Wednesday, January 12, 2000

study charter
school issues

34 groups have applied for
charter status so far

By Crystal Kua


If an existing school became a public charter school, can it deny admission to a child who lives within its boundaries?

Would charter school students be eligible for busing? Will the local board which runs the school be subject to laws governing open meetings and ethics?

These are the kinds of questions that Board of Education members grappled with yesterday before approving the review process that applicants must undergo to seek approval to receive charter school status.

Charter schools are public schools -- they receive public funds -- that are free of many government regulations and laws. But they are accountable for living up to the terms of their charter or contract.

The Legislature last year amended the law, opening the charter school process to more groups.

Previously, only existing schools could become "student-centered" charter schools.

The changes now make it possible for an existing school to convert to a charter school, or any community or a program within an existing public school to apply for charter status.

So far, 34 groups have applied for charter status, said Art Kaneshiro, director of the Department of Education's school improvement/community leadership group. Four of those groups want to begin operations next fall.

Prospective charter schools also can apply for up to $96,000 in federal funding for planning and design.

Part of the discussion at yesterday's meeting focused on certain issues that the law is fuzzy about.

LeMahieu said charter schools are attractive for those who have a vision of education different than traditional schools and those who want freedom from the reins of the public schools system.

While there are many pluses to charter schools, recurring problems seen across the country include infighting and lack of facilities, he said.

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