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Kirk, Feinstein, Alexander, Bennet Introduces Bill to Expand Charter School Access and Opportunity

Bipartisan Bill Streamlines Existing Programs and Provides Startup, Replication and Funding for High-Quality Charter Schools

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), along with Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Michael Bennet (D-Utah) and today introduced S. 316, The Expanding Opportunities Through Quality Charter Schools Act, which streamlines existing Charter School Programs and provides startup, replication and expansion funding for high-quality charter schools. This bill aims to improve educational opportunities for all students by expanding the number of high-quality charter schools, helping charter schools access suitable facilities and supporting innovation and research in the charter sector.

“There are more than 54,000 Illinois students that attend charter schools, and these students are 18 percent more likely to finish high school than their peers,” Senator Kirk said. “The LEARN and Noble networks in Chicago account for 22 percent of the city's high school students, and it is crucial that programs like theirs continue to be available and are expanded for students in Illinois and throughout the country.”

“Charter schools give parents the freedom to choose the best school for their child and teachers the freedom to teach the children who attend their schools. Now, more than 2.5 million students or about 5 percent of all public school students attend charter schools. This bill will help states like Tennessee create new charter schools and replicate or expand their best existing ones, giving more students access to a good education and an opportunity to succeed,” said Senator Alexander.

“All kids should have access to a high quality education no matter where they live,” Senator Bennet said. “In Colorado, many charter schools are helping improve student achievement and preparing students for success in college and careers in the 21st century economy. This bill makes smart changes to the Charter School Program to help schools focused on student success, to create new high-quality schools, and to promote strong authorizer accountability. It prioritizes support for schools serving low-income families to ensure we’re helping kids most in need.”

“Every child deserves a high-quality education, and many children who struggle in underperforming schools flourish in high-quality charter schools,” said Senator Feinstein. “Parents desperately want opportunities for their children and the demand for charter schools remains higher than the supply. Currently in California, approximately 50,000 students are on waiting lists. We need to invest in the expansion and development of high-quality charter schools so more children receive the education they deserve.”

There are currently 67 public charter schools that operate in 145 locations throughout Illinois. More than 54,000 public school students in Chicago attend charter schools, such as the LEARN and Noble charter school networks, accounting for 22 percent of the city’s high school students. In 2013, the 11 highest-performing non-selective public high schools in Chicago were charter schools. Students in Illinois charter schools are 18 percent more likely to graduate from high school and 26 percent more likely to enroll in college.

Nationwide, there are approximately 6,400 charter schools in 43 states and D.C. serving over 2.5 million students. There are more than one million student names on charter school waiting lists. Under this proposal, as many as 500 new charter schools could open with federal support every year.

The Expanding Opportunities Through Quality Charter Schools Act is endorsed by Achievement First, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, Breakthrough Schools, Brooke Charter Schools, Charter School Growth Fund, DSST Public Schools, Gestalt Community Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, IDEA Public Schools, KIPP, LEAD Public Schools, Mastery Charter Schools, Noble Network of Charter Schools, Rhode Island Mayoral Academies, Rocketship Education, STRIVE Prep, Success Academies, Uncommon Schools, Uplift Education, and Yes Prep Public Schools.

What the Bill Does:

Updates and streamlines two existing programs into one Charter Schools Program, consisting of three grant competitions:

  • High-Quality Charter Schools: Grants to State entities to start new charter schools and to replicate or expand high-quality charter schools, including by developing facilities, hiring and preparing teachers, and providing transportation.
  • Facilities Financing Assistance: Grants to public or private nonprofit entities to demonstrate innovative methods of enhancing credit to finance the acquisition, construction, or renovation of facilities for charter schools.
  • Replication and Expansion: As part of national activities, grants to charter management organizations to replicate or expand high-quality charter schools.

The bill also:

  • Authorizes the Charter Schools Program at $300 million for fiscal year 2016 and such sums as may be necessary for fiscal years 2017 – 2021.
  • Solidifies federal support for expanding and replicating high-quality charter schools with a demonstrated record of success, while giving States flexibility to invest in new school models and encouraging them to strengthen charter school authorizing practices.
  • Continues federal support for financing charter school facilities and encourages States to ensure their charter schools are able to access suitable facilities.
  • Offers more flexibility to charter school developers to fund startup costs associated with charter school facilities and providing transportation to students.
  • Encourages charter schools to focus on special populations, including at-risk students, students with disabilities, and English learners.


For access to this release and Chairman Alexander’s other statements, click here.