What are they? Public schools that are freed from some of the bureaucratic regulations governing regular public schools. In exchange for this latitude to innovate, sponsors of charter schools sign binding agreements promising to be accountable for results. Sponsors may include groups of parents and teachers, universities, or school management companies. If the charter recipients fail to deliver results, they can lose their charter.
How widespread are they? The first charter school opened in 1992 in Minnesota. Since then, 3,000 have opened in 36 states and the District of Columbia. Forty states have charter enabling laws.
What programs do they offer? They range the spectrum from discovery learning to classical learning, from vo-tech to college-prep, from the traditional to the progressive. Teachers have a chance to put their ideas about learning to work by organizing a charter school. Parents are empowered to choose a school that works best for their child.
Aren’t they pricey? Not really. According to a survey by the Center for Education Reform, the average per-pupil expenditure in charter schools is $4,507, which compares to an average of $7,000 in regular public schools. In addition, many charter schools provide their own facilities in community centers, universities, museums, storefronts, or abandoned schoolhouses. Some management companies, such as the National Heritage Academies, even build the charter schools with private funds, thus saving a local school district a major capital expense.
The Charter School Situation In Virginia
What’s the law? The original charter-school enabling legislation was enacted by the General Assembly in 1998. In 2000, the legislation was amended to give local school boards the option not even to review charter-school applications. In 2002, with Governor Mark Warner’s support, amendments were adopted requiring all local school boards to review and act on applications for public charter schools.
What’s the current status of Virginia charter schools? Since 1998, only eight charter schools have opened. Those eight continue to operate. During the 2002-03 school year, 685 students were enrolled in grades 3-12 in those eight schools. However, since passage of the 2002 amendments, no new charter-school applications have been approved. Four applications were denied in four different school divisions: Alexandria, Norfolk, Prince William, and Richmond City.
Where are these eight schools?
- Albemarle County: Murray High School. Grades offered: 9-12. Enrollment: 94. Murray was opened as a nontraditional high school in 1988-89 and approved to convert to charter status in February 2001.
- Chesterfield County: Chesterfield Community High School. Grades offered: 9-12. Enrollment: 250. CCHS was approved to convert to charter status in October 2001, and opened as a charter school in September 2002.
- Franklin County: New Opportunity for Winning. Grades offered: grade 7. Enrollment: 25. The New Opportunity for Winning school opened as a new school in August 2001.
- Gloucester County: Victory Academy. Grades offered: 8-9. Enrollment: 44. Victory Academy was approved to convert from regular public school to charter school in January 2000. Founded by former Democratic state lawmaker Shirley Cooper, it was the first charter school in Virginia.
- Greene County: New Directions Academy. Grades offered: 6-12. Enrollment: 24. New Directions became a charter school by combining two alternative education programs into one school. It opened in September 2001.
- Hampton City: Hampton Harbour Academy. Grades offered: 3-12. Enrollment: 196. Hampton Harbour formerly was an alternative education school called Bradford Hall. It converted to charter school status in April 2001.
- Roanoke City: Blue Ridge Technical Academy. Grades offered: 10-12. Enrollment: 31. Blue Ridge was developed as a new charter school and opened to students in September 2000.
- York County: York River Academy. Grades offered: 9-10. Enrollment: 21. York River Academy was developed as a new charter school and opened in September 2002.
The data on those schools are from a November 19, 2003 report to the State Board of Education prepared by Diane L. Jay, Office of Program Administration and Accountability, Virginia Department of Education. As the report notes, Virginia’s small contingent of charter schools serve at-risk students in danger of dropping out of schools. Several are alternative schools that have converted to charter status. Nationally, many charter schools serve a wide variety of students seeking curricular options, not just those categorized as at-risk.
For more information contact: Don Soifer and Bob Holland at 703-522-5828.
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