- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

"You've got something special going on here," Education Secretary Rod Paige said yesterday to students at Friendship Edison Collegiate Academy, one of the District's 41 public charter schools.

Only two years ago, Friendship Edison's facility Carter G. Woodson public school in Northeast was a calamity and "a shooting gallery," said D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat.

Now it's reborn as one of the finest charter schools, not just in the District which has more charter schools than any other U.S. city but in the country, said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform.

Mr. Paige's visit to Friendship Edison yesterday was part of a weeklong recognition of the 10-year anniversary of the charter school movement, which began in Minnesota.

The Bush administration supports charter schools, which are publicly funded but have nontraditional school leadership, because they are accountable for results, offer greater options for families and are more flexible than traditional public schools, Mr. Paige said.

Charter schools currently receive $200 million in federal support. The Bush administration has proposed creating a $100 million grant program to help charter schools secure facilities.

There are about 2,400 charter schools in 34 states and the District, with 589,000 students, according to the Department of Education.

Charter schools can provide exceptional educational opportunities, said the California Network of Educational Charters, which recently profiled three teen-agers who have won college scholarships:

•Varick Erickson went to junior high at a "charter school home school" and later Oakdale Charter High School. The school's intense but flexible academic program allowed the teen to pursue his many musical interests and win national recognition for his talent.

•Kristina Goettler, also a musician, ended up in a charter school when her high school, Helix High, converted to charter status. She too used her school's academic flexibility to augment her desire to become a professional oboist.

•Joseph Wellhouse was home-schooled until he entered River Valley High, which is a "college-style" charter school. While taking River Valley's advanced science courses, he took college courses and volunteered as a lab assistant at San Diego State University.

The charter school movement faces many challenges, activists told a Capitol Hill briefing this week.

"Charter schools are undercapitalized," said Ohio state Rep. Jon Husted, noting that in his state, charter schools receive around $5,000 a year per student, compared with $10,000 a year per student that goes to public schools.

New Hampshire allows charter schools but has none, said Susan Hollins of the New Hampshire Charter School Association.

A "Yankee distaste for newfangled ideas" may be part of the problem, she said, but the tradition of rural children being assigned to bigger-town high schools also has thwarted charter school efforts. "We can't extricate kids from these agreements" between towns, she said.

Still, charter schools are making a dramatic difference, said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. In Arizona, which has 425 charter schools, public and charter schools advertise their services, he said. "They both want your child," he added. "It's a real educational marketplace."

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