Restore federal funding to the Charter School Program fund

Jeb Bush, a supporter of Charter schools

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
Jeb Bush served as the 43rd governor of Florida and is the founder and chair of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

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Foundation for Excellence in Education

Our nation is home to an estimated 56.6 million K-12 students, each unique and deserving of an education that unlocks their passions, inspires curiosity, and enables them to live a fulfilling life of purpose.

But the reality is our education system isn’t designed for individual students. It’s designed as a one-size-fits-all factory model of education, created in the 1890s to build a workforce for a factory-model economy.

That made sense in the past century, but today’s 21st century economy is vastly different, and it’s why education pluralism is so important. Enabling every student an opportunity to find the right educational environment that meets their needs is essential to their success—and to America’s future. And it’s why 3.3 million students have chosen to attend a public charter school.

Unfortunately, there are special interests—and those wedded to the past—who prioritize an outdated system over today’s students. Rather than creating a modern education system that adapts to students and gives them the freedom and flexibility to find their right school and learning environment, they wrongly treat kids like parts in a factory, forcing each to conform to a standardized and obsolete approach.

This outdated mentality has led the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a federal budget that cuts education funding to millions of public school students who choose to attend public charter schools.

The budget ignores what families want and what works. Public demand for education options is reaching an all-time high, especially after 18 months of pandemic-related disruptions. And public charter schools remain a popular choice for students and parents because they’re effective.

Research using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found public charter school students have made significant gains and often outperform their peers at traditional public schools. The same study found that Black students attending public charter schools made greater gains in math and reading than students attending traditional public schools.

The availability of education choice helps all students succeed.

A recent University of Arkansas study found that education pluralism leads to learning gains, concluding that “higher levels of education freedom are significantly associated with higher NAEP achievement levels and higher NAEP achievement gains.”

In Arizona, public charter and traditional public school students are seeing higher-than-average gains on annual assessments. And in New York City and Massachusetts, Temple University and MIT have published studies that describe positive effects of public charter schools on all students—when a public charter is located near a traditional public school, there are better learning gains for students at both schools.

Sadly, when it comes to education funding and choice—for the power brokers—it’s never about what’s best for kids or what families want or even the proven results of successful learning and lifelong achievement. It’s about power, money, and the adults who run the system.

Teachers’ unions and their allies in Congress see students who choose public charter schools as a threat to the education model controlled by unions. And unions fear that choice will lead to fewer students attending schools that fund their private coffers. Those coffers enable teachers’ unions to be among the nation’s largest political donors.

It’s a feedback loop without a soul.

Nationwide, charters serve students like Kamille Catala, whose education was initially limited to a traditional public school that failed to provide her the rigorous environment she craved and deserved. As she put it, “Education isn’t one-size-fits-all. For me and my family, a charter school was the right fit. All families deserve the opportunity to send their children to a school that prepares them for a successful life.”

Students like Kamille deserve to be supported, celebrated and treated equally—no different than her friends who attend their traditional public school.

But that’s not what the House budget will do. Not only does it specifically cut $40 million in education funding, the House budget bill also includes alarming language that would prevent any federal funds from reaching any charter school “that contracts with a for-profit entity to operate, oversee or manage the activities of the school.”

That language screams politics. It’s an effort to undermine the education of millions of students, especially our nation’s special needs students who qualify for funding under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and our students living in poverty.

This fall, it’s time to ditch the politics and put kids first. Let’s boldly prioritize students over systems. Members of Congress must reject this bill’s language, restore federal funding to the Charter School Program fund and treat all public school students equally and without discrimination.

This first appeared in the Tribune News Service and was reprinted with permission.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 3, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.