Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Bush, GHW:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The George H.W. Bush Years: Charter Schools, Summary

In addition to an emphasis on systemic reform, the idea of school choice garnered increasing attention in the 1990s. As noted earlier, President Bush's America 2000 proposal included publicly funded vouchers for parents to enroll their children in private schools. Charter schools offered yet another option in the school choice arena. As early as the 1980s, the relatively new concept of charter schools-that is, schools with special or independent dispensations, or charters, from their states to experiment with alternative publicly financed approaches to education-had emerged on the national scene. The name charter schools can be traced back to Dr. Ray Budde, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who wrote a report, Education by Charter, in 1988. In this report, Budde describes the shift of responsibility and control over student learning away from removed administrators to those who do the teaching. Minnesota was the first state formally to allow the creation of charter schools, and other states eventually followed, including Arizona, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Washington, Missouri, Maine, Illinois, Texas, and Florida. The basic idea behind charter schools was that more freedom to innovate at the school level would lead to improved results.


Relatively early in the Bush administration, the charter school movement gained support from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which previously had supported ideas such as site-based management, schools-within-schools, and school-community partnerships. In a 1988 New York Times column and a speech at the National Press Club, AFT president Albert Shanker described charter schools as a promising front in improving education. With his faith in teachers as professionals, he saw the freedom that charter schools could offer and the scientific results from standardized tests as fostering a good environment for teachers and students to thrive. Although interest in charter schools was growing, there was no legislation enacted to support them during this administration.


Between 1989 and 1992, federal spending for education increased by 25 percent (meanwhile, the budget of the federal Department of Education increased 41 percent). In unadjusted dollars, federal aid to education had increased from $5.3 billion in 1965 to $23.3 billion in 1975 to $40.0 billion in 1985 to $71.7 billion in 1995. Although the administration of President George H. W. Bush did not produce significant breakthroughs in education legislation, funding for extant programs did increase, and the stage was set for new federal strategies to improve education results.


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