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New Report Takes Stock of Charter Schools

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Early evidence suggests that charter schools are drawing students from private schools back into the public school fold, a new report says. But while some hail that outcome as a measure of the success of charter schools, others may see only the price tag, the report's author said last week.

The report, released this month by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, shows that charter schools tend to be relatively small, are increasingly targeted toward the middle and high school grades, and are serving high percentages of minority children. It echoes many of the findings from an earlier study by the Indianapolis-based Hudson Institute and offers specific data on school size and racial makeup. (See Education Week, Jan. 31, 1996.)

More than 200 charter schools have opened nationwide. Such schools, designed by a variety of people and groups, operate largely outside the usual state or school district controls while receiving public funding.

Charter schools are gaining students whose parents had left the public school system in favor of private schools or home schooling, and students who had dropped out of their public schools, according to the report's author, Louann A. Bierlein. Such a shift means states are paying to educate children who previously fell outside their fiscal responsibilities, said Ms. Bierlein, the director of the Louisiana Education Policy Research Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Ms. Bierlein estimated that 5 percent or more of the current charter school population is made up of students who attended private schools, were taught at home, or had dropped out.

'Measure of Success'

And while many charter schools are operating with less per-pupil money than their counterpart traditional public schools, certain quirks in state funding policies have led charter schools to cost more in the aggregate than may have been anticipated, Ms. Bierlein said.

For example, because many states pay districts based on prior-year enrollments, some states have found that the same student is being "counted" twice for the purposes of state aid: once by the student's original public school and again by the charter school the student now attends.

For More Information:

Copies of "Charter Schools: Initial Findings" are $2 each plus postage and handling. Mail written requests to the Education Commission of the States, 707 17th St., Suite 2700, Denver, Colo. 80202-3427. Or call (303) 299-3692. Ask for SI-96-1.

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