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Riley Announces First Charter-School Grants, New Study

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The Education Department has issued the first federal grants in support of charter schools.

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley announced last month that more than $5 million will be distributed to eight states. Another $78,000 will go to two individual schools in New Mexico.

President Clinton highlighted the announcement with a visit last month to O'Farrell Community School, a charter school in San Diego.

"I want the American people to see this because there are too many people in America that not only don't have high expectations of our students, they don't have high expectations of our schools any more," Mr. Clinton said. "They don't understand how much good can be done in a good school when people are working together and they believe in their children and the promise of their future."

And last week, Mr. Riley held a news conference that featured a conference call with charter-school leaders from the states receiving grants.

He also announced that the department has signed a $2.1 million contract with a Berkeley, Calif.-based research organization for a four-year study of charter schools. The project is expected to yield the most comprehensive study of such schools ever undertaken.

Charter schools, which allow parents, teachers, school administrators, business officials, or others to operate public schools under contract with a public agency, have been touted as a path to innovation both by conservatives who favor increasing competition in education and others who view charters as a less threatening alternative to voucher programs.

However, local officials are often reluctant to approve charters, which mean losing students--and usually a chunk of their school budgets--to an independent entity. (See related story, page 23.)

The Clinton administration has endorsed parental choice within public schools as well as charter schools, but opposes voucher plans that seek to use public funds to pay private school tuition.

The administration proposed a federal charter-schools grant program in its reauthorization proposal for the Elementary and Secondary Education ACT in 1993. Congress agreed with the idea and authorized $15 million in spending per year for the Public Charter Schools Program. In fiscal 1995, $6 million was appropriated for the new program.

The states that received the money--Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Texas--will competitively award sub-grants to new or recently formed charter schools. Schools are required to use the money for planning or start-up costs. The state grants ranged from $250,000 to Texas to $829,451 to Massachusetts.

States receiving federal grants are required to have laws in place that allow charter schools to bypass most state and federal regulations in exchange for greater accountability.

An individual school can apply for funds under the program if its state has a charter-schools law in place and the state has not applied for the federal money.

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