To help attract top-notch teachers, some charter schools would like to offer guaranteed slots in those schools for employees’ children.
But Uncle Sam won’t allow it if the charters hope to get federal start-up grants.
Just this month, a batch of applicants for new Arkansas charters amended their proposals to remove such an enrollment preference after they learned that otherwise the schools wouldn’t be eligible for the federal aid.
In November, Texas officials asked the U.S. Department of Education for an exemption from the federal rule, and Colorado made a similar plea last summer. Neither state had received an answer as of last week.
“Charter schools are losing good staff members to other public and private schools due to their inability to give the children of staff members priority in admission,” wrote Shirley J. Neeley, the Texas education commissioner, and Geraldine Miller, the chairwoman of the Texas board of education, in a Nov. 17 letter to the federal agency.
Federal guidelines for the $215 million Charter School Program allow only a few enrollment preferences for schools that have more applicants than slots, such as for siblings of current students or children of a charter’s founders.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has urged the Education Department to amend the nonregulatory guidance for the federal Charter School Program so that a charter school may give preference to its teachers’ children, so long as they make up just a small slice of enrollment.
If too many exemptions are allowed, schools risk becoming too exclusive, said Todd M. Ziebarth, a senior analyst at the Washington-based advocacy group.
Eight states have language in their charter laws allowing preferences for teachers’ children, the alliance says.
Patsy O’Neill, who leads the San Antonio-based Resource Center for Charter Schools, which works with Texas charters, said nearly all regular districts in that state already allow the option.
“If 98 percent of traditional districts allow that enrollment preference,” she said, “then we think charters should have that same policy.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 24, 2007 edition of Education Week