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Report Maps Charter Populations in Congressional Districts

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A new report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which shows where charter schools—and their students—are located by congressional districts, underlines the increasing growth of public charters.

The report, "Details from the Dashboard,"  which was released Thursday, shows that 25 congressional districts each have more than 15,000 students enrolled in public charter schools, 67 have more than 10,000 students, while 102 have 20 or more public charters located within their boundaries. 

Twenty of the 25 congressional districts with the largest public charter enrollment are represented by Democrats.

The report comes nearly two weeks after the U.S.  House of Representatives voted 360- 45 to approve a new charter bill that would make it easier for successful charter operators to expand. The bill also will encourage charters to widen their outreach to special student populations, including students with disabilities and English-language learners, two groups that charter schools have been criticized for not doing their fair share to enroll.

It also comes as some urban school districts—largely Democratic areas such as Newark, New York City, and Philadelphia—try to come to grips with the explosion of public charter schools and the ways in which they are transforming the public education landscape and redefining the traditional public school structure. In those cities, advocates on both sides of the charter debate have sparred over funding, space, and resources.

The report also shows how the representatives voted on the most recent public charter schools bill. Unsurprisingly, with very few exceptions, those with a high number of charter schools or charter student enrollment  voted in favor of the bill, which largely enjoyed bipartisan support.  The exceptions included Rep. Cedric Richmond, D- La., who voted against the bill, despite having 31,824 students in his district enrolled in charter schools—the third highest public charter school student population in the country. Richmond's district includes most of New Orleans. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., also voted against the bill. Her district, which includes the City of Milwaukee, has 17,722 students enrolled in charter schools.  

The congressional district with the highest number of charter students, 38,501, is CA-30,  which includes parts of Los Angeles County and is held by Rep. Brad Sherman. But the congressional district with the most charter schools is the District of Columbia, which has 105 charter schools,  according to the report.

The report restated a number of findings culled from 2012-2013 public charter schools enrollment data that the group had already released. Among them: One in 20 public school students in the nation attend public charter schools; more than 2.5 million students across the country attend public charters; and the demand for those seats is increasing as evidenced by longer waiting lists.

Nina Rees, the president and CEO of the Washington-based National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the report was a "valuable resource for Congress to better understand the prevalence of public charter schools." 

"Public charter schools are now serving students in more than 80 percent of our nation's congressional districts and it is important that members know the number of public charter schools and students they represent," Rees said in a statement accompanying the report. 

Although the charter bill passed overwhelmingly in the House, the fate of a similar measure is less clear in the Senate. 

My colleague, Alyson Klein, wrote a few weeks ago about the road ahead for the senate version of the bill. Sponsored by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill, it contains only minor differences from the House version. According to Klein, Sen. Tom Harkin, (D-Iowa) is not exactly enthusiastic about separating  the provisions related to charters from the rest of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,  which has been not been re-authorized since 2002.

Harkin is also not likely to face a huge charter lobby from his home state: There are only three charter schools in Iowa—with an enrollment of 352 students—compared to 1,742 non-charter schools.  In other words, 0.1 percent of the public school students in the state attend charter schools, according to the numbers released by the National Alliance for Charter Schools. 

 You can read the full report here. 

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