All-STAR Act builds on success, expanding hope and opportunity
Rep. Jared Polis, The Hill
As another school year ends and another class of students is left behind by a well intentioned but inadequate public education system, it is critical that we redouble our efforts to close the persistent achievement gap among students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Bold reform is urgently needed to ensure that the learning needs of all children are met.
We cannot afford to waste talent and lose ground to other emerging global powers. A recent McKinsey & Co. report estimated that because of America’s educational underachievement over the past 25 years, our GDP is lower by $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion. Investing in education is not only a moral imperative; it is the single best stimulus investment we can make to ensure our nation’s future competitiveness and prosperity in a globalized economy.
To reclaim America’s leadership in education, we must support, expand, and replicate the success of innovative schools and educational models already in place. Charter schools have shown significant progress — from schools that have found ways to dramatically improve the academic achievement of at-risk students, to schools that “should” fail according to demographic assumptions but continue to disprove expectations and provide students with the tools they need to succeed. The power of public school choice, charter schools, and innovative district programs has created hundreds of examples of schools that prove excuses are not acceptable. That is why I will soon introduce the All Students Achieving through Reform (All-STAR) Act that builds upon past achievement expands educational opportunity and encourages innovation.
All-STAR focuses on replicating high-quality public charter schools in areas that need them the most. It is based on a simple premise: We must support and duplicate those public schools with a proven track record of results. There is a broad consensus that we must set aside counterproductive infighting in education and instead reward success and encourage reform. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called for increasing federal support for high-quality public charter schools, while strengthening accountability.
As a former chairman of the Colorado State Board of Education who founded and served as the superintendent of charter schools serving at-risk student populations, I have seen firsthand how innovation in the education system can achieve remarkable results. As an entrepreneur who has founded many venture capital-backed start-ups, I also know how critical it is for a promising venture to gain the right support, at the right time, so it can build on initial success.
Charter schools are public schools with site-based governance, including a contract to operate with a public authorizing entity, usually a school district or state. Today, approximately 4,700 charter schools are educating over 1.4 million children in 40 states and the District of Columbia, helping to close the achievement gap. In Colorado, 78 percent of charters made Adequate Yearly Progress last year, compared to 58 percent of traditional public schools, and 55 percent of charters were rated excellent or high, compared to 43 percent of traditional public schools.
All-STAR would establish a new competitive grant program for states, local education agencies, public charter school authorizers, and eligible non-profit organizations to expand and replicate existing charter schools that have exceeded performance expectations. It also strengthens accountability and transparency measures, discourages punitive charter school policies and practices, and reiterates the federal requirement for students to be admitted through a lottery.
My proposal would enable high-quality schools that serve low-income students, like Colorado’s Pinnacle Charter High School in Denver and Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo, to educate additional children by increasing funding for transportation, new faculty, technology and other fixed costs. Additionally, eligible entities could use the funding for incubator programs for new eligible schools, campuses for multiple schools, or even university-like campus complexes with different charter schools.
The education crisis is complex. Wide-ranging, systemic reform at every level is needed to improve our educational achievement. Replicating the success of high-quality public charter schools is an innovative way to increase educational opportunity, with proven results. Failure to solve everything immediately is not a valid excuse for inaction. Our children cannot wait for an education policy cure-all. They need hope, they need it now, and it is our moral imperative to deliver it.
Polis serves on the House Rules, Education and Labor, and Democratic Steering