I was pleased to join Minnesota Congressman John Kline, chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, as he announced new federal charter schools legislation at Global Academy in Columbia Heights on March 31. Rep. Kline was joined by Rep. Luke Messer (R-Indiana), chair of the House School Choice Caucus, Greg Richmond, President and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), and charter school leaders from Minnesota, as we engaged in a roundtable discussion about the future of chartering.
The Republican Committee Chair’s legislation is co-sponsored by Rep. George Miller of California, the lead Democrat on the Committee. What a refreshing breakthrough in a divided Congress! I love that chartering is one place where both parties come together to support public school choices for students around the country. That is consistent with the 70% national public support for chartering demonstrated in the latest Kappan/Gallup poll. Our political leaders understand that there are one million names on charter school waiting lists across the nation!
This legislation essentially carves out the charter school provisions from broader education legislation passed by the House last year, which since stalled due to debate around the “No Child Left Behind” provisions. I applaud these Congressional leaders for moving ahead to strengthen the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP)! The legislation will provide increased funding for the CSP at $300 million per year, with 15% of the amount slated to facilities funding (ie credit enhancement grants and state facilities Incentive grants), a huge barrier for many charter school start-ups. The legislation also provides more flexibility for use of start-up funds for charter schools to capture a broader range of implementation costs. It also addresses a key issue for families: it allows students to remain within an existing family of charter schools as students move from elementary to middle to high school without having to reapply through a lottery.
Global Academy is a wonderful example of a successful and diverse charter school, with over 90% of its students from Somalia or the Middle East, and more than 60% of its students still learning English. Yet, the K-8 charter school had the highest reading scores among the state’s highest-poverty schools on Minnesota assessments last year, and the third–highest math scores. Global Academy’s co-founders Melissa Storbakken and Helen Fisk are at left in the photo, next to Congressmen Messer and Kline.
Both career educators founded the school about a decade ago around the International Baccalaureate program, which challenges students to learn by asking questions. Today, there are 1,000 students on the school’s waiting list!
Perhaps most inspiring for me was to hear from Salihah Schaal, parent of several students at Global Academy. When one of her children struggled in a traditional district school, she searched far and wide for another solution before enrolling her child at Global Academy. Her child has made great progress, and she is now focused on finding a high school that will build on this experience and growth for her child.
Salihah, a former board member of the school, is a great example of the robust parent engagement that helps to make this school successful.
For Salihah and her children, and for all other young families across the nation, please join me in contacting your members of Congress in support of strengthening the Charter School Program. We don’t want any children waiting to enroll in the charter public school of their choice!
–Former Minnesota State Senator Ember Reichgott Junge is author of the first charter school law in the nation and the book, Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story (www.ZeroChanceOfPassage.com).