The state Board of Education is expected to call for more charter schools at its meeting today.
A Tonganoxie Democrat on the state education board said she expects to vote today in favor of easing the limit on Kansas charter schools, a reversal of her position at the board's November meeting.
Last month, half the 10-member board, including Mildred McMillon of Tonganoxie, rejected a call for more charter schools made by member Scott Hill, an Abilene Republican. McMillon said she voted against Hill's proposal because she thought it included a provision eliminating local school board authority over charter schools.
But closer examination of Hill's proposal after the meeting showed that wasn't the case, she said.
"I think the way the proposal is written, it won't bypass the local school districts," McMillon said Monday. "So I feel better about it. I'm a great local-control person."
State charter school law, on the books since 1994, allows for only 15 of the schools, which are free from some regulations imposed on regular public schools. They are the object of a nationwide school-reform effort. Although there are hundreds of them in states such as Arizona and California, they have been slow to develop in Kansas. Critics say Kansas law discourages them. Besides limiting their number, the law also requires they be approved by both local and state school boards.
The legally allowed maximum is expected to be reached today when the board meets in Topeka and approves applications pending for four more of the experimental academies.
The education board by itself can't raise the charter school limit. But it can recommend changes in state law to the Legislature. Hill's proposal would allow 10 additional charter schools but would limit the designation to schools with a history of poor academic performance. Poor performance presumably would demonstrate a need for alternative teaching methods.
Several school districts in the Lawrence area, including Baldwin and Oskaloosa, already have received state approval for charter schools. The approved area charter schools are eligible for up to $25,000 each in federal grants to help open their doors.
Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards said restrictions imposed by the Kansas Constitution make the availability of federal grant dollars the only good reason for a Kansas school to seek charter status.
In other states, he said, charter schools can operate free of virtually any state or federal regulation. That freedom allows wide experimentation with different ways of teaching. But the state constitution, he said, doesn't allow the state education board to waive laws or regulations created by the Legislature or Congress. Kansas charter schools can only be exempted from some regulations created by the state board. And the state board can waive those regulations for any school, with or without a charter.
"I truly believe that at this point, the only advantage to having a charter school is you can get federal grants," Tallman said. "That's no small thing. But we don't have a charter law that creates any real benefit to do it. They can't use this law to do anything they couldn't do anyway except get money."
State Sen. Barbara Lawrence, a Wichita Republican and chair of the Senate Education Committee, introduced a bill during the 1997 Legislature permitting charter schools without local board approval and also allowing them exemption from all state school regulations. The bill didn't advance last session, but will carry over into the 1998 session for possible action.
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