Charter Schools

New Model for Public Schools Provides Opportunities and Challenges Gao ID: HEHS-95-42 January 18, 1995

Charter schools are a rapidly growing education reform, offering a new model for public schools. These schools are intended to address a variety of concerns about the public educational system, including unresponsive bureaucracies, restrictive rules, limited choices among types of schools, and a lack of accountability for student performance. As the number of charter schools has grown, so has their diversity. These schools vary considerably in their autonomy, their instructional programs reflect diversity and innovation, and they vary in how they plan and measure student performance. Because of this diversity, these schools pose new challenges for federal program administration. These challenges stem from the lack of connection of some charter schools to local school districts. Meanwhile, states are uncertain about how to treat charter schools in regard to federal programs and federal requirements such as those for special education. GAO summarized this report in testimony before Congress; see: Charter Schools: New Models for Public Schools Provides Opportunities and Challenges, by Linda G. Morra, Director of Education and Employment Issues, before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, Senate Committee on Appropriations. GAO/T-HEHS-95-52, Jan. 19, 1995 (five pages).

GAO found that: (1) 9 states have approved 134 charter schools developed by teachers, school administrators, parents, and private corporations; (2) as charter schools increase in number, so do their diversity and innovation; (3) charter school instructional programs focus on multiage classes and often teach subjects within a common theme; (4) some charter schools specialize in certain subjects, while other charter schools target specific student populations; (5) charter schools' autonomy varies among the states based on their legal status, approval, funding, and exemption from rules; (6) charter schools vary in how they measure student performance and it is too soon to determine whether these schools will meet their student performance objectives; (7) the major challenge for federal program administration is determining whether those charter schools that are legally independent of their school districts can be considered local education agencies (LEA) for program administration purposes; and (8) although states have taken different approaches to address charter schools' status as LEA, further clarification is needed on how charter schools can be treated for federal program administration and whether these schools are eligible for educational funds.

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