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.
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