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Charter Schools Growing in Popularity in Alpine District

Charter Schools Growing in Popularity in Alpine District



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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- The Alpine School District is losing more students to charter schools than any other district in Utah, according to state officials.

With 4,539 students, or about 10 percent of the district, now enrolled in charter schools, some parents believe the trend is proof the district is failing and parents are fed up.

The only thing stopping parents from removing more children is the lack of enough charter schools, said Lynette Hamner of American Fork.

"I seriously think public school will be a thing of the past," she said. "You will see that happen. Parents will make that happen because all of us want the best for our children."

Hamner pulled her youngest son, 12-year-old David, from Shelley Elementary after what she described as years of problems, and enrolled him in Odyssey Charter School, where he has excelled. There are no charter school options for her 14-year-old son, Jason, or 16-year old daughter, Samantha.

"If I would have had the money, I would have pulled every one of my kids out of Alpine School District," Hamner said."In a charter school, you don't pay the price of a private school but you get the same quality education. That is why you are seeing so many pop up and so many people jump in on it."

Don Baker of Highland, who has three children in charter schools, said Alpine School District must change.

"Many people are fed up that Alpine School District is not responding to their needs," he said. "They are now willing to take matters into their own hands to ensure those choices are offered to their children."

So far, the explosion of charter schools has only served to offset growth and Alpine School District has not had to lay off any teachers, said Rob Smith, business administrator for Alpine School District.

The district has not calculated at what point the growth of charter schools might force the district to lay off teachers or close down schools, he said. And the district is in no danger of disappearing any time soon; 45,824 students were enrolled in the district when the first charter school was built in 1999, and 54,773 students are enrolled this year.

With four new charter schools opening in the district this fall, the district would like to plan for that impact and has asked all four new charter schools to provide a list of their students, but only one has complied so far, he said.

"It's difficult to predict which schools will lose enrollment," he said. "We won't know until school starts in the fall."

When asked if a loss of nearly 5,000 students can be considered a vote of no confidence, Smith said he "would not characterize it that way."

"We've compiled several data points and information and we are studying the issues," he said. "I imagine at some point in the future some information will come out with concerns about charter schools."

Charter schools are "a statewide phenomenon," said John Broberg, state director of charter schools. "There is a tremendous movement to charter schools. Charter schools have experienced a great deal of success and consequently the other people want their students to go there. Most fill up in the first year and have to have lotteries."

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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