By: Lauren Morando Rhim
The President released his “skinny budget” this morning and it proposes significant cuts to important programs across nearly every government agency. The budget for the Department of Education outlines proposed cuts of $9 billion—13% of the Department’s total budget—most notably to programs designed to bolster the quality of teachers across the country and after-school programs. While the increase in funds devoted to encouraging school choice—$1.4 billion to creating new charter schools and voucher programs and $1 billion in portable funds—may create opportunities, both critics and champions of school choice can agree on the critical importance of ensuring that such investments simultaneously balance equity and quality with quantity. Of particular concern is ensuring that any investments in choice contain assurances that the rights of students with disabilities are preserved.
The federal Charter School Program of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been instrumental to helping grow the charter sector over the last 25 years; grants to states to create programs that support charter development and implementation efforts have provided critically needed start up funds that enable schools to start on a solid foundation. However, infusions of cash do not guarantee the creation of high quality schools that serve all children well, especially those students on the margins. As veteran and new charter school authorizers consider presumably larger applicant pools, we implore them to maintain high standards and execute robust performance contracts to ensure that growth leads to more good schools and not more average or low-performing schools. Furthermore, as the charter sector faces a potential growth spurt, we hope more charter schools and in particular, charter management organizations, leverage this opportunity to develop innovative programs for all students, including students with disabilities. Such investments will position the sector to realize its potential to be a laboratory for innovation that long term, can benefit all public schools.
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