Thursday, February 3, 2011

What is a Charter School?

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Last night (2/2/11), the Sacramento County Board of Education approved an application for 5 new charter schools in the Sacramento area.  This will create more choices for our youth to attend school outside the traditional setting.  But, what is a CHARTER school?  Parents want to know.

Charter schools are authorized in the California Education Code starting with section 47600 under the "Charter Schools Act of 1992" which states:

The purpose outlined by the legislature for such schools is to

"[P]rovide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure as a method to accomplish all of the following:
(a)  Improve pupil learning.
(b)  Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.
(c)  Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods.
(d)  Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the schoolsite.
(e)  Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system.
(f)  Hold the [charter] schools established...accountable for meeting measurable pupil outcomes, and provide the schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.
(g)  Provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools." [California Education Code section 47600]

These are great goals.  Charter schools ARE basically public schools set up outside the traditional system to give kids a choice in education.  Any child can apply to attend a charter school, even if it is located outside their district.  They are free to attend.

What charter schools do is give the public schools competition in education.  They also can focus on specific curriculum, such as the performing arts (drama, art, photography, etc.), the sciences, and other areas of interest.

In the article in the Sacramento Bee today, written by Diana Lambert and Melody Gutierrez- there are some interesting comments from school officials regarding the charter schools which were approved.  For example, a Natomas Unified trustee complained that if the charter application was approved, the troubled Natomas District may not be able to balance their budget and a state takeover could be inevitable.

While I understand the public schools have woes, they are not responsible for mismanaged funds of public school districts.  Rather, the purpose of charters is to provide varied opportunities for students to learn.  As the public schools are failing and are also "one size fits all," a little diversity in opportunity is sorely needed.

Additionally, the public schools are finally getting some competition other than just private schools which many parents cannot afford.  Attendance at a charter school is free, as charters are supported by public funds.  Let the public schools improve THEIR curriculum, test scores, and service, and the charters will prove no threat to them at all.


Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page []. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.

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