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Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, the District of Columbia, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006

Location: Washington, DC



Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, I am pleased to join my colleague from Kansas, Senator Brownback, to present to our colleagues of the Senate this DC appropriations bill. It has been a joy and a privilege to work with the Senator from Kansas. Prior to the Senator's service, as chair I had the great opportunity to work with the Senator from Ohio, MIKE DEWINE, who is, indeed, a pleasure to work with and a great partner.

This is a very important bill for our Nation. Not only does it matter, of course, directly to the 500,000-plus residents of the District, but the life and the quality of life in the District has a tremendous impact on this whole region, which is made up of millions of people, as the District was actually carved out of Virginia and Maryland and serves as a hub of this region.

As the Presiding Officer knows, in his home State as well as my home State of Louisiana, people all over the Nation feel very warmly attached to their Nation's Capital, what happens in neighborhoods, in schools, downtown, on the riverfronts, our monuments as a tourist mecca. For people to seek inspiration, this is very important. This bill, while it is one of the smallest in terms of dollar amounts, has a great deal of interest from people all over the Nation.

I have been pleased to be the appropriator, and I am particularly happy all of our colleagues have worked in such a cooperative manner that we can bring this bill to the Senate and handle it with great dispatch, with very little controversy, if any at all. From my perspective, since I have had my time taken helping Louisiana and the gulf coast recover from two major storms, Rita and Katrina, and then the subsequent massive levee breaks that have left the gulf coast region in a great challenging state, I thank our colleagues for letting us take this bill up and move it forward so I personally can get back to the issues in front of the State of Louisiana at this moment.

I will be relatively brief, but I follow up Senator Brownback's statements with just a few comments. I thank Senator Cochran and Senator Byrd, the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Appropriations, who made it possible in their decision as to how to organize and to reorganize the Committee on Appropriations, saw fit to keep some independence for the District of Columbia. That is extremely important. The outcome is something I supported, as well as others, but without Senator Cochran and Senator Byrd's support, it would not have been possible.

Our House colleagues have merged DC into a bigger committee. I think some of the focus gets lost. The Nation's Capital deserves appropriate focus and support from all, and our focus has not been lost. We in the Senate continue to help strengthen and develop our Nation's Capital appropriately as reliable partners for their progress.

I thank Senator Cochran and Senator Byrd.

In addition, I note that the large majority of the money in this bill is not national taxpayer money. It is local money, levied, raised, and appropriated to the tune of $7.3 billion of local money. The Federal money in this bill for which we have responsibility to be accountable is $593 million. It is a lot of money but a small percentage of the $7 billion total levied and raised by the residents and citizens of the District of Columbia. Our focus is on that $600 million portion we allocate in trying to be partners with city officials.

Because of Mayor Williams' outstanding leadership, in my view--and I think it is shared by Senator Brownback and many Senators--his outstanding leadership as a good steward of taxpayer money, as a good manager for reform, as a great salesperson, an advocate for this great city, nationally and internationally, our confidence in his leadership, and the confidence in the management of the city, has increased substantially. So we are pleased to invest in its continued growth.

One major investment this Congress has made is in the establishment of a family court structure. I wish we could have family courts all over the United States. It is not an inexpensive operation. In many States, the last courts to be funded are those that need the most help. The courts that regulate or try to work out situations of marriage and personal lives so important to people, that settle disputes about marriages, wills, and estates, and most importantly, settle the issues of divorces or reconciliations, child custody, child abuse, and spousal abuse, unfortunately those courts throughout our land are the last funded, the least resourced, and the most overly taxed in terms of responsibility.

Over the course of the last few years, we have stood up, Democrats and Republicans, and said it is time to help our Nation's Capital create a model in the Nation, a family court that puts families first, that understands that these decisions of child custody, of separation, of protecting women from abuse and children from abuse, are truly life-and-death matters and are truly important decisions to

keep the fabric of society together. So we have invested in this family court, one family, one judge, so children are no longer lost in the bureaucracy, lost in the file rooms, their lives are meaningful, and they are treated with dignity and respect. It has been an expensive project but one well worth investing in the families of the District of Columbia and particularly the children.

We march on to improve child welfare in the District, to work with the city to strengthen and improve the quality of our foster families and, most importantly from my perspective, promote adoption, believing that every child in the District, in America, and, in fact, in the world, deserves a family to call their own.

Governments, as I have said, do a lot of things well. Raising children is not one of them. Parents--a parent, a responsible adult--raise children. And we as a Nation need to do a much better job of connecting these needy children of all ages--infants, toddlers, young children, teenagers, young adults--with parents wanting to give them the benefit of a stable home and family. I am very proud of the District's performance and improvement in that area.

Finally, one more point before I speak about education which is going to be the focus today. I encourage the continuing development of good land use in the District of Columbia. We have planned the revitalization and cleaning up of the Anacostia River to be a balance with the beautiful Potomac on one side, to bring the Anacostia back to be a place where people can recreate--citizens and tourists alike--where there could potentially be exciting new developments of multiuse housing, wonderful commercial waterfront developments that contribute to recreational opportunities and sporting opportunities for children.

The city has a tremendous vision. The Nation should be excited. Although we are able to offer a just small amount, our committee wants to be supportive of that effort in any way we can. That is reflected in this bill.

Let me speak for a moment on the main subject of this, which is education reform. Every city in the country and every county in the country is struggling with the challenge of providing quality education for our Nation's children. We decided as a Nation many years ago to do that through a public system. It has worked in large measure extraordinarily well over the long term.

There are clearly signs in America--whether urban areas, rural areas, or poor areas; sometimes we even find crises in wealthy areas that are growing too fast or there is too much strain in an area--that school systems are really struggling. Either they do not have enough space and too many students, too many students and not enough teachers, not enough quality classroom space, or there is no tax base to pay for quality teachers, so students are failing. There are all sorts of challenges to our public school system. This Congress has been spending a lot of time--from No Child Left Behind to accountability to strategic investments--to try to fix this. Although there have been some setbacks and it is not perfect, from my perspective, we are moving in generally the right direction with the exception that our investments have not matched the rhetoric from the Federal level. But should we ever be able to fix that, I believe we will see increased student performance, increased parental satisfaction, more choice in the public school system, and excellence across the board.

Why do I say this is so important? Because in this Senator's view, the only way to have great cities is to have great schools. The only way to have great communities is to have great schools. If you do not have great cities and great communities, you cannot long have a great nation.

Our forefathers said to us when we created this democracy that one of the fastest ways to end it is to stop educating ourselves to the responsibilities of being citizens of the Nation and the world. That education, yes, begins at home, where children are educated primarily by their parents, their guardians, people who brought them into the world. But we supplement that education of parents by offering, in America, an education to any child wanting to take the chance to walk through that kindergarten door. We do not limit it only to the wealthy. We do not limit it only to those who can afford it. We provide universal public education. It has been the cornerstone of this democracy, and it should remain that way.

But we have some problems because some of our schools are failing our children. Some of our systems are failing our children and the employees who work in the system. So we have to change. I am very proud that in this DC bill, the Members of the Senate and the House--Republicans and Democrats--have come together to negotiate, to reason together, to try to see what could we do in this city to show a model for some things that can work.

We had a very fierce negotiation and debate 2 years ago about this and have settled, if you will, on three approaches. One is what Senator Brownback spoke about, a scholarship-voucher approach that some people believe will work. A large number of us settled on negotiating for investments in charter schools, keeping the money in the public system, not taking it out but providing more independence, more choice, more exciting options to create new models of ``coopertition,'' if you will, in the public system. I happen to be a very strong advocate of that approach to changing and reforming public education in America.

Then there was another group of us who negotiated for more help to traditional public schools, more investments, more help, and reforming in a more traditional way.

This great experiment is underway. It is going to be a 5-year experiment. We are committing $40 million a year, which is a lot of money. There will be $200 million going to this effort. That $200 million, while it sounds like a lot, is a small percentage of what the District residents pay to support their system. But it is an important investment.

I want to say how proud I am of the efforts being made to expand opportunities for public charters, for two reasons. One, it provides choice to parents. There is not one cookie-cutter approach. Some parents want their children in schools that have strong academics and athletics. Other parents like choices that stress the arts. Some parents like to see that their children may be in a school that may give them a pre-med education and direct them more to medicine or science or research.

I believe all parents should have more choices, that one size does not fit all, that we need to get away from this industrial model. We moved away from it in our economy. Why can't we move away from it in our school system and move to a more decentralized, more independent, more entrepreneurial, more choice-driven, more consumer-directed approach to schools? Just because we have not done that for 200 years in this country does not mean we can't.

So that is what we are undertaking: creating opportunities for quality, independent public charters so the money stays in the public system. But it basically acts almost as if it were private in the sense that it is independent but meeting all high standards.

Twenty-five percent of the public school population in the District is in public charter schools. That is one of the highest percentages of school populations in the Nation. So this is really a laboratory to see what is working, what is not. I am proud to say we are making progress not only in the increased number of charter schools but, most importantly, in the quality of charter schools. It is not just quantity but quality.

There are actions being taken now by the certification boards that if a charter school is failing, those schools can be closed and reorganized and supported so that quality education is being provided. That is one of the focuses of this bill. We want to not stress just the increase in quantity but quality. We want to ensure accountability, and we want to make sure, just as in traditional public schools, that any child who walks through the door of a public charter--whether it be a bilingual opportunity, which has been so successful; whether it is a residential Monday-through-Friday school, which has been tremendously successful in giving people hope and raising grade levels--whatever the model, when they walk through that door, they can get a quality education. That is one of our goals.

So we have continued to press for that $13 million piece. The charter school community has come together in unison to lay out how that $13 million should be directed to this movement, a great movement for quality, for opportunity.

I will submit a summary of that for the RECORD.

One of the exciting components, from my perspective--and I will close with a comment about this--is part of our charter school movement has been a new initiative called the Citybuild initiative. It is part of the charter school idea that says that in many cities, including the District of Columbia, there are certain neighborhoods that are revitalizing, I would say on their own, but nothing happens on your own.

It is a combination of some public investments that are occurring, a change in housing patterns, young couples, Black and White and Hispanic, moving into a neighborhood with young children. They like the housing. They like the location to their work. The only problem is, they move into a neighborhood that has affordable housing, restaurants, theaters, but there are no ``good'' schools or ``quality'' schools.

So what happens is, in 3 years or 4 years these children move, the families put their houses up for sale and move to either another part of the city where they can find the quality education they are looking for, or, worse, they move out of the city. That is what has happened in the District of Columbia. It is what happened in New Orleans. It is what happens in Cleveland. It is what happens in Detroit. It is what happens in Atlanta. It is what happens even in Houston.

So we have to think about a new way to encourage the development of quality, independent, entrepreneurial public schools, placing them in neighborhoods that can easily be identified as up and coming, with near-term improvements, where parents, if they had a good public school choice, would not leave.

That is what the Citybuild charter program is. So I am excited that this is part of our charter school effort. We are now in the second year. There have been five Citybuild charters designated by the city through a process that is open and competitive. There will be, hopefully, two or three more new schools placed in these neighborhoods that will anchor families with small children so we can grow the population of this city and cities all over America.

Mayor Williams, when he came in as mayor, stated his goal that he wants 100,000 new residents. So we have joined him in that challenge to provide more safety in the city, better transportation, better economic opportunity. But what most families need to stay are good schools for their children to attend. That is why we spend so much time working on education reform and promoting, from my perspective, this exciting new opportunity for charter schools, public charters, and particularly Citybuild charters.

I thank, in closing, Deputy Mayor Robert Bobb, Council Chairperson Linda Cropp, DC Delegate to Congress ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, and Shadow Senator Paul Strauss, who is in the Gallery today. Specifically, I also thank Council Member Kathy Patterson, Superintendent of Schools Clifford Janey, and School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, and our staffs who are here, both Kate Eltrich and Mary Dietrich, who were mentioned. Without their support we could not do this bill and present it in a way with such limited controversy and such maximum benefit to the people of the District and the people of our Nation.

So, again, I thank the mayor for his leadership. He makes it easy to work with him. I wish him the best of luck in his future, as he, Mr. President, as you know, said he will not be running for reelection. I suggested he come down South and help us. We need some help in New Orleans, and in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and a good manager like that could be a great help to us. We appreciate his support, and we wish him the best in the future.

Mr. President, I would like to submit for the RECORD a summary of the $13 million investment in public charter schools in the District of Columbia appropriations bill.

The bill directs funding to specific initiatives which will strengthen schools, enhance capacity, improve academic quality, and create a network of integrated services. The committee recommended the following initiatives within the amount provided for charter schools: $4 million for the Direct Loan Fund for Charter Schools; $2,000,000 for Credit Enhancement; $2 million for continuation of the Citybuild Charter School Program; $1,500,000 for flexible grants; $2 million for grants for public charter schools for improvement of public school facilities which are leased or owned by public charter schools; $400,000 for college access programming; $300,000 to create a truancy center; $250,000 for administration of Federal entitlement funding; $300,000 for data collection and analysis; and $250,000 for administration within the State Education Office.

The committee report also included language to pursue access to facilities for charter schools and support ongoing efforts to make space available. A significant initiative of this committee, continuing on the work started by the Congressional Control Board, was to make surplus school property accessible to other educational opportunities. We have required an accounting of surplus school property, encouraging schools to be leased or sold to charter schools, and recommend a dedicated account for any proceeds. I look forward to working with the Mayor and Council to finally open these sometimes vacant, but assuredly underutilized in their capacity as a schoolhouse, these surplus public school buildings.

In addition, I would like to submit for the RECORD several highlights from a recent report on the impact of public charter schools on providing quality public education for children across the country, as well as providing healthy competition to the entire public education system.

The following are excerpts from the ``State of the Charter Movement 2005, Trends, Issues, and Indicators,'' by the Charter School Leadership Council.

The Charter School Leadership Council found that:

demand for charter schools is clearly outstripping the supply. The charter sector would be much bigger in the absence of charter caps and if it could accommodate the throngs of students on waiting lists. Charter schools are concentrated in certain States and cities, though less so than five years ago. Public charter schools are serving a disproportionate share of minority and low-income school children, and this has been the case since the beginning of the charter movement. Charter schools are significantly smaller than district public schools. The charter movement is producing a wide array of instructional and organizational models, providing lots of choices for families.

In relation to public opinion on charter schools, the Council found that:

charter schools remain a mystery to much of the general public. Misinformation abounds, but attitudes become more favorable as knowledge grows. Twice as many registered voters favor charter schools as oppose them.

By the numbers, there are 3,400 public charter schools operating nationwide educating one million students. That represents 2 percent of all students nationwide. Forty States have public charter school laws on the books and 42 percent of charter schools are concentrated in three of those States, Arizona, California, and Florida. The Council report states:

The average number of charter schools per State has been increasing steadily each year, from 25 in 1995, to 59 in 2000, to nearly 90 today. On average, over 250 charter schools have been added each year for the past 12 years.

Of all the public charter schools in the country, 16 percent converted from a traditional public school, 7 percent were created by a private entity, and 77 percent are newly created.

Dr. Brian Hassel conducted a meta-analysis of major studies and concluded the following:

The existence of high quality charter schools and high growth rates for charter schools, at least in many States and studies, suggests that chartering holds promise as an approach to getting better schools. What we have is an experiment worth continuing and refining.

One missing element in nearly all charter studies is the question of productivity: how much learning gain is produced per dollar spent? A Rand study in California found that ``Charter schools, particularly start-up schools, reported using fewer resources per student than do conventional schools ..... Most noteworthy, charter schools are achieving comparable test scores despite a lower reported level of revenue.'' (Ron Zimmer et al., Charter School Operations and Performance: Evidence from California, Rand, 2003). According to a 2004 study of ten Dayton charter schools, average per-pupil funding was $7,510 vs. $10,802 for district public schools, yet on average Dayton charter students outperformed Dayton public school students on all portions of the 2004 fourth and sixth grade State proficiency tests--in some subjects by a significant margin--indicating higher productivity from charters. (Alexander Russo, A Tough Nut to Crack in Ohio: Charter Schooling in the Buckeye State, Progressive Policy Institute, February 2005, 24).

The Council report suggests that we should be asking the right questions:

Is it working? How do we know? At the moment the country is not thinking clearly about these questions ..... Chartering is an institutional innovation ..... With chartering we want to know which pedagogical, governance, and management practices succeed--and what provisions of law are responsible--so policy can do more of what works better. (Bryan Hassel, Studying Achievement in Charter Schools, Charter School Leadership Council, January 31, 2005, 8.)

Caroline Hoxby, a professor of economics at Harvard University stated in her studies that:

The goal of charter reforms is not creating good charter schools in the midst of mediocre public schools. The goal is boosting the performance of all schools by fostering competition and innovation.

In conclusion, I found this observation to be fitting to the current status of charter schools in the country. The Council report examined the potential for impact and noted that Nelson Smith stated in a 2003 Progressive Policy Institute report, ``Catching the Wave: Lessons from California,'' ``Charter leaders are often asked to document the ripple effects of their work. But it is hard to have ripples when the lake is frozen.''

I yield back my time.

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