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Wyoming getting interest from charter schools

by Bob Moen, Associated Press
Casper Star-Tribune
April 6, 2012

Wyoming is attracting a lot of interest from charter school organizations and needs to improve its charter school law to make sure such schools are of the highest quality, Kari Cline, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Public Charter Schools, said.

“The Wyoming association is getting calls almost on a weekly basis from groups who are interested in opening charter schools in Wyoming,” Cline said.

They are being attracted by the state’s strong financial backing of public schools and the fact that there are only a few charter schools currently operating in the state, she said.

However, Wyoming’s current charter school law makes it difficult to establish charters in the state and at the same time leaves the door open for applications from “questionable organizations trying to start charter schools,” she said.

“We don’t really have great policy in place to ensure that what is coming is the best quality that we can get,” Cline said.

Charters are public schools that typically receive a mixture of public and private money. They operate separately from regular public schools and are free of many regulations that govern traditional public schools in exchange for achieving promised results.

Wyoming has just three operating charter schools — two in Laramie, one in Fort Washakie — and one opening this year in Cheyenne.

National charter school and education reform advocates rate Wyoming’s charter school law as among the worst in the nation because they say the law makes it difficult to open a charter school.

The Center for Education Reform recently gave Wyoming a “D” grade in charter school law.

“Full power to approve charter school applications lies with the school board, which is why to date there are only four charters in the state,” the report said.

A report earlier this year from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked Wyoming 34th for charter friendly state laws.

“Wyoming law sets forth minimum required elements for all charter applications, but they are very general and less substantial than the essential elements recommended,” the NAPCS report said.

Attempts to change Wyoming’s law to make it easier to open charter schools in the state failed in the 2011 state Legislature in part because of fears by some lawmakers that they will take students, and state money, away from the traditional public schools.

The Legislature this year approved one change in the charter law dealing with state financial aid but nothing that would make it any easier to establish a charter.

Cline said her association is planning another push for charter law reform next year.

“I think what we’re after primarily is a different authorizing structure and the way that charters are held accountable, and their autonomy is ensured,” she said. “So looking just to overall bring the kind of policy that encourages strong applicants and an authorizing structure that is not completely subject to a district’s whims.”