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House K-12 Leaders Work on Bipartisan Charter School Bill, Sources Say

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the panel, are working to combine forces on a bill to bolster charter schools, sources say.

The measure, which could be introduced in the next few weeks, would be based in large part on another Kline-Miller special, a charter school bill that was approved by the full House in 2011 (during the previous session of Congress). That measure got overwhelming bipartisan support, sailing through the chamber on a 365-54 vote.

Similar language was included in the Student Success Act, Kline's bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which passed out of the House with Republican-only support last year. (The party-line vote on that broader legislation was due to a host of issues—funding, accountability for special populations, and school turnarounds, but the charter piece remained bipartisan.)

As a refresher, the Miller-Kline charter bill from 2011 would have allowed states to tap federal funds to replicate charter school models that have a track record of success. It also sought to help charters gain access to high-quality facilities and encouraged states to work with charters to help them serve special populations, such as students in special education.

The major difference this time around, sources say, could be a greater emphasis on ensuring that federal funding goes to Charter Management Organizations (such as KIPP, or Aspire). That's something U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has supported, and it's a piece of a bipartisan charter school bill written by Reps. Jared Polis, D-Col., and Tom Petri, R-Wis.

Politically, the measure seems to signify that lawmakers are tired of ... well, not making laws, and that they are trying to find as much common ground as possible and work from there. (Another sign: the bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant set to hit the Senate floor today.)

Lawmakers are hoping to consider the bill in committee next month and send it to the floor later this spring, possibly in May, sources say.  To get the ball rolling, the House education committee is holding a hearing on the issue this morning.

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