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Charter schools: Let every child have access

By Mary L. Landrieu
May 16, 2014 -- Updated 1046 GMT (1846 HKT)
A new bill supports the growth in charter schools, like Harlem Success Academy, a free, public charter school in New York.
A new bill supports the growth in charter schools, like Harlem Success Academy, a free, public charter school in New York.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sen. Mary Landrieu believes that more kids should have access to charter schools
  • Enrollment in charter schools, she says, has grown by 100% from 2007 to 2013
  • But she says there are still nearly 1 million students on waitlists for charter schools
  • Landrieu supports a bill that will allow for more than 500 schools to open in the next five years

Editor's note: Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, has been in the Senate since 1997 and is seeking re-election for her fourth term. She is co-chair of the Senate Public Charter School Caucus and chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. You can follow her on Twitter @SenLandrieu. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- When my kids were young, I cherished watching their excitement when they shared what they learned at school, like the first time my daughter read "The Cat in the Hat" to me and my son correctly counted out his allowance. Every parent deserves to share such moments with their child.

Unfortunately, in some communities, there is little or no choice for parents to provide their children with a good education from a quality school. Our public education system is failing far too many children and their families, but there is a proven solution that we've in my home state and across the country.

Charter schools have successfully provided an education alternatives to children in our nation. In the 1990s, there were a mere 20 charter schools in Minnesota. Today, there are nearly 6,500 charter schools in the nation serving 2 million students.

Charter schools bring promise and opportunity to families and communities that might not otherwise have it.

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Sen. Mary Landrieu
Sen. Mary Landrieu

In many neighborhoods in each of our states, we've seen how high-performing charter schools can literally build or rebuild a community. For example, in a study released recently, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that students in charter schools in Louisiana were outperforming their peers at traditional public schools in reading and math.

Over the past 20 years, the growth of charter schools has shown not only the high demand for high-quality options, but also the importance for ensuring that students and families have the opportunity to seek an alternative rather than be trapped in a "one-size-fits-all," low performing school, as too many students across the country are.

Enrollment in charter schools has grown by 100% from 2007 to 2013. While that demand continues to grow, there are still nearly 1 million students on waitlists for charter schools -- a lost opportunity for families who seek quality options for their children.

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Earlier this year, we witnessed a huge success in the charter school movement as the newly elected and misguided Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City stood down from his fight against charter schools thanks to the leadership of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a leading, successful charter school champion, Success Academy.

This year, Congress was also able to convince the U.S. Department of Education to allow for the use of weighted lotteries to favor students with disabilities, educational challenges, and students from low-income families. In 2013, 12 states made improvements to their state laws, including laws around funding, facilities, and quality authorizing practices.

Perhaps what will be the most critical change in policy this year comes in the form of rare, but promising, bipartisan and bicameral support of an update to the Charter School Program.

This week, we introduced the Expanding Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act, which offers funding to new and promising charter schools as well high-performing charter schools with a track record of success. This bill makes a smart update to the Charter School Program by allowing for increased and flexible use of funding, and it prioritizes access to facilities as well as continually increased student achievement.

This legislation will allow for more than 500 schools to open annually in the next five years, allowing that waitlist of nearly 1 million students to happily be reduced. More importantly, this legislation emphasizes the need for high-quality public charter schools to be an ever-important solution to ensuring access to a quality education.

Perhaps one day soon, even more American families will get to experience that joy of their child reading to them and their kids thriving at a quality school.

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