Norton's full statement below:
Today, I am introducing the Public Charter Schools Home Rule Act of 2008, to give the District of Columbia local government full jurisdiction and complete oversight over the District of Columbia Charter School Board. I had hoped this normally routine local control would be possible when I was in the minority and worked with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Representative Steve Gunderson on the bill that created the District's major charter school board. While the Charter Board bill itself was created on a home rule basis, the structure was not, and reflects a period before the recovery of the D.C. government from financial and managerial distress.
The D.C. Charter School Board is composed of members selected by the Mayor, but only from a list of individuals presented by the Secretary of the Department of Education. Unlike similar boards in the District, the Charter School Board members need not be residents of the District of Columbia.
Because the Mayor is not permitted to select members of the Board other than those submitted by the Secretary, the Federal government inserts itself into critical decision-making about an important local education matter. This is an anti-home rule anomaly in a bill which had strong home rule support and is justifiably resented by D.C. public officials and residents.
Ironically the charter school bill itself was drawn with an abundance of home rule officials and resident participation. The D.C. Charter School Board was established by Congress during a time when the District was in the midst of a serious financial crisis. The city's local charter board, working under the DC Board of Education, had largely failed in its mandate to charter schools. Yet, it was clear that the District's children needed an alternative to the local school system. I am grateful that my Republican congressional colleagues, who controlled Congress at the time, agreed that alternatives to DCPS could be created without going to private school vouchers, which D.C. residents and elected officials strongly opposed. Instead, a task force, created by Speaker Gingrich and led by former Representative Steve Gunderson, worked with officials, residents and me, on a home rule basis, to develop the bill. The task force held many sessions that members of the City Council, the School Board, D.C. education advocates, and residents who had a special interest in education attended. H.R. 3610 became the first federal charter school bill. Shortly thereafter, a nationwide charter school bill that includes grant funding was enacted with broad bipartisan support.
I do not believe any of us could have anticipated the phenomenal growth and success of the D.C. Charter School Board or the level of innovations, diversity and excellence of many of the schools that has made it a model, and my bill is not intended as a criticism of the Charter School Board or its work. D.C. residents have created huge demand. The exponential growth of charter schools up to the largest number in the U.S. and their long waiting lists are a solid indication of the success of our charter schools in meeting the needs of thousands of students. The city would almost surely have lost many more residents then it has without the large growth of charters schools.
Mayor Adrian Fenty is restructuring and reforming the D.C. public school system and has dissolved the local charter school board, leaving the federally created charter school board as the only standing authority. However, a federally chartered board structure is at odds with these reforms. Only a structure developed by local officials is appropriate particularly for local education matters. This bill, therefore, does not create a structure or indicate the appointing authority. In our country that is a matter for local officials alone. I have insisted that this bill do no more than repeal all existing federal jurisdiction and transfer that jurisdiction to the District of Columbia to write its own bill.
Only D.C. officials should appoint members to its local education board. The board cannot be appropriately accountable if its members are chosen from outside the accountable jurisdiction. I urge my colleagues to pass this important measure as soon as possible.