Of all the money flowing out of the Obama administration, one of the chunks that has the best chance of accomplishing something good is the $4 billion set aside to encourage more charter schools. The monetary incentive has encouraged seven states to ease restrictions on charters. An attempt was made in the Indiana General Assembly to put a limit on the number of charters, but it was beaten back. Without a true voucher system letting parents spend public money on private education, charters offer the best hope for education innovation:
Charter schools gained traction in the 1990s with parents, teachers and other community members who were frustrated with public-school offerings and wanted an alternative. Such schools secure a "charter"—or a contract with the state or local government—detailing how the school will be run. The schools, which are part of the public school system, are run autonomously by community groups. In exchange, they must show more accountability than average public schools in order for their charters to be renewed—which is usually every five years.
Charters can do a lot of experimenting because they are freed from many of the rules and regulations faced by other public schools. One of my arguments has always been, well, if that's such a good idea, why not free all public schools from the rules and regulations?
One promised benefit of charters is that they will foster competition and force non-charter public schools to improve to keep parents from fleeing for the charters. I'm not sure about that -- the record of the charters themselves is mixed so far, and we should never doubt the education establishment's ability to stay in denial. But if this money results in a flourishing of charters, and if the successes are rewarded and the failures abandoned, at least millions of kids can get a better education in charters than they otherwise would have.
There's also the question of whether the best way to do this is with a federal program, but that's a whole other debate.