Rare Bipartisan Support Secures Charter Bill Passage

By Alyson Klein — September 20, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. House of Representatives took what has become a rare step last week: It passed an education bill with broad bipartisan support. The Sept. 13 bill involving charter schools passed by an overwhelming vote of 365 to 54—but there was still a lot of drama behind the scenes.

The measure is one of a number of small, targeted bills the House will consider in reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act. It would allow states to tap federal funds to replicate charter school models that have a track record of success. Right now, the federal charter school program is financed at $255 million.

In the past, federal charter laws were “really focused on growing new models, and that was very appropriate when the charter movement was getting launched,” said Alice Johnson Cain, the vice president for external relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Washington. “Twenty years in, we have a good sense of what the effective schools are.” She said the bill would encourage “replication and expansion of models we know work.”

The bill would also help charters gain access to high-quality facilities; advocates say charters are often stuck in some of the least desirable buildings. And it would encourage states to work with charters to help them serve special populations, such as students in special education.

The floor speeches on the bill showed a level of bipartisan agreement in what is a politically polarized Congress.

“Charter schools are a valuable part of our efforts to improve the education available to our children,” U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said during floor debate. “I am very pleased that members of the Education and the Workforce Committee have put their differences aside and worked through a very bipartisan process to develop an exceptional piece of legislation.”

Anxious Moments

His sentiments were echoed by U.S. Rep. George Miller, the top Democrat on the committee. “Both sides of the aisle have strong proponents of this legislation and of the charter school movement in this country,” Mr. Miller said in floor debate.

But, off stage, some education advocates were anxiously watching the vote on an amendment introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, which would have suspended the requirement that charter schools disaggregate their student data. For instance, charters would not have had to show how English-language learners, students in special education, or racial minorities were performing compared with the rest of the students at their schools.

The amendment ultimately was defeated on a vote of 374 to 43. The amendment dealt with charters, which are a relatively small percentage of public schools. But advocates considered it a test of what the new, much more conservative House thinks of the disaggregation of student data, which is at the heart of NCLB’s accountability system.

Mr. Kline and Mr. Miller were united in opposing the amendment.

“The King amendment would strike critical language from the underlying legislation, and could allow charter schools to mask the achievements of subgroups of students in order to receive federal funding,” said Mr. Kline’s spokeswoman, Alexandra Sollberger, in an email.

Mr. Miller circulated a letter urging his colleagues to reject the amendment, calling the provision “a poison pill.”

A number of education groups that backed the bill also sent a letter opposing the amendment.

The House also rejected, on a vote of 220 to 195, an amendment that would give priority to charters that want to become “greener” in doling out school facilities money.

A version of this article appeared in the September 21, 2011 edition of Education Week as Charter Bill Passes House, With Rare Bipartisan Support


School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Use Your 'Teacher Voice,' Jill Biden Urges in a Push for Political Activism
Voting in the midterms is a critical step educators can take to bolster democracy, the first lady and other labor leaders told teachers.
5 min read
First Lady Jill Biden speaks during the American Federation of Teachers convention, Friday, July 15, 2022, in Boston.
First lady Jill Biden speaks during the American Federation of Teachers convention in Boston.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Federal Federal Initiative Leverages COVID Aid to Expand After-School, Summer Learning
The Education Department's Engage Every Student effort includes partnerships with civic organizations and professional groups.
3 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks at an event on June 2, 2022, at the Department of Education in Washington.
U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks at an event at the Department of Education in Washington in June. The department has announced a push for expanded access to after-school and summer learning programs.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Restraint and Seclusion, and Disability Rights: Ed. Department Has Work to Do, Audit Finds
The Government Accountability Office releases a checklist of how the U.S. Department of Education is performing on a list of priorities.
4 min read
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. The Government Accountability Office has released recommended priorities for the Education Department that target special education rights.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Biden Administration Boosts Grants for Community Schools, Sharpens Funding Priorities
The Education Department will award $68 million through its Full-Service Community Schools program.
2 min read
First-graders Rhiannon Hanson, left, and Holden Ashbrook make fruit skewers in class at Lincoln Elementary School in Dubuque, Iowa, on Jan. 20, 2022. Project Rooted has partnered with Dubuque Community Schools for a pilot program in which it provides monthly boxes containing local foods and a project to first-grade classrooms.
First-graders Rhiannon Hanson, left, and Holden Ashbrook make fruit skewers at Lincoln Elementary School in Dubuque, Iowa. The U.S. Department of Education is providing grants to high-quality community schools that provide wraparound services like the nutrition programs at Lincoln Elementary.
Jessica Reilly/Telegraph Herald via AP