In a press release entitled “States Open to Charters Start Fast in ‘Race to Top’: Education Secretary Seeking Autonomy with Real Accountability for School Innovators,” Arne Duncan made it very clear what he wants. As the press release states:
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters during a conference call this afternoon that states must be open to charter schools. Too much is at stake for states financially and for students academically to restrict choice and innovation.
And more to follow:
“States that do not have public charter laws or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools will jeopardize their applications under the Race to the Top Fund,” Secretary Duncan said. “To be clear, this administration is not looking to open unregulated and unaccountable schools. We want real autonomy for charters combined with a rigorous authorization process and high performance standards.”
This summer, the Department of Education begins accepting state applications for the federal government’s largest one-time investment in K-12 public school reform. By the end of the year, the department will be distributing grants from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund. Also, $1.5 billion in Title I School Improvement Program funds is available to improve teaching and learning for all children.
“I am advocating for using whatever models work for students, and particularly where improvements have stagnated for years,” Secretary Duncan said. “We cannot continue to do that same thing and expect different results. We cannot let another generation of children be deprived of their civil right to a quality education.”
President Obama has called upon states to encourage the expansion of charter schools. A network of innovative and high-achieving charter schools can be an important part of a state’s school reform effort. However, charter schools are facing significant obstacles to expansion in too many states.
• Ten states do not have laws allowing public charter schools;
• In the 40 states with charters, 26 put artificial caps on the number of public charter schools and President Obama has called on states to lift these caps and other barriers to having a healthy network of charter schools throughout the country;
• In Maine, the state legislature is debating a bill that would establish a pilot program for its first 10 charter schools;
• Tennessee has not moved on a bill to lift enrollment restrictions on charter schools; and
• In Indiana, the legislature is considering a moratorium on new charter schools.
These actions are restricting reforms, limiting choices for parents and students, and denying children access to new high-quality instruction.
Mr. Secretary, count us among the 40 states with the artificial caps. The question for Governor Patrick, Massachusetts Secretary Reville, and Mayor Menino is: Do you want the money?
If so, will we be able to go beyond the political positioning of the Governor’s ealry 2009 proposal and the mayor’s new proposal for in-district charters? Can we do something of substance, or are we in for more cosmetic PR?