New schools provide options for students

Charter school debate rooted in controversy over tax funding.

Matrix School and the state of Indiana want to join a movement that is sweeping the country: charter schools.

As an alternative school working under Carmel High School, Matrix was established in 1998 and currently serves 35 students in grades 10 through 12. It's a school students choose to go to. Matrix hopes to increase its staff of three and resources available to students by becoming a charter school. Nationwide, there are 1,790 schools serving more than 350,000 students.

According to Barbara Maschino, Matrix School department chair, an application was sent to Ball State to become a charter school under the university's sponsorship.

"We want to be autonomous, able to grow and expand our services to more students," Maschino said.

The concept of a charter school is relatively new, with the first school opening in Minnesota in 1992. Charter schools became legal July 1. On Oct. 26, Ball State became the first public university in Indiana to decide to sponsor a charter school.

A charter school is a public school that both students and teachers decide to attend. It derives its name from the charter, or contract, that it keeps with its sponsoring organization. The school is held accountable to its contract by its sponsor, which can be the governing body of a school corporation, a state college or university or the mayor of a consolidated city.

Charter schools are obligated to produce good academic results and uphold the conditions of the charter. They are not funded by the sponsor, but the state. The sponsor is a watchdog of sorts, making sure the schools uphold and follow through with their educational goals.

Becoming a charter school is a lengthy process. First, a statement of intent, which declares a school's wish to found a charter school, is sent to the sponsoring institution. For Ball State, statements of intent are due Nov. 16. So far, 37 schools have already issued their statements to the university.

A panel of educators reviews the statements and sends feedback and suggestions to the applicants, which will be done by Dec. 7 .

After this, development teams, those who wish to start a charter school, will be invited to a seminar Dec. 14 in Indianapolis. Actual applications to initiate a charter school are due Jan. 21 through the 28 of 2002. A $1,000 non-refundable fee will be sent to Ball State with these applications. Acceptance or rejection of the applications will be conducted March 8 through 15.

The issue of charter schools has raised much controversy.

"Charter schools give a lot more flexibility on how you organize time, subjects, and there's a lot more freedom in terms of what you do," said Roy Weaver, dean of the Teacher's College.

"Their attempt is to offer choices," Maschino said. "We want to augment the programs that are offered by the traditional schools, and (we) want an alternative for kids that will enhance what's available."

Not everyone sees charter schools as an all-encompassing solution. Debbie Morgan, public information officer for Fort Wayne Community Schools sees charter schools as unnecessary.

"I believe that public schools provide a quality education," she said. "And it would be hard for any charter school to compete with public schools' resources."

There are two main arguments against charter schools. Opponents say they take students away from public schools. For example, in a school of 1,500, 200 students might want to go to one charter school, and another 200 might want to go to another. The student population of the public school goes down, which decreases the total amount of state funding.

The state funding argument is the true spark that lights the fire of the charter school debate. Public schools are funded through five different state funds, one of these being a general fund. It is from this money that all operations in a school are basically run.This money is also where funding for charter schools would go.

"They see it as competition -- we're losing money," Maschino said of public schools' viewpoints.

Others feel differently.

"If it's good enough for charter school students, why not public school students?" Morgan said.


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