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Sunday, February 25, 2024
Feb. 25, 2024

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Bush: Charter schools are working


Charter school advocates have dedicated decades to developing free, accessible options in the public school landscape that give low-income students and students of color the opportunity they deserve to learn and succeed.

Charter schools got their start in the late 1980s as a way to help close the achievement gap for students historically left behind by the inequitably funded traditional ZIP code-based system. Today, there are 7,800 public charter schools serving almost 4 million students in 45 states. That hard work and growth are yielding incredible results, according to a report published this month showing the progress charter school students have made compared with their peers in traditional public schools.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO, at Stanford University recently released its third national study measuring the equivalent number of days of learning charter school students gained or lost compared with their public school peers. This year’s study found that, based on a traditional 180-day school calendar, charter school students gained the equivalent of an additional 16 days of learning in reading and six days of learning in math compared with similar students in traditional district schools.

Those results on their own are remarkable, but perhaps most important for the public policy debate is data showing charter schools have disproportionately helped low-income and minority students — the students these schools are designed to help.

The CREDO study showed Black charter school students averaged 35 days more growth in reading and 29 days in math; Hispanic students grew an extra 30 days in reading and 19 additional days in math. Students in poverty and English language learners also showed stronger growth than their peers in traditional public schools.

But perhaps the most impressive finding in the CREDO study is that more than 1,000 charter schools have eliminated learning disparities for their students and moved their achievement ahead of their respective state’s average performance, closing the opportunity gap. Several charter management organizations eliminated that gap across multiple schools in their network, demonstrating scaling and replicability.

All of this progress is being made despite inequitable funding for charter schools in many states.

In some states, charters receive far less per pupil in total taxpayer support than nearby public schools. In other states, charters receive less or no capital funding, which forces them to dip into operating funds for facilities instead of investing in more educators.

Much attention has rightly been paid to the rapid growth of private school choice programs over the past few years. State policymakers have seized the moment to ensure parents across the nation have access to nonpublic schools that meet their needs and match their values.

But a majority of students in our country still attend public schools, and in far too many places, they only have one option that’s assigned to them based on where they live, not what they need. Charter schools not only expand options for all students, but also expand opportunity for those students who most need and least often have it.

Policymakers should embrace these findings and seize the moment to fix charter funding flaws, ensuring quality public schools have the resources they need to grow and serve more students.

Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. He is the founder and chair of ExcelinEd and ExcelinEd in Action.