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Editorial: Dear Senate, charters drive U.S. school reform

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The U.S. House of Representatives, including all of New Mexico’s delegation, has voted to expand a proven education reform that is delivering results in the Land of Enchantment.

That reform is charter schools and the U.S. Senate should follow suit rather than depend on a yet-to-be-proposed revamp of the shelved No Child Left Behind Act to supply one-size-fits-all reform.

H.R. 10 authorizes $300 million annually from 2015 through 2020, consolidates two existing federal programs and encourages the replication of existing high-quality charters. Nearly 20,000 New Mexico students – around 6 percent of public school students in the state – attend 94 charter schools. Two of those, the Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science and Moreno Valley High in Angel Fire, routinely make the national lists of the best schools in the nation.

It is important to note that the charter school movement has had problems and bad actors – schools that use tax dollars to pay multiple salaries to individuals and/or don’t deliver on their mission. But New Mexico Democratic Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján recognize the importance of improving the state’s perennially near-bottom rankings and say they will work to ensure any federal charter school law has mechanisms for “transparency and accountability.”

That’s all any parent, taxpayer, business leader, government official and great teacher should want – a system that wisely uses the finite amount of education spending available to best serve students by preparing them for infinite possibilities in post-secondary education and/or the workplace.

Unfortunately, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., prefers that the Senate “thoughtfully consider and update No Child Left Behind to improve all schools, rather than focusing solely on charter schools in piecemeal legislation,” his spokeswoman says.

But 42 states currently have waivers from NCLB, a well-intentioned but ultimately flawed system of accountability that rightly brought education to the public forefront but set all schools up for failure as it focused on proficiency rather than improvement.

Quality charters are clearly focused on the latter and, in New Mexico, 13, including AIMS and Moreno Valley, have received waivers from the state-mandated teacher evaluations because they have fine-tuned how they measure their students’ improvement.

It’s that kind of student-centered inspiration, innovation and replication that drives successful education reform, and New Mexico is fortunate to have real leaders in its schools and its government who are making it happen.

Leaders in the U.S. Senate should take a lesson from the House and help expand it.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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