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What is a Charter School? Charter Schools are autonomous public schools that operate according to a five-year performance contract or “charter.” They are exempt from many public school regulations for curriculum development, staffing and budgeting; but, they are held accountable for students’ academic performance and specific goals set forth in their charter. If charter schools fail to meet any of these, they risk having their charter revoked or not renewed. Like all public schools, charter schools must meet state standards and Regents requirements, as well as state and federal laws regarding health, safety, civil rights and student assessment. Also, charter schools are open to all students and cannot discriminate in their admissions’ process. Often there are more interested students than available slots, in which case charter schools must by law choose students through a random lottery. While charters are publicly funded by tax dollars, they do not receive any funding for facilities. In New York City, many of the charter schools share space with traditional public schools.

Last Summer, a law was enacted to increase the number of Charter Schools in the state required that the schools enrol more students who are still learning English, as well are more special education students, although it is unclear how those provisions will be monitored or enforced. Today, Blacks make up 30 percent of the enrollment in the school system, but 60 percent of the enrollment of charter schools. Hispanics, who account for 40 percent of the enrollment of public schools, represent only a third of the charter school population. Charter Schools have proportionately fewer Hispanic students — as well as fewer students learning English, regardless of their ethnicity — than nearby schools, including schools that share the same building. If Charter Schools matched the demographics of their neighboring district schools, there would be roughly 5,000 additional Hispanic students enrolled in them, according to the analysis, which used demographic data from the Education Department.

Lillian Rodríguez López, the president of the Hispanic Federation, a network of social service organizations, has been supportive of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s changes in school governance, but she said the low enrollment of Latino students was a worrisome sign, particularly because the mayor and Chancellor Joel I. Klein praise the charter schools as beacons of success. “When you create a system that isn’t going to absorb the same students for whatever reason, you are marginalizing them even further,” Ms. Rodríguez López said. “If you are saying that these schools present and offer these ideal learning environments, then you need to make sure that these students have the opportunity to access and go to them.”

What is clear is that extra efforts are necessary to reach the Hispanic population. Many of the Charter Schools in the city immediately gained major backing from powerful Black politicians and clergy leaders. However, community Latino leaders embraced the Charter Schools more slowly as they did not understand what Charter Schools are. We, Latinos, need to educate our community organizations and leaders on the importance of enrolling our children in these Charter Schools, which will not only provide our children with greater academic progress over time than similar students in traditional public schools, but the extraordinary autonomy and accountability is a powerful lure for talented bilingual educators.

To learn more, read this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/15/education/15charters.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

To find a Charter School in your area: http://nyccharterschools.org/learn/about-charter-schools/maps-a-locations

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