ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
As NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports, many suburban parents are frustrated by what they consider arbitrary policies to keep charter schools out and they're fighting back.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: Ashley Del Sole loves living in Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside Washington D.C., in part because of its highly-regarded public schools. Her oldest daughter is about to start school, but she can't go to her neighbor school because it's overcrowded.
ASHLEY DEL SOLE: My daughter is actually slated to go to a middle school next year for kindergarten because of the overcapacity problem.
SANCHEZ: So a year ago, Del Sole and other parents submitted an application to open a privately-run charter school funded with public dollars. Global Garden Charter School would be small, with no more than 420 students, grades K-8. It would have an extended school day, open year round, and offer a top-notch foreign language program. Del Sole says the school would be close by and free to experiment in ways that regular schools cannot.
DEL SOLE: By its very nature, a charter school is autonomous, and therefore we would have the opportunity to do things differently, think outside the box that has been drawn by Montgomery County Public Schools.
SANCHEZ: Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast said that Global Garden simply didn't offer anything kids didn't already have access to.
JERRY WEAST: Choice is something that is in abundant supply in Montgomery County.
SANCHEZ: Joe Hawkins, who put the Global Garden proposal together, says none of the so-called deficiencies the school board cited were insurmountable. Hawkins, a former researcher with the county schools, says something else stood in the way.
JOE HAWKINS: That's what they do in the ghetto. That's what they do in failing urban school districts. So if we open a charter school, it means that people will perceive that our school systems are not as good as they were.
SANCHEZ: They have a vested interest in perpetuating the notion that their schools are so terrific parents don't need more options. That is a myth, says Jeannie Allen.
JEANNIE ALLEN: Our best school systems are resting on their laurels, and frankly, there are a lot of parents who recognize when education is not great.
SANCHEZ: Allen heads the Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter-school organization.
ALLEN: People need options. They need lots of innovations, and they need the ability to say this isn't cutting it for my child.
SANCHEZ: Consider the case of Princeton, N.J., where parents have also been fighting to open a charter school.
PARKER BLOCK: And it's been pretty nasty.
SANCHEZ: Parker Block is an executive with an e-commerce retail company. He and a group of parents were approved by the state to open a charter school that teaches Mandarin Chinese. New Jersey, though, requires that charters have the support of local school officials.
BLOCK: They opposed our charter and still do. They dismissed it as something that was unnecessary. It was a luxury not a necessity.
SANCHEZ: I asked Block: Isn't that a valid point? Aren't parents in wealthy suburbs pushing charter schools to create their own, private boutique schools?
BLOCK: Well, I would say that those of us who are in this endeavor to open charter schools can afford to send our children to private schools.
SANCHEZ: But unlike a private school, says Block, a public charter school can benefit the entire school system.
BLOCK: And that's kind of getting lost. Charter schools were never intended to replace regular public schools. They were supposed to be laboratories of innovation.
SANCHEZ: Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.
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