Though President Obama's State of the Union (SOTU) Address did not focus on charter schools, he highlighted two initiatives that stand to greatly benefit public charter schools: a partnership with states to encourage access to high-quality preschool and a Race to the Top program aimed at upgrading the quality of high school curricula by focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The benefits of high-quality early-childhood education are indisputable. A study by the Federal Reserve shows that high-quality early childhood education can generate a total benefit cost-ratio of $17 for every dollar invested. No education program shows such a significant return on investment.
During his campaign for President in 2008, Obama proposed a $10 billion, 10-year investment in high-quality early-childhood education. But other than his Early Learning Challenge grant initiative (which is a fraction of this amount), the Administration has not been able to find the funds to support this effort. Public charter schools such as the Apple Tree Institute for Early Learning in Washington, D.C. provide examples of the innovations that the charter school movement can unleash when offered the funds to start Pre-K instruction (D.C. is one of the few states that offers universal access to Pre-K). The sooner students are exposed to a robust early care and education program, the greater their chances are to start school ready to learn. In fact, I hope that the Administration will start to talk about school readiness with the same sense of urgency as its call for college and career readiness.
As for his high school initiative, public charter schools have been at the forefront of developing partnerships with colleges and employers and many, like BASIS charter schools from Arizona, are specifically designed to introduce students to the field of STEM (starting in elementary school). These are welcome efforts, but to bring the focus on STEM to life, the Administration needs to promote a more comprehensive digital initiative aimed at giving students access to high-quality STEM education through technology. Otherwise, it is not clear where we will be able to find the teachers to support this initiative. Here again, online charter schools, such as Connections Academy, provide examples of cost-effective ways to offer high-quality content to thousands of students. These programs help students gain the necessary skills for the future.
The public charter school sector looks forward to working with the Administration to amplify both of these initiatives in the coming years.