What's The Buzz With Charter Schools?

School Choice Important During The Pandemic

Carolyn Carlson
5 min read
What's The Buzz With Charter Schools?
The halls of Amy Biehl just feel a little different right now. (Clarke Condé)
Share ::
Have a kid with a passion for foreign languages? How about a flair for the media or digital arts? Maybe a budding flamenco dancer? Or a young Einstein or a novice Marie Curie? Here in New Mexico there are 96 public charter schools that offer unique, top-rated educational opportunities for students with all kinds of passions.

Charter Schools Are What?

Charter schools in New Mexico are public, tuition-free not-for-profit schools that are open to all students. New Mexico does not allow for-profit charter schools. Our schools are authorized either through the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) or through a local school district such as Albuquerque Public Schools. All statewide public schools, charter and regular, are overseen by the New Mexico Public Education Commission, which is an elected body responsible for advising the New Mexico secretary of education. Individual charter schools are overseen by governing councils, or boards, who assume responsibility for carrying out the charter school’s charter, vision and mission. Students are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis with a lottery system in place if applications exceed capacity. There are 26,000 students in the state’s 96 charter schools.

The Charter School Act enables parents, teachers and other educators to get together to create individual schools and to structure educational curriculum for different career focuses. For instance, here in the Albuquerque metro area there are charter schools that—along with holding students to the same reading, writing and arithmetic standards as any other school—offer specialized focuses such as media arts, performing arts including flamenco dance, math, science and technology, careers in the health and medical field, and schools for our deaf students as well as for our multilingual students.

Charter schools are usually given about five years to get up and running after they are granted permission. Then they go through a reauthorization process every three to five years and have to demonstrate strong academic achievement or they get their charter yanked. Here in New Mexico the authorization, and reauthorization process, is rigorous, and every member of the schools team is involved. The state PED can be ruthless, as they should be with public money, and charters are yanked often for non-performance.

Not Always The Popular One

Not everyone thinks charter schools are a good idea. Misinformation leads people to believe that charter schools are not public schools and they take public tax money out of the regular public schools. While in essence it is true that public tax dollars are used to fund charter schools, they are still public schools available to all students. Just as there are bad performing regular schools, there will be bad performing charter schools. Some teacher’s unions are resistant to charter school teachers being among their ranks.

But Sometimes The Popular One

According to the 2020 rankings by
US News and World Report, 7 out of the 10 top-performing public high schools in New Mexico are charter schools. Albuquerque Institute of Math and Science, Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School, The Academy for Technology and the Classics, Arrowhead Park Medical Academy, New Mexico School for The Arts, Early College Academy and the Early College High School all made the prestigious list, along with these three traditional public schools: Los Alamos High, La Cueva High and Moreno Valley High.

Charter Schools In The Age of COVID

Charter schools have to follow the state’s reopening guidelines, but they have more flexibility on how they will teach during the age of COVID. Charter school boards, or governing councils, have more local control over their particular school’s curriculum. This allows for quicker responses with tailored lesson plans. The PED is allowing charter and other public schools to begin remote learning as early as Aug. 3. Then elementary schools can begin a phased-in hybrid approach after Sept. 8—that is if COVID rates level off. Middle and high schools can begin a hybrid model after the littles.

Amy Biehl High School is one of the first charter schools formed in Albuquerque. It is a popular high school located Downtown in an historic building. This school, along with other charters, will begin the school year remotely and then phase into a hybrid model as the school year progresses (and depending on how quickly COVID regresses). Amy Biehl’s website says that it will not resume a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning until after Sept. 26. Other charter schools will be able to phase in whatever level of hybrid learning is best for each school’s teachers, students and staff within the parameters of the state reopening guidelines.

Round Peg Square Hole

It goes without saying that not all students fit into the traditional educational boxes that regular public schools offer. Many students can not afford to go to the private schools that may have specialized studies. Charter schools offer unique opportunities to expand educational opportunities for all students. This is especially important in New Mexico where our traditional public schools were found to be inadequate in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico education lawsuit ruling, which found the state grossly inadequate in educating public school students—in particular minority students.

Check Us Out

There is still time to check out and enroll in an area charter school if the educational opportunities for your student are less than optimal. To learn more about
New Mexico charter schools or to find one that fits a particular interest log on to: www.publiccharterschoolsofnewmexico.org.

Disclaimer: Carolyn Carlson sits on the Governing Council for the Media Arts Collaborative Charter School.

1 2 3 455