Election Section

Charter schools work to seek accreditation

Jessica Brice The Associated Press
Tuesday October 15, 2002

SACRAMENTO — With high-tech art and music studios, ballet and tap dance classes and a theater, the Natomas Performing and Fine Arts Academy in Sacramento looks more like a private university than a public school. 

Natomas charter school director Ting Sun said the school was created as a “way for community members to bring new life into the educational system.” 

Nearly a decade after California passed one of the nation’s first charter school laws, Natomas — one of the original charter schools — will participate in a first-of-its-kind accreditation program that joins the state’s largest charter school advocacy group and a major regional agency. 

Many school officials hope the new accreditation program will counter the bad image created by a few charter schools. 

“I hope it validates a lot of what charter schools are doing,” said Rick Piercy, chair of the charter school network’s accountability committee. “It never hurts to raise the bar.” 

The program partners the California Network of Educational Charters and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, one of six major regional accreditation agencies in the country. 

Charter schools are public schools run by private organizations, such as parent and teacher groups or nonprofit organizations. In exchange for promises of increased accountability, the schools are allowed to bypass many of the regulations that govern other public schools. 

However, a recent string of problems with a handful of charters has prompted a new law requiring the publicly funded schools to follow extra financial requirements and obtain additional charters when opening far-flung satellite campuses. 

“The charter school movement has changed quite a bit since it started,” said Sun. “Unfortunately, because of some abuses, it has become more difficult for the mom-and-pop charters to start up.” 

The program will require schools to pass through financial and curriculum assessments. Schools that don’t pass will be denied membership into the California Network of Educational Charters, which represents about 70 percent of the state’s 436 charter schools.