Public Schools Chase Charters

Ben Wieder
September 22, 2011

With support for charter schools growing at the state and federal level, some conventional public schools are looking to get in on the act. In Florida, where Republican Governor Rick Scott has championed charters, traditional schools are beginning to argue that they should be given some of the same freedoms as charters, which are essentially private schools funded with public money. School officials say that busing requirements and class-size and online teaching restrictions are among the rules that hamper their ability to compete with charters. “Everyone should have the same regulations,” Bill Vogel, superintendent of the Seminole School District, 20 miles northwest of Orlando, told the Orlando Sentinel. “Let’s level the playing field.”

In Houston, The New York Times reports that several low-performing high schools have adopted some of the hallmarks of charter schools — longer hours, more one-on-one tutoring, weekend classes, and even college-themed decorations — as part of a pilot program being run in conjunction with a researcher at Harvard University. First-year results have been mixed: While some of the nine schools in the $19 million pilot program have improved their students' performance on state exams, four still remain on the “unacceptable” list for underperforming schools. 

The prospect of losing students to charters — which can mean missing out on more than $6,000 per student in state funding — has led schools in Arizona to expand their offerings. Some have added magnet programs, foreign-language immersion and online classes to try to compete with what’s being offered by charters. The (Phoenix)Arizona Republic reports that one high school in Phoenix targets prospective firefighters and policemen, with traditional classes in the morning and training sessions using regular equipment in the afternoon.

Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an education bill that would permit states to use federal funds to expand successful charters and allow them to offer more special education and improve their facilities. The legislation received bipartisan support and passed overwhelmingly. Education Week reports that the only controversy arose over an amendment introduced by Iowa Republican Steve King that would have suspended a requirement that charters break out performance data for individual subsets of their population — such as minorities or students in special education. Some saw the amendment as a bellwether for future No Child Left Behind debates about student data, but the amendment didn’t muster much support, with both Republicans and Democrats who specialize in education opposed to the change.

This article was originally published by, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that reports and analyzes trends in state policy. It is reprinted here with permission.


Ben Wieder covers education on