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Published: Friday, 1/9/2004

Public nature of charter schools reaffirmed

While the 2-year-old federal No Child Left Behind Act contains some special provisions for charter schools - mainly additional grants - it reaffirms that they are public schools, not private institutions as some believe, state and federal officials said yesterday.

“We re trying to encourage the charter and community schools to think of themselves as public schools. That s what you are,” Stephen Barr told an audience of Toledo charter school managers, administrators, teachers, and board members.

Mr. Barr is executive director of the school reform and federal student programs office of the Ohio Department of Education.

As public schools - with some flexibility regular districts don t have - charter schools are subject to the same requirements of the federal law, said Ken Meyer, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Those requirements include new mandates in four major areas: accountability, flexibility and local control, research-based education reforms, and providing parental options, Mr. Meyer said.

But the law also provided about $75 million in grants for charter schools, he said.

“Education is really taking a positive turn in a number of directions,” he said. “We have seen a lot of activity, a lot of exciting things happen over the last couple of years.”

Dr. Barr and Mr. Meyer addressed a group of about 40 people from the Ohio Council of Community Schools, formerly the University of Toledo Charter School Council, which has authorized charters for 11 schools in Ohio.

Ralph DeMaris, a third-grade teacher at Eagle Academy in Toledo, said he believes firmly in the charter school movement and, like many teachers, has concerns about standardized tests.

He said he and other teachers from the Eagle Academy attended the lecture as a team and would discuss some of the issues at a staff meeting. Above all, he said, the charter movement should be supported.

“As a charter teacher, it s really strong to let people know that a charter school is a public school,” Mr. DeMaris said.

Dr. Barr said charter schools, as public schools, should work with established districts because all are in the business of educating children and oftentimes students transfer between community schools and regular public school districts.

“We want you to participate with the public schools. We want you to talk with the public schools and we want them to talk to you,” he said.

But J.T. Stout, spokesman for the Leona Group, which manages five Toledo charter schools, called the idea of working with public districts “na ve.”

“We re not going to be able to sit down with them,” he said. “I am interested, but we are perceived as a threat.”

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