Charter Schools

Charter schools are nonsectarian public schools of choice that operate with freedom from
many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The “charter” establishing each
such school is a performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program, goals, students
served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. The length of time for which
charters are granted vary but most are granted for 3-5 years. At the end of the term, the body
granting the charter may renew the school’s contract. Charter schools are accountable to their
sponsor (usually a state or local school board) to produce positive academic results and stick
to the charter contract. The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased
independence in return for this accountability. They are accountable for both academic results
and economic practices to several groups. These are the sponsor that grants them, the parents
who choose them, and the public that funds them.

Mississippi’s charter school law was passed in 1997. Eligible operators of Mississippi’s
charter schools are restricted to existing public schools. There is one school currently
operating in the state. This school began operation in June, 1999. It is the Hayes Cooper Center
for Math, Science, and Technology in Merigold, MS. Hayes Cooper was established as a magnet
school in 1991. It received charter status from the state of MS on December 19, 1997. It
currently has under 500 students and serves kindergarten through sixth grade. It is located in the
Mississippi Delta and has a ratio of 50% white and 50% black.

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The intention of most charter school legislation is to:
h Increase opportunities for learning and access to quality education for all students
h Create choice for parents and students within the public school system
h Provide a system of accountability for results in public education
h Encourage innovative teaching practices
h Create new professional opportunities for teachers
h Encourage community and parent involvement in public education
h Leverage improved public education broadly
People establish charter schools for a variety of reasons. The founders generally fall into three
groups: grassroots organizations of parents, teachers and community members; entrepreneurs; or
existing schools converting to charter status. According to some reports, the three reasons most
often cited to create a charter school are to:
Parents and teachers choose charter schools primarily for educational reasons–high academic
standards, small class size, innovative approaches, or educational philosophies in line with their
own. Some also have chosen charter schools for their small size and associated safety.

The charter school movement evolved from a number of other reform ideas, from alternative
schools, to site-based management, magnet schools, public school choice, privatization, and
community-parental empowerment. The term “charter” originated in the 1970s when educators
suggested that small groups of teachers be given contracts or “charters” by their local school
boards to explore new approaches. The American Federation of Teachers then publicized the
idea, suggesting that local boards could charter an entire school with union and teacher approval.
In the late 1980s Philadelphia, PA started a number of schools-within-schools and called them
“charters.” Some of them were schools of choice. The idea was further refined in Minnesota and
based on three basic values: opportunity, choice, and responsibility for results.

In 1991 Minnesota passed the first charter school law, with California following suit in 1992.
By 1995, 19 states had signed laws allowing for the creation of charter schools, and by 1999 that
number increased to 36 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Charter schools are one
of the fastest growing innovations in education policy, enjoying broad support from
governors, state legislators, and past and present secretaries of education. President Clinton has
also supported them, calling in his 1997 State of the Union Address for the creation of 3,000
charter schools by the year 2000 and delivering remarks for the 1999 Charter Schools National
Conference. Since 1994 the federal Department of Education has provided grants to support
states’ charter school efforts, from $6 million in fiscal year 1995, to $100 million in fiscal year
Thirty-six states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have passed charter school laws.
The most recent, Oklahoma and Oregon, began in 1999. Thirty-two states, Washington D.C., and
Puerto Rico currently have charter schools. Arkansas, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Wyoming
have charter laws but no charter schools. During the 1998-1999 school year charter schools
opened for the first time in Ohio, Idaho, Mississippi, and Nevada. The U.S. Department of
Education estimates that 1735-1790 charter schools will operate in 1999-2000. It is estimated
that 350,000 students will attend these schools in the fall of 1999. It is reported that last year
1,205 charter schools served every grade from pre-K to adult. Of these, 58% were elementary
schools, 20% were secondary schools, and 22% included grades at both levels. Arizona leads the
nation in number of charters, with nearly 350 schools currently in operation, followed by
California (234), Michigan (over 175), Texas (over 150), and Florida (112).

Charter schools vary from state to state, not only because the individual charters set out
unique mission and goal statements, but also because state charter laws, which significantly
influence the development of charter schools, also vary. The laws cover seven basic policy and
h Charter Development: who may propose a charter, how charters are granted, the number
of charter schools allowed, and related issues.

h School status: how the school is legally defined and related governance, operations, and
h Fiscal: the level and types of funding provided and the amount of fiscal independence and
h Students: how schools are to address admissions, non-discrimination, racial/ethnic
balance, discipline, and special education.

h Staffing and Labor Relations: whether the school may act as an employer, which labor
relations laws apply, and other staff rights and privileges.

h Instruction: the degree of control a charter school has over the development of its
instructional goals and practices.

h Accountability: whether the charter serves as a performance-based contract, how
assessment methods are selected, and charter revocation and renewal issues.

Bill Clinton wants to triple the number of charter schools by the year 2010. George W. Bush
wants to set aside $3 billion of federal money to support facilities for them. The public
consistently says that education is one of the most important issues facing the country. And
charter schools have emerged as one of the liveliest and most promising strategies for solving the
problems of American education. Yet most people are unfamiliar with the whole concept.

Charter schools can successfully be held accountable for the education they provide without
resorting to heavy-handed regulation. Indeed, charter schools are more accountable than schools
in the current system. If a school is failing, eliminate it. If it pleases no families, nobody need
attend it. Such options don’t exist in the traditional school model. If all schools that exist today
were under this sort of pressure to develop an education plan that promotes success or else it
would close, maybe more schools would have larger outcomes of successful and productive
citizens in their communities. Whereas, most schools also have access to too much outdated
materials to use with their students, charter schools offer all updated materials and resources for
all students attending there. As more charter schools are opening in the coming years, more
reports will become available as to their success. All public education officials will be waiting
and watching to see how these are developing and how they will affect the future of all public
Center for Educational Reform. Retrieved from the World Wide Web June 12, 2000.
Bierworth, Jack (1997). Redefine School Boundaries. Retrieved from the World Wide Web
June 14, 2000.
Booth, Michael (1997). School Districts Start to Warm to the Charter Movement. Retrieved from
the World Wide Web June 12, 2000.
The Center for School Change. Retrieved from the World Wide Web June 13, 2000.
US Charter School Homepage. Retrieved from the World Wide Web June 17, 2000.
Dale, Angela (1999). Charter Schools: The New Neighborhood Schools. Retrieved from the
World Wide Web June 18, 2000.