Limits on Charter Schools an Obstacle to Race to the Top Funds

Limits on Charter Schools an Obstacle to Race to the Top Funds

“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.” With these words from a conference call to reporters in June, Education Secretary Arne Duncan made explicit just how central charter schools are to the Obama administration’s commitment to educational innovation.

The administration’s position was supported by a recent study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), which found that states with caps on charter schools “reported significantly lower academic results than states without caps.” (The report also found that charter school performance varies widely.)

States have recently engaged in a flurry of legislation regarding charter schools, and some have voted to lift their caps. Here’s a list, valid as of press time:

Illinois. The state legislature was the first to act in response to Obama’s call for states to lift caps. If signed, the bill will increase from 60 to 120 the number of charters allowed in the state.

Indiana. The legislature passed a two-year budget that includes no caps on charter schools.

Louisiana. The governor signed a bill to remove completely the state’s cap on charters, which had been set at 70.

Maine. The Senate defeated a bill that would have allowed charters for the first time. Maine remains one of 10 states without a law allowing charter schools.

All 48 students in the 2009 class at KIPP Gaston College Preparatory School, a charter school in rural North Carolina, are headed to college.

Massachusetts. In a reversal of his previous position, the governor is preparing to introduce legislation to lift the cap on charters for the state’s lowest-performing school districts.

New Hampshire. The legislature eliminated from the 2010-2011 budget a proposal to cap the number of charter school students statewide at 850, a reduction from the current enrollment of 1,000.

North Carolina. The House has voted to raise the cap from 100 to 106. The bill is now before the Senate.

Rhode Island. The legislature’s proposed 2010 budget eliminates funding for two new charter schools. The state’s charters remain capped at 20.

Tennessee. The legislature expanded the state’s cap from 50 to 90 schools and expanded eligibility (before, only failing students or students in failing schools could attend a charter school).

Texas. On a point of order, a legislator killed a bill that would have permitted the state to open 12 new charter schools per year and made it easier to close underperforming charter schools.

Pennsylvania Can’t Just Backfill Budget, Duncan Tells Governor

In a letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell in June, Arne Duncan warned that the state may jeopardize its chances of receiving additional stimulus money, particularly through the Race to the Top fund, if it uses its present stimulus funding only to make up for cuts to education in the state budget. Rendell had sought a statement from Duncan on the matter.

Duncan expressed displeasure at a plan by Pennsylvania’s Republican-led Senate to reduce the share of the state budget for education while leaving intact the state’s $750 million rainy-day fund. Calling the plan “a disservice to our children,” Duncan wrote, “Each state has an obligation to play its part in spurring today’s economy and protecting our children’s education.”

Speaking at a high school in southeastern Pennsylvania a week before Duncan’s letter arrived, Rendell, a Democrat, had expressed his own opposition to the Senate plan. “The Senate’s approach is simply wrong,” he said. “It would reverse six years of progress in boosting student achievement and pass the buck for funding our schools from Harrisburg to local communities. School districts would face the terrible choice of hiking property taxes or making draconian cuts to quality education programs.”