Education Business Booms with Charter Schools

By Price, Joyce Howard | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 12, 1998 | Go to article overview

Education Business Booms with Charter Schools


Price, Joyce Howard, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Think of charter schools as new businesses.

Investors need to offer a superior product to traditional public school education. They need to attract and hold the "customers" - students and their parents. Like businesses, most need to generate revenues, keep expenses in check, and make a profit to prosper.

With 20 charter schools approved in the District and 17 possibly opening in the fall, the choice for parents who say they are dissatisfied with public education will expand.

Entrepreneurs in this new education enterprise are required first to obtain a "charter" from school authorities to set up a school because operating funds will come from both the District and the federal government. The investors need to have a building, an approved curriculum and evidence of financial resources for equipment and start-up costs. An allocation of $6,711 per pupil is to be provided with District and federal funds.

Many charter schools will focus on certain areas - arts and music, for example, or math and science, or just basic courses in English, math and history. Investors insist their "product" will be better designed and more focused than what's available in public schools.

"Charter schools are public schools that have a different way of doing things," says Virginia Walden of Friends of Choice in Urban School (FOCUS). "The curricula are less cut and dried, allowing teachers greater creativity . . . they give your child a chance while the school system fixes itself."

A single mother, Mrs. Walden says she knows from the personal experiences of her three children that traditional public education has "gotten progressively worse here in D.C."

Michael Peabody, co-president of FOCUS, says he got into the charter movement three years ago after concluding that "all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put D.C. public schools back together again."

In authorizing these new charter schools, the District is following a nationwide trend.

"By fall, there will be over 1,000 [charter schools] in 25 states," reports Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform.

Critics fear the charter schools will draw money, teachers and pupils from public schools, thereby weakening public education even more. "Our goal is not to put public schools out of business," says Eddie Farnsworth, a lawyer who operates three charter schools in Arizona. "It's to give parents a choice [of schools their children can attend] and to make District schools more competitive."

While the new establishments are schools, they are also seen to be businesses where the "product" is education and the bottom line of successful private management is a profit.

Just how creative a charter school can be is evidenced by Friendship House, a charter school scheduled to open in the District this fall that will enroll as many as 1,308 students, ranging from preschoolers to fifth-graders.

"All kids after grade three get a laptop computer," which will be kept at their homes, explains Mr. Peabody. "Their parents are taught how to go into the system to see if their children have completed their assignments, so there will be much better communication" between parents and teachers about a child's scholastic progress. …

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