The ranks of charter schools in Oklahoma have grown in recent years, and those involved in running them expect that trend to continue over the next 20 years.
Currently there are 26 charter schools throughout Oklahoma. Charter schools are autonomous public schools created by a contract between a sponsor, such as a local school district or corporation, and an organizer, which can include a group of teachers or a community group with a curriculum or focus that is not traditional.
Costs are challenge
Freda Deskin founded ASTEC Charter School, which serves about 450 students in all grades. While Oklahoma’s charter school ranks have grown, Deskin said starting one remains difficult, especially for those that hold classes in a physical location rather than online. ASTEC spends about $800,000 a year on facilities.
“We’ve seen growth, but one of the biggest hindrances to charter school growth is that startups are quite expensive,” Deskin said. “That’s why you don’t see a lot of brick-and-mortar startups. Oklahoma doesn’t provide funding for facilities and that’s a major cost associated with starting a school.”
Deskin said it’s also the duty of those who run charter schools to get the word out on what they are all about, with the idea that the more people know about them, the more comfortable they are with them.
“An even bigger issue is the lack of understanding of what charters are,” she said. “There is a lot of misinformation and myths. For example, some people think charters are like magnet schools where we pick which students we accept. We have to teach the same subjects, and take the same tests as far as accreditation. In fact, we have an additional onus on us that if we don’t perform, we close down.”
But there are some advantages to the slower, more measured growth of charter schools. In some states, they have grown too fast. In Arizona, 27 schools have been sanctioned by the state for violations that range from financial mismanagement to poor academic performance.
Oklahoma Charter School Association spokesman Steve Huff said Oklahoma’s growth rate has been ideal in some respects.
“Our growth has been slower and more deliberate,” Huff said. “The intent is to create high-quality charter schools going forward and I think we’re doing that. We haven’t had a huge explosion of charters like some states have, but what we have is good quality charter schools that are right for their communities.”
That being said, Huff said there are some constraints that are hurting charter school growth in the state. Funding for facilities could help promote responsible growth, he said.
“Traditional schools have a building fund and charter schools don’t,” he said. “That obviously makes it more challenging to start one because facilities are a huge expense. That’s something we need to address at some point.”
Growth to continue
Despite the limitations, Deskin and Huff think the growth will continue. Charter schools continue to grow nationally as an alternative to the traditional public school model.
“The face of public education is changing,” Deskin said.
“That’s something we have to grapple with now. It’s all about making sure children have educational opportunities whether that is a public school or a charter or a private school,” she said. “If you have something new, it takes a while for people to understand what it is all about.”