There is much discussion in the news about charter schools and even a movie about them, Waiting for Superman. But even with all of this attention, many people do not know what a charter school is or why they should even be interested in a charter school.
Charter Schools are a way to provide choice to parents who want something other than the traditional public school for their children. So what is a charter school? Let’s start with the basics.
First, a charter school is free and it is a public school.
It is supported by money from the state legislature just like every other public school in New Mexico. There is a very complicated funding formula, called the State Equalization Guarantee or SEG for short that provides money per pupil to the schools. So for every student enrolled in a school, the state sends a specific dollar amount.
To make sure that a charter school does not become like a private school that can screen its students and select only those they want, charter schools must use a lottery system to make sure that all students have access to the school and its programs.
Becoming a charter school requires planning and a vision.
In order to be “authorized” to act as a public school there is a lengthy process that must be followed.
First, a group of people will make a decision to start a school. Charter schools must have an “authorizer,” another public agency that is responsible for overseeing the charter school to make sure that it is following the rules and is providing a quality education for its students. In New Mexico, a charter school can either be authorized by the Public Education Commission (PEC) or by a Local Educational Authority (LEA), otherwise known as the local school district. Then they must send a letter to the agency that they choose by March to let the agency know that they intend to apply for authorization.
Next the group must build their charter. In it they must describe what their mission is and how they will be different from a regular public school. A charter school can have different kinds of instruction and does not have to use the same textbooks or methods that the regular schools do. At the State of New Mexico Public Education Department’s website, you can find the full requirements for submitting a charter. http://www.ped.state.nm.us/Charter/Application.html
Charter school applications are due to the authorizer by July 1 and then are reviewed by the authorizer and a decision is rendered by October indicating whether the application has been accepted.
The organizers of the school are then given the rest of the year to plan and get the school ready to open. There is assistance from the authorizer and money is made available by way of a federal and a state grant to secure the materials, resources, and staff that will be necessary to get the school open.
Charter Schools must meet quality standards like every other public school.
Students in charter schools take the same standardized tests that all of the other students in the state take. Teachers are responsible for making sure that the standards and benchmarks that the state has developed are addressed in the classroom. Schools also are judged to determine if they make the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) standards set by the federal government and the schools will also be graded according to the new New Mexico A-F grading system that will be in place for the next school year.
Unlike regular public schools, however, charter schools must apply to be renewed, usually at the end of a 5 year period, although some renewals are for shorter periods of time. Charter schools must be able to show that they are meeting their goals and helping students to learn and to make progress in order to remain open. Charter Schools are expected to be models of new ways of teaching and learning and are held to higher standards than regular schools.
In the next article we will talk about the charter schools that are located in New Mexico and how to choose a charter for your child.