by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com
Now that it’s Charter Season, we want you to be prepared. In this article we’ll cover some basics and a few specifics you should know about charter schools.
It bears repeating that California is at the forefront of the charter movement with more students enrolled in charter schools here than in any other state. There are 23,000 students enrolled in charters in LAUSD alone, and that number is growing every year.
Charters are tuition-free semi-independent, somewhat autonomous schools operating with public funds, authorized by either the local school district, the county or the state board of ed. Charters get their name from the lengthy legal document that outlines all facets of the operation of their charter school – from the vision to curriculum to governance to fiscal and academic and campus procedures.
Some charters are chains of schools replicated on multiple sites run by large charter management organizations (CMOs), and others are small individual school start-ups launched by an ad-hoc group of parents, educators, business leaders or entrepreneurs with a shared vision of an alternative model of education.
In Los Angeles There Are Two Types of Charters
Independent charters have the most autonomy to operate with full flexibility on staff hiring and firing (they don’t typically use the UTLA teachers contract), can make their own decisions in terms of budget, governance, overall school direction and operation, and are unaffected by district cuts or policy changes. Unless they are extremely well-endowed, most independent charters apply for classroom space via Prop 39 and are given a minimum number of classrooms co-located on the side of another neighborhood school campus, thus severely limiting its expansion. Highly sought-after charters can sometimes have wait lists in the hundreds each year.
The other type of charter is the affiliated conversion charter – schools that were a traditional neighborhood school that “went charter” after 51% or more of the staff voted to convert to charter status. More of a hybrid, these charters have some autonomy on curriculum and textbooks, some budgetary flexibility with monies they get directly from the state, but are bound by LAUSD district policy on things like teacher contracts (must hire UTLA teachers therefore subject to seniority and bumping rights), and are affected by district decisions such as class size increases, calendar changes, lateral reductions in specific staff positions and programs. Affiliated charters may have less autonomy than the independent charter, but more importantly they get to keep their facility (building), and must give enrollment priority to those who reside within the neighborhood attendance area. Many conversion charters are so full of neighborhood kids that few remaining seats ever go up for lottery, and if they do, hundreds of students apply for them.
In terms of applying to charters, anyone from any district may apply, and you may apply to as many charters as you like. Most charters give priority enrollment to founding families if it’s a start-up, staff members, and siblings of current students. In order to attract more socio-economic diversity some charters will also give priority to those who reside within the local school district (LAUSD) or qualify for the Free/Reduced Lunch program. Each charter application process and lottery is overseen and run independently by each school site.
Built-in Academic Accountability
Unlike a neighborhood school that can fail year after year after year, a charter school, because it is reviewed when up for renewal every 5 years, MUST meet state standard requirements or it can be in jeopardy of being shut down. This can, and has happened to some schools.
Many charters (but not all) have excellent academic results in core subjects. Some are able to offer small class size, and small overall student body size can lead to excellent individual attention. However, sometimes this is at the expense of other “peripheral programs” or enrichments, such as visual or performing arts, an instrumental music program, PE or sports, languages, or technology.
Not all charters outperform neighborhood schools. In fact, most recent numbers show that charters, on average, aren’t performing any better than district schools.
Charter = Alternative to the Traditional District Model
Prop 39 Co-Locations
What makes a charter great? Could be an innovative teaching model, collaborative learning, special partnerships, flexible learning environment, enthusiastic teachers, motivated students and a great community of like-minded families.No two charter schools are alike. One must tour and do one’s research and apply directly at each school site, as there is no one-stop application booklet that covers all your charter options in one fell swoop.
What are the charters in your area? Please consult my color-coded maps on the school finder page of my website. Charters are marked in green.
Or check out the California Charter Schools Assoc for more info.
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Tanya Anton is the creator of GoMamaGuide.com helping parents demystify and navigate their public school options in Los Angeles. To read more articles by Tanya or to learn about her Guidebooks, House Chats, Consultations, and Seminars, visit GoMamaGuide.com or email us at GoMama@mac.com.
© 2012 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved.