Alaska Charter for Home-Schoolers Approved

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The school board in Anchorage, Alaska, has approved a charter for a school that primarily will serve home-school students.

The move is a sign that more public education authorities may be willing to accept charter arrangements that go beyond traditional classrooms.

Several states that authorize charter schools have refused to recognize groups of home-schoolers, although California has a number of charter schools along those lines.

The Family Partnership Charter School is scheduled to open next fall in Anchorage and will serve about 120 students, said Dave Titus, its organizer. The Anchorage board approved the school's charter late last month, and the school is now awaiting approval of the state board of education.

Mr. Titus, an engineer for the local gas company, said the school is not intended only to serve home-schooling families, although he believes that is who will make up most of the enrollment. "It is for students whose parents want to have much more involvement in the decisionmaking process that affects their children's educational environment," he said. "Our school is not in any way averse to group instruction. What we have is almost a design-your-own-school charter."

Michigan Effort

The first attempt in the nation to form a charter school for home-schooling families caused considerable controversy. The Noah Webster Academy in Ionia, Mich., sought to create a network of home-schoolers throughout the state who would communicate by computer with teachers and administrators at the school's headquarters.

Critics said the school would allow many home-school families to obtain religious curriculum materials at public expense.

The charter was granted by a small Michigan school district that stood to benefit financially from the arrangement. However, state education officials said the academy did not qualify for funding under the state's charter school law.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are free from most of the regulations and bureaucracy of a school district. Parents, teachers, and private organizations are typically the organizers.

When a state judge threw out Michigan's original charter law in 1994, state lawmakers approved new legislation that more clearly barred the home-school academy from gaining a charter. ("Charter Ruling Sends Schools in Michigan Reeling," Nov. 30, 1994, and "Mich. Lawmakers Pass Bill To Fix Charter Law," Jan. 11, 1995.)

More recently, officials in Arizona and Minnesota have ruled that schools made up of home-schooling families do not fall under the definition of charter schools in those states, said Eric Premack, the director of the charter school project at the Institute for Education Reform at California State University-Sacramento.

"Quite a few states are banning" the concept, he said. "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 home-schooled children, Mr. Premack said. Some of these are based on independent-study programs in which children attend traditional classes for some subjects. Others are on-line networks in which children receive lessons by computer.

Even before California had a charter law, several districts had independent-study arrangements with some home-schooling families, Mr. Premack noted.

Lack of Opposition

Under the Anchorage charter arrangement, Mr. Titus said, parents will be reimbursed for educational materials but cannot pay themselves for teaching their children. Also, no public money can go for religious materials.

Mr. Titus' wife teaches their two school-age children at home.

Mr. Titus said that he expected more resistance to his idea but that 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 said.

The superintendent of the Anchorage schools could not be reached for comment last week.

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Web Resources
  • 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.

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