Charter School Notes

Published June 1, 1998

If a charter school’s goal is something vague, like developing good citizens, it will be much more difficult for the school’s sponsors to authorize whether a charter should be renewed or not, warns a March 16 report from the University of Minnesota’s Center for School Change.

Sponsors can head off such problems before authorizing the school by establishing with the school’s charter holders exactly what the school’s concrete, measurable goals will be; what assessments of student performance will be used; and what level of progress will be required.

Most charter schools are using a combination of standardized tests and applied performance measures to assess student performance, concludes the report, Making a Difference? Charter Schools, Evaluation and Student Performance. The results of such standardized tests show that two-thirds of the 31 charter schools selected for examination in the report are improving student achievement.

City of Milwaukee to Sponsor Charter Schools

On May 5, with more than two dozen applications already received by the Common Council, Milwaukee aldermen voted to make their city the first in the country with the power to create charter schools. The schools would receive $6,100 per student from the state, slightly more than the per-pupil amount received by the Milwaukee Public Schools but significantly more than the $4,400 voucher used to permit some 1,500 poor children to attend private schools in Milwaukee.

Although the city council’s vote means charter schools could be in operation as early as this fall, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association may file a lawsuit to prevent that, arguing that charter schools divert money from the city school district. No charters have been granted by the Milwaukee school district since last year, when the teacher union was granted an injunction against the state over changes in the way the state charter school law affected Milwaukee.

Additions, Clarifications, and Defeats

On March 11, the Idaho legislature became the 30th in the nation to enact a charter school law, with Governor Phil Batt promising to sign the bill. The measure authorizes the formation of up to 12 new schools per year for the first five years, and no limitation thereafter. However, the law permanently prohibits hiring non-certified teachers, contracting operations to a for-profit company, and converting secular private schools.

On April 1, the New Jersey state Board of Education turned down a plea from a coalition of teachers, administrators, and parents who wanted to deny licenses to 14 charter schools. The coalition was protesting the loss of tax dollars from their districts and claiming that program cuts, not teacher layoffs, were their only response.

“It appears as if the school districts are engaged in a form of educational protectionism,” state education department spokesperson Peter Peretzman commented to the Bergen Record.

For the fourth consecutive year, a charter school bill passed the Washington state House but died in the Senate. While Democratic Representative Dave Quall and Republican Senator Stephen Johnson won praise from the Seattle Times for their distinguished performance in the debate, the newspaper criticized Governor Gary Locke and the “Lesser Lights” in the legislature for “embarrassing themselves and the institution.”