This week marked the 18th annual National Charter Schools Week, a time to celebrate the 3.1 million children who attend one of the 6,900 public charter schools that are on the forefront of helping to create new opportunities for their students.
Across Tennessee, more than 30,000 students now have the opportunity to attend one of 107 charter schools—and they are thriving as a result. A recent study by Stanford University found that, on average, Tennessee charter school students make almost a year-and-a-half’s worth of progress in reading and math in a single school year.
More than 80 percent of students attending charter schools in Tennessee are low-income and more than 94 percent are African American or Hispanic.
In other words, charter schools in Tennessee are making a difference for those students who have traditionally been least well served by our public schools.
Charter schools are public schools that are simply freer from government and union rules. They are about freedom for teachers, choices for parents, and more and better opportunities for students.
They enable parents to help their children get a real opportunity by choosing better schools for them to attend. They enable students to learn and succeed in an environment that fits their needs.
They enable hard-working and creative teachers to succeed by giving them the freedom to use their firsthand knowledge. And they enable administrators to succeed by freeing them from bureaucratic mandates and giving them the chance to use their good judgment.
Charter schools have come a long way since 1993, when, in my last act as U.S. Education Secretary, I sent a letter to every school superintendent across the country, urging them to consider replicating the early successes of charter schools in Minnesota. Since then, these first dozen charter schools in Minnesota have grown to more than 6,900 nationwide and there has been broad, bipartisan, mainstream support for charter schools – including from the last five presidents and last six education secretaries.
Since 1994, Congress has given grants to states to start new charter schools. In 2015, I worked on the law fixing No Child Left Behind, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), where we made a number of changes to strengthen and expand this program. ESSA included improvements to ensure that those federal funds are used as effectively as possible to increase the number of high-quality charter schools.
Specifically, this means our legislation invests more funding in the replication and expansion of charter schools with a proven record of success, while still giving states the flexibility to invest in innovative new methods.
This flexibility means creative educators can use the federal funding to provide transportation or facilities improvement if that is what they decide is the best use for their children and their community.
Charter schools in Tennessee and across the country are making a difference for those students who have traditionally been least well-served by our public schools, and that’s a worthy event to celebrate in this 18th annual National Charter Schools Week.