The United States Senate this week passed a resolution by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to congratulate students, parents, teachers and administrators at public charter schools across the United States for their ongoing contributions to education. The resolution (S. Res. 134) supports the ideas and goals of the 11th annual National Charter Schools Week, which lasts from May 2 until May 8. It encourages programs, ceremonies and activities during this week to demonstrate support for public charter schools.
"I have supported public charter schools for a long time, because they have a strong record of educating students and building stronger, more prosperous cities," Sen. Landrieu said. "Public charter schools provide a new model of schooling that can break the chains of mediocrity and provide opportunities for children to excel."
"When I was education secretary for the first President Bush, I wrote a letter to school superintendents across the country urging them to create charter schools," Sen. Alexander said. "Today there are over 4,500 charter schools where teachers, principals, parents and students have the flexibility to use their common sense to create the best schools possible."
Public charter schools have become one of the fastest-growing, innovative forces in education policy. Ten years ago there were 1,200 public charter schools operating. Today, there are approximately 4,500 public charter schools educating more than 1.4 million public school students.
In New Orleans, the devastating aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita became an opportunity to recreate a public school system. Before Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans school system had 128 public schools serving 65,000 students, and was among the lowest performing in the nation.
In 2005, the state Department of Education took over 107 "failing" public schools in New Orleans that were performing below state averages. Post-Katrina, a smaller, more entrepreneurial system has evolved with 86 public schools, of which more than half are charter schools. The system now serves about 36,000 students, with more than half of New Orleans students enrolled in public charter schools, the highest proportion in the country. According to Education Week, "Louisiana has been widely praised for setting a high bar for new charters."
In Tennessee, the number of charter schools has doubled in the past five years from 10 to 21, expanding service from 991 students to 3,588 students.