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Hearing of the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee of the House Education and The Workforce Committee - "Exploring State Success in Expanding Parent and Student Options"


Location: Washington, DC

As a father, I know my children don't stop learning just because the school day has ended. We have a responsibility as parents to continue to challenge our kids outside the classroom. Parents who make a concerted effort to promote reading, help with homework, and discuss school with their children can inspire a better overall education experience.

We know increased parental engagement leads to higher grade point averages, better attendance, improved behavior and social skills, and a stronger interest in more challenging academic programs. Recognizing these positive results, many states are taking steps to ensure parents have additional opportunities to make decisions not only about where their children attend school, but also about what happens during the school day.

Over the last two decades, we have seen a strong surge in state efforts to expand access to high-quality charter schools -- which is something members on both sides of the aisle have supported. Not only do charters present an opportunity for parents to choose the school that best meets their children's unique needs, many of these schools also help parents learn to play a more active role in their children's coursework and classroom activities.

Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws to support charter schools. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there were more than 5200 charter schools in the 2010-2011 school year. Additionally, some states have begun lifting arbitrary caps on the allowable number of charter schools, helping more students access these innovative institutions.

Like charter schools, private school scholarship programs also open doors to better education options. Here in Washington, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program continues to help disadvantaged students in the nation's capital escape failing schools. The program is extremely successful, boasting a 91 percent graduation rate for scholarship students. Other states have adopted similar scholarship programs; roughly 81,000 students currently benefit from school scholarship programs underway in eight states, as well as D.C. and Douglas County, Colorado.

Two years ago, my home state of California gained national attention for approving the nation's first "parent trigger" law, which allows parents to spur reform in underperforming public schools. Parent trigger laws give parents the ability to force change at their child's school by replacing some of a school's faculty, or even obtaining a scholarship for their child to attend a private school. In Compton, parents banded together to try to turn a struggling public elementary school into a charter school. Today, seven states have enacted their own distinct versions of a parent trigger law, and more than 20 others have considered some variation of the law.

The fight to improve our nation's education system cannot happen in Washington, D.C. alone. It is critical states continue to lead the charge by engaging parents and providing options in the local education system. I look forward to learning more about state efforts to expand parental involvement and school choice options from our witnesses today.

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