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Charter schools a great option

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On Feb. 3, the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools hosted the annual School Choice Fair, which included 35 independent, magnet and charter schools that provided information to over 700 families. The intent was not just to display the array of options the New Mexico educational system has to offer, but also to educate parents and students on the available possibilities.

This event highlights an important realization about the charter school movement, which began in Minnesota in 1991. Charter schools are a significant piece of the educational landscape. The growth of charters has had substantial bipartisan support in their brief time. By 1995, 19 states had charter school laws and, by 2003, that number increased to 40 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. President Clinton asked for 3,000 charter schools in his 1997 State of the Union Address and President George Bush asked for $200 million to support charter schools in 2002, according to pbs.org/closingtheachievementgap/faq.html.

Most credit the success to the additional expectations of charters: They need to be accountable about how well they educate their children and manage the compliance issues of using public money. If charters fail in these areas, they close. They provide choice by providing a specific mission like college preparation; health services; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); art; music; night classes; and an opportunity for dropouts to return and earn a high school diploma. They have autonomy to be led by a governing board focused exclusively on one school and its vision and goals.

Charter schools have become such a great option for students and parents in New Mexico that there are over 8,000 students statewide on waiting lists. With so many students wanting to attend a charter school and such a limited amount of space, each charter school operates on a lottery. It is this time of year when most students place their names on a list of those interested in attending a charter school. When a school has a list of applicants greater than the spaces it is allowed to fill according to its charter, the school will hold a random lottery draw to determine who is chosen for admission. When students miss the deadline or are chosen after the allowed number of students is picked, they are placed on a waiting list.

As the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools has grown in its role as an advocate for charters at the local, state and national levels, it wants to make sure all parents and students know the reason for the annual School Choice Fair: Students and parents have a choice about what focus they want for education. We support the 99 choices that exist in New Mexico; go to the coalition website, nmccs.us, click “parents” and then “charter directory” to get a list of all schools. To see how all schools compare using 2011 Standards Based Assessment data, go to the home page, scroll down and click on the “public school dashboard,” then click on “continue to the public school dashboard” and continue to a graph comparing all schools.

If you have been wondering about a charter school, contact your local schools’ offices, and ask for specific information about their school and their lottery. You are free to choose; now is the time to act.

Good luck.

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