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Frequently asked questions about charter schools in New York State:

What are charter schools?

They are publicly funded facilities that have more freedom than existing public schools in setting the school day and school year, hiring teachers and staff, setting pay scales and establishing curriculum. Many have special themes or features, such as technology, multiage instruction or an emphasis on global concepts.

Who is eligible to attend?

Charter schools are open to all pupils. If there are more applicants than there are available openings,pupils are selected through a lottery. In that case, preference is given to children who live in the school district where the school is located.

How about children with special needs?

By law, charter schools cannot discriminate against special-education students, pupils with behavioral or learning problems, or children who do not speak English. However, single-sex schools are allowed, and so are schools designed forpupils at risk of academic failure.

Who is attempting to organize these schools?

Among the organizers are parents who want newoptions for their children, teachers seeking broader instructional latitude, business owners unhappy with the skills of high school grad-uates and community leaders pushing school reform.

Can they charge tuition?

No. Charter schools are free of charge.

How do they get their funding?

When a student transfers from a traditional public school, state aid for that pupil is also transferred to the charter school. Charter schools are also free to seek corporate or philanthropic donations, but they cannot levy taxes.

When are they coming to Western New York?

Thirteen local groups have applied to open charter schools in September, and it is widely expected that perhaps half those applications will be approved by the state.

Are charter schools held to the same standards as existing schools?

Yes. The state's new high school graduation requirements will apply, and pupils will take the same assessment tests in earlier grades.

What are charter schools supposed to accomplish?

They are designed to advance school reform through innovation, to provide additional educational alternatives, and, through competition, to spur improvement at existing public schools.

Why is there so much opposition among educators?

Many people contend that charter schools have been given unfair advantages, will drain resources and students from existing public schools, and will detract from the state's ongoing reform effort.

Can private or parochial schools apply to become charter schools so they can get public funding?

No, that is not allowed. And charter schools cannot be religious in nature.

Is it difficult to set up a charter school?

Yes, it's extremely difficult. In effect, charter school organizers are setting up their own school districts. They must find and finance school buildings, set up a curriculum and do their own hiring, purchasing and staff development.

How do they manage that?

Some groups tackle it on their own. Others contract with for-profit management firms to handle some or all of those responsibilities.

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