Charter schools surge – Federal study finds rapid growth

WASHINGTON — The number of public charter schools grew about 40 percent in the 1998-99 school year and the movement is expanding more rapidly this year in some areas of the U.S., a federal study says.

In 1992, the U.S. had only a single charter school.

Charter schools are operated with government funds and are tuition-free but run almost as private schools outside the bureaucracy of public school systems.

They mainly are designed to fulfill a particular mission, such as serving at-risk urban youngsters or children with high IQs.

Critics say charter schools take both money and highly motivated students from public schools, while advocates say charters create more choice and force public schools to become more competitive and responsive to parents.

“There is a lot of good evidence emerging that you see a good, positive competitive dynamic,” a White House source told The Washington Post.

“Schools are becoming more responsive to parents.”

Both traditional public schools and charter schools receive federal and state funding based on the number of students attending a particular school.

The Post says the study by the Department of Education is the most detailed yet on the charter school movement.

The study shows that the number of charter schools jumped 421 to a total of 1,484 as of September, and seven out of 10 have waiting lists.

Twenty-seven closed during the same period.

But the number of charter schools operating in the U.S. actually is higher. The study uses data from schools in 27 states. Thirty-seven states have charter laws — some of them passed just this year.

In some areas, charter schools are growing even faster. Arizona and the District of Columbia had 4 percent growth and Colorado had 2 percent, the study says.

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