Charter Schools in the United States

Minnesota wrote the first charter school law in the United States in 1991. As of 2011, Minnesota had 149 registered charter schools, with over 35,000 students attending. The first of these schools was Bluffview Montessori School, in 1992. Other schools include the City Academy (1992), the Aspen Academy(2007), and the Mainstreet School of Performing Arts(2004). Since then other states have approved the formation of charter schools. The state government of Texas approved the formation of charter schools in 1995. Early critics feared that charter schools would lure the highest performing and most gifted students from centrally administered public schools. Instead, charter schools have tended to attract low income, minority, and low performing students. Undoubtedly the most radical experimentation with charter schools has occurred in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans Public Schools system is currently engaged in reforms aimed at decentralizing power away from the pre-Katrina school board central bureaucracy to individual school principals and charter school boards, monitoring charter school performance by granting renewable, five-year operating contracts permitting the closure of those not succeeding, and vesting choice in parents of public school students, allowing them to enroll their children in almost any school in the district. New Orleans is the only city in the nation where the majority of public school students attend charter schools.

Unlike their counterpart, charter school laws greatly vary from state to state. This can best be seen by using the examples of the three states with the highest number of students enrolled in charter schools, California, Arizona, and Michigan.Powers, Jeanne M. "Charter Schools." Encyclopedia of the Social and Cultural Foundations of Education. 2008. SAGE Publications. 5 Dec. 2011. These differences largely fall under the categories of what types of public agencies are permitted to authorize the creation of charter schools, whether or not and how private schools can convert to charter schools, and whether or not charter school teachers need to be certified and what that consists of.

Firstly, charters for charter schools in California are for the most part granted by local school districts. However, if a charter is denied by a local school district or the school provides services not provided by the local school districts, the charter can be granted by county board of superintendent of schools and then the state board of education. Meanwhile in Arizona charters can be given by the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, which serves as the state’s agency for governing their charter schools. They can also be given charters by local school districts and the state board of education. In contrast, charter schools, which in Michigan are known as Public School Academies, can be authorized for creation by local school boards or the governing school boards of state colleges and universities. This helps to show how the overlapping of some state laws in regards to charter schools equal in number to the unique laws of some states.

In referring to whether nor not a state allows private schools to convert into a charter school, one too can easily see the variation state to state. California for example does not allow the conversion of a pre-existing private school into a charter school, but both Arizona and Michigan do allow private schools to convert, but with differing requirements. Private schools wishing to convert to charter schools in Michigan must show that at least twenty-five percent of their student population be that of new students. Arizona private schools that desire to switch to charter schools must have admissions that are fair and offer nondiscriminatory acceptance. Also, while Michigan and California require teachers at charter schools to hold state certification, those in Arizona do not. Reports indicate that schools transferring from a traditional school setting to a charter school type setting will inherently be at a disadvantage due to the lack of background structure when compared to schools that have been around for quite a while.

As proven by this state to state differentiation in regards to charter school law, one can easily see it is not unified. Though, the Public Charter Schools Program, which is funded by the federal government and is delivered via the state departments of education does affect every state’s charter schools. It also helps to provide much needed research on charter schools via funding. Also, charter schools were selected as a large component of the No Child Left Behind Act on 2002. Specifically, it stated that students that attended schools labeled as under performing by state standards the right to have the option to transfer to a different school in the district whether it be charter school or not, thus making charter schools an option for students attending an under performing school. No Child Left Behind also suggested an outline that would entail under performing schools possibly being reorganized into charter schools. It sanctions that if a failing school cannot be shown to be making adequate yearly progress than it will be transformed into a charter school.

North Carolina is currently home to almost one hundred charter schools, its limit as per the legislation that passed in 1996 that legally allowed charter schools to exist in North Carolina. Knight, Meghan. "Cyber Charter Schools: An Analysis of North Carolina's Current Charter School Legislation." North Carolina journal of law . 6. (2005): 395. Web. 6 Dec. 2011. http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/ncjl6. This legislation also dictates that there will be no more than five charter schools operating within one school district during the same year. It was passed to offer parents different options in regards to their children and the school they attend, all with most of the cost being covered by tax revenue. There has recently been activity surrounding the issue of raising the state cap of one hundred to one hundred and ten. When the legislation was first passed to allow charter schools in North Carolina, the following couple of years thirty-four charter schools were opened. Within the next few years there were ninety-nine charter schools opened with an estimated 16,000 students. Furthermore, after the first several years of the charter schools being allowed in North Carolina the institutions with the authority to grant charters was shifted from local boards of education to that of the State Board of Education. This can also be compared with several other states that have multiple different powers who accept the charter school applications.

When compared to the number of charter schools across the nation, which is around 3,000, North Carolina does indeed seem to be but a small part of the charter school system, especially when compared to the top three states in regard to the number of charter schools, Arizona, California, and Michigan. And while the number of charter schools in North Carolina is growing, it has yet to produce a cyber charter school, despite a handful of applications for this cutting edge educational system, which in theory better prepares a student for work in newer technical world. Cyber charter schools operate like a typical charter school in regards to being an independently organized school, but allows for much more flexibility and to break the confines of traditional schools. Between 1999 and 2003 about sixty cyber charter schools have opened with over 16,000 students being served. These cyber charter schools were created in fifteen states and approximately accounts for two percent of all charter school students. They allow for students to be taught over the internet while meeting with teachers and students only for certain activities. It also allows for students to attend the cyber charter school and not necessarily be located in that local school district. It can inherently be seen that many very different problems may arise in cyber charter schools when compared to typical charter schools or traditional schools. And, with most cyber charter schools being ruled by the original legislation created for regular charter schools, one can also see that the cyber charter schools could have a hard time addressing their problems. Because of this problem, four states have adopted more specific legislation that directly tailors to cyber charter schools.

A prime example of a state’s cyber schools seeing an increase in implementation is Arizona. With about 3,500 students in their cyber schools, with about half of them being cyber charter schools and the other half being governed by normal public school districts. The cyber schools teach students from kindergarten to twelfth grade, and the setting varies from being entirely online in one’s home or spending all of the class time in a formal school building whilst learning over the internet.

As of December 2011, there are now approximately 5,600 public charter schools enrolling what is estimated to be more than two million students nationwide. The numbers equate to a 13 percent growth in students in just one year, while more than 400,000 students remain on wait lists to attend the public school of their choice. Over 500 new public charter schools opened their doors in the 2011-12 school year, an estimated increase of 200,000 students. This year marks the largest single–year increase ever recorded in terms of the number of additional students attending charters.

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