New Castle News

New Castle

December 13, 2012

Our Opinion: Charter school plan in city may present opportunity

NEW CASTLE — It’s too early to say if New Castle will be the site of a new charter school.

But we do know there is at least some interest locally in exploring alternatives. Local school districts already send funds to charter and cyber schools, because students take advantage of their options.

Now, a group is proposing the creation of the New Castle Arts Charter Academy. Backers say the planned charter school would emphasize such subjects as arts and languages.

Such a charter school would require the approval of the home district — New Castle — or authorization of the state. The New Castle school board has yet to review the request, but questions are being raised about how such a facility would take students — and funding — from the local district.

New Castle has the ability to reject the establishment of the charter school, but then the matter could be appealed to the state level. In the end, the establishment of any charter school would involve the ability of backers to organize and promote it, as well as public demand.

Obviously, there is an interest locally in what charter and cyber schools have to offer. Already, about 90 New Castle students take advantage of these facilities, mainly ones based in Beaver County.

If a charter school were established in New Castle, this number might increase. However, it’s also possible that — assuming a new school passed public muster — students would opt for a facility closer to home than ones in other communities.

New Castle isn’t the only school district dealing with the loss of students and their related state funding to charter and cyber schools. In some instances, districts have created their own cyber schools as a means of self protection. There is talk of this in New Castle.

But a key issue here is specialized education. If a charter or cyber school — focused on intensive studies in key areas — offers opportunities home districts cannot match, students interested in those subjects are likely to move on.

Perhaps there is an opening here for New Castle and surrounding districts to take the challenge presented by cyber and charter schools and meet it in a positive fashion. Why not work toward creating a regional cyber facility where all districts in the county cooperate?

By sharing resources, the districts might be able to offer a broader curriculum at a lower cost. At the same time, they would be retaining the students who are going elsewhere.

For a variety of reasons, charter and cyber schools create controversies in the public school system. But their growth demonstrates a public demand. Smart school districts will find ways to keep their students.

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