EDITORIAL: The Long Beach Press Telegraph, June 30, 2004

A Boost for Charter Schools. Now They Need Fewer Restrictions

California's charter school movement got a welcome boost from the federal government this week with a $75-million grant to establish about 250 new charter schools during the next three years.

The state should now complement that gift to charter schools with one of its own: removing the legal shackles that are still preventing charter schools from flourishing as they could be.

The federal grant will give charter schools a major push, from the current 450 or so to about 700 by 2007. But charter schools need more than money they need freedom to expand. That freedom that has been curtailed by obstructionist school districts, power-hungry unions and, at the state level, spineless lawmakers.

A major study earlier this year by the state Legislative Analyst's office found that the autonomy and smaller size of charter schools bring more innovation and individual attention to students, and greater academic success at a lower cost to taxpayers than traditional public schools. On the whole, charter schools are succeeding and should be allowed to expand, the report concluded.

Accountability and oversight are crucial as well. Unfortunately some charter schools fail, as was the case recently with Long Beach's Promise Academy and a handful of other charter schools statewide. Those are by far the exception; the vast majority of charter schools are boosting student performance, encouraging greater parental involvement, increasing teacher satisfaction, and broadening the curriculum with classes such as music and art without sacrificing core subjects. And they're doing it with less money than it takes to educate the same number of students at a public school.

Accountability doesn't have to come solely from local school districts. With the proper state oversight, institutions such as universities, colleges and qualified nonprofit groups should be allowed to establish and operate charter schools.

Some local school districts, such as Long Beach, have welcomed charter schools and given them a chance to grow. But in some places in California, charter schools have been shut out or severely restricted by districts and teachers' unions that fear competition to the public school monopoly.

The $75-million grant will go a long way to help California charter schools. The next step, which wouldn't even cost the state a dime, will be to give charter schools more freedom to expand.

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