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U.S. House Passes Bill to Strengthen Charter Schools

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Charter schools around the nation--including 31 in Hawaii--will receive more scrutiny and also the opportunity to strengthen academic programs with federal funds, should legislation passed today in the U.S. House become law.

"Strengthening the quality and accountability of our charter schools helps the more than 9,000 keiki attending charters in Hawaii," said Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee who voted for the bill.

H.R. 2218, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act, is one of a number of bills the House is working on to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or what is commonly called No Child Left Behind. H.R. 2218 is the first update to the federal education law--and the only bipartisan bill--to come to the House floor this year.

"Some charter schools, such as Native Hawaiian-focused schools, have pioneered innovative methods in improving education that show that all kids can achieve," said Congresswoman Hirono. "This bill makes sure those innovations are shared with all public schools."

H.R. 2218 will:

· Require charters to serve all student populations -- from those with disabilities to English language learners and low-income children.

· Return the charter school program to its original purpose of developing and sharing innovative teaching practices so all public schools benefit.

· Require charter schools to publicly file their annual financial audits the U.S. Department of Education.

· Provide priority funding for charters named as "high-quality charter schools" that improve academic achievement for all subgroups of students and have no problems with student safety or financial management.

· Specify in law that charters can serve pre-K students, so states cannot restrict charters from using federal funds on pre-K. In Hawaii, many charter schools offer pre-K.

· Create new rules to help charters receive federal funding:

o Governors and state charter school boards will now be able to apply separately from their state education department for federal funding, as long as they coordinate with their state education department. For example, from 2008 through 2010, the Hawaii State Dept. of Education decided not to apply for funding from the federal charter schools program. Had this provision been in law, the governor or the state charter school board could have applied for the funding on their own.

o Also, if a state education department, the governor, or state charter school board does not send a statewide application to the U.S. Dept. of Education for funding, or their statewide application doesn't win funding, then individual schools can apply directly to the federal government for funding.

The bill is supported by the National Disability Rights Network, the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, and the Council for Exceptional Children.

"The journey to update and improve our education system is a journey of a thousand steps," said Congresswoman Hirono. "Improving our charter schools is an important step, but it is one step. We have much work to do to strengthen our schools and I will continue to fight for a full update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to enable our keiki to succeed in school and in life."

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