NASHVILLE, Tenn. As charter public school leaders from around the country gather to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the movement at the annual National Charter School Conference, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools today announced the ambitious goal of enrolling a total of fourmillion students in charter schools over the next five years one million more students than the movement currently serves today. In her general session speech, National Alliance president and CEO Nina Rees laid out this goal as the key piece of a new campaign called Open the Doors.
"For 25 years, the charter school movement has grown, giving many families across the country choices for where to send their children to school, and we are proud to celebrate that tradition here today," Rees said. "Still, too many students are on charter school wait lists or don't have access to a great charter school at all. There are funding gaps and policy barriers that stand in the way of school choice. We need our federal lawmakers to prioritize charter school funding, our state leaders to remove policy barriers, and we need charter school advocates to stand up and voice their support. We want to open the doors to more charter public schools for any child who wants to attend one."
Charter schools have come a long way since the very first, City Academy High School, opened in St. Paul, Minnesota. In his 1997 State of the Union address, President Bill Clinton called for the creation of 3,000 charter schools by the end of 2002; by 2006, there were one million students enrolled in charter schools. That number doubled to two million by 2011, and current enrollment stands at about 3 million students nationwide. But as the number of charter schools has grown across the country, so has the demand for them. Independent research from the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica Policy Research found that charter school students are more likely than their peers in traditional public schools to graduate from high school, go on to college, stay in college and have higher earnings in early adulthood. Parents have taken note, and in 2014, there were more than 1 million student names on wait lists for charter schools across the country.
In fact, a recent National Alliance survey of parents with school-age children showed that 78 percent of parents supported having a charter public school open in their neighborhood, with 73 percent in support of more charter schools opening nationwide. Support was even greater among low-income parents, with 88 percent of low-income parents in favor of having a charter school in their community, and 84 percent in support of more charter schools nationally.
"I'm encouraged when I think about the progress of the charter school movement, particularly over the past five years, and I look forward to giving another 1 million children the opportunity to attend a great charter schools," Rees said. "The National Alliance stands ready to work with federal and state leaders to make the changes necessary to push our movement forward."
Earlier this month, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (Labor-HHS), which included an increase of $10 million for the Charter Schools Program for FY 2017.
In addition to continuing to press for such funding increases that make launching new charter schools possible, the National Alliance will work with states to eliminate policy barriers such as enrollment caps, funding inequities between charter and traditional public schools, and ineffective authorizers. The National Alliance will also work to expand high performing charter schools, close underperforming ones, and encourage states to help charter schools acquire facilities.
The annual National Charter School Conference takes place in Nashville this year and includes more than 130 breakout sessions, as well as featured speakers, such as tennis star Andre Agassi, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr.