Home Sweet School
The school board in Anchorage, Alaska, has approved a charter school that will primarily serve homeschooled students.
The Family Partnership Charter School is scheduled to open next fall and will serve about 120 students, says Dave Titus, its organizer. The board approved the charter in January, and the school is now awaiting final approval from the state board of education.
Titus, an engineer for the local gas company, says the school's enrollment will probably be mostly homeschoolers, but that's not intentional. "It is for students whose parents want to have much more involvement in the decisionmaking process that affects their children's educational environment," he says. "Our school is not in any way averse to group instruction. What we have is almost a design-your-own-school charter."
Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are free from most of the regulations and bureaucracy of a school district and state. Parents, teachers, and private organizations are typically the organizers. ("Charting The Charters," January.)
The first attempt to create a charter school for homeschooling families caused considerable controversy. The Noah Webster Academy in Ionia, Michigan, sought to create a network of homeschoolers throughout the state who would communicate by computer with teachers and administrators at the school's headquarters. Critics complained that the school would allow homeschooling families to obtain religious curricular materials at public expense, but the charter was granted by the small Michigan district, which stood to benefit financially from the arrangement. State education officials later nixed the move, saying the academy did not qualify for funding under the state's charter school law.
More recently, officials in Arizona and Minnesota have ruled that schools made up of homeschooling families do not fall under the definition of charter schools in those states. "Quite a few states are banning the concept," says Eric Premack, director of the charter school project at the Institute for Education Reform at California State University-Sacramento. "They don't understand it, and they are sort of cursing the darkness."
In California, however, about 20 of the state's 100 charter schools serve homeschooled children. Some of these are independent-study programs in which children attend traditional classes for some subjects. Others are on-line networks in which children receive lessons by computer.
Under the Anchorage charter, parents cannot pay themselves for teaching their children. Also, no public money can go for religious materials.
Titus, whose wife teaches their two school-aged children at home, says he expected more resistance to his idea, but not even the teachers' union objected. "I'm encouraged to see the school board reaching out in this way to families who want more control over their children's education," he says.
- Emerging Issues in Charter School Financing. This May 1996 policy brief from the Education Commission of the States looks at how charter schools are funded and whether they spend their money differently from other schools. See also the commission's issue brief on charter schools in general.
- Charter Schools in Action: A First Look. Chester E. Finn Jr., Louann A. Bierlein, and Bruno V. Manno, January 1996. The Hudson Institute launched the Charter Schools in Action project in the summer of 1995 to study problems in starting a charter school and solutions to such problems. Its research staff take a look back.
- Order the special report, "Breaking Away." Contains all of the articles and charts from Education Week's special report examining the charter school movement and whether it has the staying power to change the face of American schooling. Published November 29, 1995. Available on disk. Cost is $6.
- Charter Schools: Education Reform's Quiet Revolution, from the October 1996 Communicator, the National Associaton of Elementary School Principals' newsletter.