Morning Bell: Power to Parents, Not Feds

Conn Carroll /

Twelve years ago a Republican Congress and a Democrat president came together in a bipartisan fashion and passed one of the nation’s strongest charter school laws for the Washington, D.C., school system. The charter schools are publicly funded on a per-pupil basis and must accept any student who applies (if there are more applicants than spaces, a lottery system decides who the school can take). While each school must take everyone, they are also free to set their own rules for expelling students. More importantly, the charter schools are free from union contracts, so they have the freedom to decide who the hire and fire.

Today there are 60 charter schools on 92 campuses educating more than 26,000 students. And as The Washington Post reports: “Students in the District’s charter schools have opened a solid academic lead over those in its traditional public schools. … Charters have been particularly successful with low-income children, who make up two-thirds of D.C. public school students.”

As President-elect Barack Obama looks to fulfill the promises he made on the campaign trail to implement “a new vision for a 21st century education,” The Heritage Foundation sincerely hopes he looks to the charter movement’s success in the District of Columbia as a guide for much-needed reform.

Since 1970 American taxpayer per-pupil spending on public schools has doubled after adjusting for inflation. Since 1985, combined federal spending on K-12 education has increased by 138% (adjusting for inflation). And what do Americans have to show for all this increased spending? Nothing. American students’ reading scores have remained relatively flat since 1970. Throwing money at public schools has not worked. More fundamental reform is needed. To that end, Heritage recommends:

Obama was right to say during his campaign that “we cannot be satisfied until every child in America … has the same chance for a good education that we want for our own children.” But four decades of experience with increasing federal involvement has shown that Washington cannot deliver on that promise. Instead of further expanding federal authority in education, Obama’s administration should empower those who have more power to make a difference in children’s education, especially parents.

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