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EDUCATION REPORT – April 4, 2002: Charter schools - 2002-04-03

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

American public education has changed in recent years. One change is that increasing numbers of American parents and teachers are starting independent public schools called charter schools.

In Nineteen-Ninety-One, there were no charter schools in the United States. Today, more than two-thousand-three-hundred charter schools operate in thirty-four states and the District of Columbia. Five-hundred-seventy-five-thousand students attend these schools. The students are from five years of age through eighteen or older.

A charter school is created by groups of parents, teachers and community members. It is similar in some ways to a traditional public school. It receives tax money to operate just as other public schools do. The amount it receives depends on the number of students. The charter school must prove to local or state governments that its students are learning. These governments provide the school with the agreement, or charter that permits it to operate.

Unlike a traditional public school, however, the charter school does not have to obey most laws governing public schools. Local, state or federal governments cannot tell it what to teach.

Each school can choose its own goals and decide the ways it wants to reach those goals. Class sizes usually are smaller than in many traditional public schools. Many students and parents say teachers in charter schools can be more creative.

However, state education agencies, local education-governing committees and unions often oppose charter schools. They say these schools may receive money badly needed by traditional public schools. Experts say some charter schools are doing well, while others are struggling.

Congress provided two-hundred-million dollars for establishing charter schools in the Two-Thousand-Two federal budget. But often the schools say they lack enough money for their programs. Many also lack needed space.

For example, many of the thirty-six charter schools in the District of Columbia hold classes in crowded buildings. These schools have almost eleven-thousand students. District officials say they have provided fourteen former school buildings for charter education. Yet, charter-school supporters say officials should try harder to find more space.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.