Charter School Movement Continues to Grow in California

SACRAMENTO – The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) today announced that 109 charter schools opened across the state for the 2012-13 school year, surpassing last year’s new charter school openings (100) and bringing the total number of charter schools in California to 1,065. In addition, enrollment grew by an unprecedented 70,000 students, or 17%, for a total of over 484,000 students in charters. California maintained its position as the state in the nation with the highest number of charter schools and charter school students. This growth comes despite intense funding, facilities and authorizing challenges faced by charter schools.

“In this year when we are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the charter school movement in California, we are seeing the movement experience another spike in momentum as parents and communities across the state turn to charter schools in ever greater numbers. While it is plainly evident that charter schools face a host of unfair challenges in California, it is inspiring to see the resourcefulness and partnership that parents, community leaders and charter school operators are showing to expand quality charter school options in spite of all the obstacles,” said Jed Wallace, President and CEO of CCSA. “As this broader embrace of charter schools is occurring in communities across our state, we see that California voters have increasingly high levels of awareness and support for charter schools and consider charter schools a bright spot in public education.”

This school year, Los Angeles County had the largest charter school growth with 40 new charters, followed by 12 new charters in Sonoma County, ten in San Diego County, and six Alameda County.

Despite this unprecedented level of growth, we estimate that more than 70,000 students were on charter school waiting lists across the state for the 2011-12 school year clearly indicating that many more families would chose the charter public school option if there was sufficient space to serve them.

While parents are demanding public school choice, California voters indicated record levels of awareness and support in CCSA’s statewide poll* this summer. Key takeaways from the poll included:

The overall perception of charter schools is unquestionably positive. In 2012, 49.3% of respondents strongly or somewhat favor charter schools, up from 47.2% the year before, 42% two years ago and 35.9% three years ago.
Awareness of charters is growing slowly but persistently from year to year. In 2012, 67.6% of respondents know quite a bit or some about charter schools, up from 67.3% last year, 50.8% two years ago and 48% three years ago.
Respondents continue to assign substantially higher grades to charter schools and CA teachers. In 2012, 59.6% of respondents gave an A or B to charter schools and 59.1% to CA teachers while 32.6% gave an A or B to non-charter schools (CA public schools) and 34.6% to teachers unions.
When asked if they were a school board member would they vote for or against expanding the number of charter public schools or the number of students served by charter public schools in their community, respondents overwhelming indicated they would vote to expand charters (60.1% would vote to expand; 21.9% would vote against expansion; and 18.1% were undecided).
When told that this year marks the 20th anniversary of charter public schools, by a ratio of 3:1 respondents said that charter schools were a “bright spot” rather than a “disappointment.”

In order to meet this parental demand for choice and the public’s desire for more high quality public educational options for families, three key things must be addressed in California: the funding inequity which results in charter school students being funded at lower levels than their traditional public school counterparts, the lack of equitable facilities for charter school students, and restrictive and hostile authorizing environments such as LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer’s recent resolution limiting parent choice.

“Charters have done in their relatively short 20 years, what the traditional public education system has been unable to do in its 150 year history in California, and that is to rebuild trust in the public education system by providing high quality public school options for all kids. From new school models and instruction to meet individual student needs, more efficient facility building, new methods for service delivery for children with special needs, greater parent engagement, and new teacher education and evaluation models, charters are reinventing public education as we know it,” added Wallace.
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