By Sharon Lint
February 11, 2005
Charter schools have gained in popularity on the national level over the years. At present, 37 states, excluding Puerto Rico, have charter schools in operation, and according to The National Charter School Directory 2003, Center for Education Reform (CER), more than 2,696 charter schools are in operation within those states with approximately 685,000 students enrolled. That's an increase of 15% over the past school year. The law allowing Alaska to form charter schools was passed in 1995 and as of August of 2004, twenty such schools are reportedly in operation with 2,682 students registered.
As nonsectarian public schools of choice, charter schools enjoy fewer regulatory constraints than other traditional public schools, but are accountable to local or state school boards to abide by their charter contracts and to produce positive results. The 'charter' outlines the expected performance of each school and specifies the mission, programs, goals, and term length, etc. In the past, Ketchikan has limited charter school contracts to three years, and current contracts are now due for renewal. As such, the board is taking the opportunity to revise board policy, some of which were suggestions given by The Alaska Association of School Boards. John Hill also made suggestions, some regarding budgetary procedures, during the meeting.
The changes ultimately approved by the board on Wednesday night consisted of several small revisions to the phrasing of the policy, permission for charter schools to use state application forms, and a direction to the Academic Policy Committees of the charter schools to comply with the Alaska Open Meetings Act. As amended, the vote was unanimous.
The second motion approved also passed unanimously. This policy change has altered the age requirements for enrollments to Ketchikan's kindergarten and first-grade classes. According to the board's Agenda Statement, state law requires the revision, which adjusts the cutoff date for such enrollments from August 15th to September 1.
Nationwide, lawmakers say that moving the cutoff dates forward will help the children, but critics state it is bad for the working parent or guardian, citing the enforcement of inadequate or expensive childcare as the alternative. But past legislation has proven the lawmakers correct. In the early 1980s modifications to some state laws allowed 4-year-olds in kindergarten. When reports tracked a sample of the 4-year-olds through elementary school, they found a substantial number of the students failed. In response to these findings, most states have increased the minimum age required to enroll in kindergarten and first grade to the beginning of September.
It should be noted, however, that in response to the issue of childcare, the state law does allow the local school board to delegate authority to an administrator in order to determine the eligibility of an underage child under established guidelines. Based on current estimated enrollments in Ketchikan, the change to board policy will affect approximately 5% of the children entering kindergarten.
Other matters tended to by the board included the approval of a leave of absence for Meredith Lundamo, an elementary teacher at the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences.
Harry Martin, Superintendent of Schools, also introduced Robert Barr, well known for his research on at-risk children and youth, who is evaluating the Ketchikan schools this week at the invitation of the school district.
The board also approved a resolution at the request of Alaska House Representative Paul Seaton to support Sponsor Substitute House Bill 20, Early Funding for Education. This bill will benefit school boards in many ways. Funding is currently structured to inform schools of the state's contribution to their budget after the end of the legislative session. This causes disruption in lives of teachers, administrators and school children as non-tenured teachers must be laid-off and then rehired after budget approval. The Bill, if approved, will inform school districts of the amount of their state foundation funding by March 15th of each calendar year, thus aiding in the smooth operation of such schools.
Also of note was an announcement by the board that has been long awaited by Ketchikan residents. On Monday, February 14th, contractors are scheduled to begin pouring the foundation for Fawn Mountain Elementary School.
The next regular meeting of
the School Board will meet on February 23, 2005 in Council Chambers.
Contact Sharon at sharon(AT)sitnews.us
Sharon Lint ©2005