tendencies of these schools to all types of schools. This bill would also increase the responsibility of charter management companies and schools by requiring them to disclose financial audits and records. It would make management companies more transparent by requiring companies to publicly disclose information about management and funding. In order to strengthen the charter school authorization process, H.R. 3975 would also alter the state’s charter school grant program to make it more competitive rather than based merely on a formula.  [5]

It is difficult to analyze the performance of charter schools in the country because of the abundant charter management companies that run them. Furthermore, because each state has its own rules for charters, these companies establish schools in a region or a city rather than nationwide.[6] Each company and state also has a different method of school performance evaluation, as noted in their charters. The lack of uniformity makes it difficult to analyze charter performance and make comparisons to their public and private counterparts.

Federal laws, such as H.R. 3795 and H.R. 1639, can bridge the gap between different methods of management and evaluation throughout the nation. By setting a federal standard for the management of charter schools, it is easier to evaluate them on a national level. These national standards will improve the quality of education for millions of students nationwide.

References

[1] K. Zernike, “A sea of charter schools in Detroit leaves students adrift,” in The New York Times, The New York Times, 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/29/us/for-detroits-children-more-school-choice-but-not-better-schools.html?_r=1. Accessed: Jul. 20, 2016.

[2] U.S. Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement, Innovations in Education: Successful Charter Schools, Washington, D.C., 2004.

[3] J. Huseman, “These charter schools tried to turn public education into big business. They failed,” Slate Magazine, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.slate.com/blogs/schooled/2015/12/17/for_profit_charter_schools_are_failing_and_fading_here_s_why.html.

[4] “H.R.1639 - 114th Congress (2015-2016): Charter School Transparency, Accountability, and Quality Act,” in Congress.gov, 2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1639.

[5] “H.R.3795 - 114th Congress (2015-2016): Charter School Accountability Act of 2015,” in Congress.gov, 2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/3795/text.

[6] K. Zernike, “A sea of charter schools in Detroit leaves students adrift,” in The New York Times, The New York Times, 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/29/us/for-detroits-children-more-school-choice-but-not-better-schools.html?_r=1. Accessed: Jul. 20, 2016.

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