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Week of 11.24.06

Chartering a New Course in Public Education

When the public education system in New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, education officials and social advocates saw it as a great opportunity to launch so-called charter schools. Now over 60 percent of the city's reopened schools are charter schools.

The charter school movement gives individual public schools the power to create policy and curriculum for themselves. Often promoting innovation and accountability, the schools are run by school-board-approved community groups that may tie themes such as the environment, the arts, and character-building to the curriculum. Students have to take traditional standardized tests and are often held to the same standards set for other public schools in the area. Charter schools are funded by taxpayer dollars, but also by foundation grants and private donations.

Like any public school, charter schools must be authorized by state law. In 1991, Minnesota became the first state to pass a charter school law. California was next in 1992. By 2003, there were 40 states with charter school laws, serving over 700,000 students in 3,000 schools, according to the Center for Education Reform.

"New Orleans is likely to be the largest charter-school city in the country," Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, told USA Today in 2005. "If they do it well, it will show the country that charter schools work well on a large scale. And if they stumble, then opponents will point to it as an example of why you shouldn't do this."

Mayor Ray Nagin is a strong supporter of the growth of charter schools in New Orleans. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have also supported charter school programs throughout the country.

Related Links:

» An Overview of Charter Schools in the U.S.

» In Your State: Information About Charter Schools

» The National Education Association's position on charter schools