Despite Tough Funding Environment, Charter Schools Gain Momentum

Even as public schools districts across the nation struggle with budget shortfalls, charter schools are seeing an uptick in public and private funding, altering the landscape of public education across the country, the Associated Press reports.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the number of charter schools grew by 6.7 percent, to 4,936, in 2009-10 and is projected to increase 7.5 percent during the current school year. Urban districts, home to many struggling schools and large numbers of poor minority students, are seeing the most growth. Indeed, research from the alliance found that 36 percent of public school students in Detroit attend charters, while the number is 38 percent in Washington, D.C., and 61 percent in New Orleans.

Charter management organizations are driving much of this growth, having received millions of dollars in funding from the Obama administration and private philanthropies like the Bill & Melinda Gates and Eli and Edythe Broad foundations. Buttressed by growing financial and political support, management organizations such as the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) in San Francisco and Oakland-based Aspire Public Schools plan to double the size of their networks over the next decade.

But while many individual charter schools have produced strong academic results, critics of the charter school movement argue that the schools are siphoning students and resources away from traditional public schools, resulting in greater racial segregation and diminished access for poor academic performers, and operating without proper oversight.

"What we're seeing basically is an effort to impose deregulation and the free market [on] education," said New York University professor Diane Ravich. "The fascination with charters among philanthropists and Wall Street has diverted the attention away from tackling the hard problems of public education."

"Charter Schools Expand With Public, Private Money." Associated Press 01/21/2011.