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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Nina Rees
Nina Rees
Education Deputy Under Secretary for Innovation/Improvement
May 4, 2004

Nina Rees
Hello! It's good to be on "Ask the White House." This week is National Charter Schools week. I am happy to take your questions about this exciting innovation.

Carol, from Marina writes:
Nina You have to hear what is going on out here in California. Liberty Family Academy is a great school with great results. And it is under attack, big time attack. There was a letter to the editor recently that summed it up best: "This seems par for the course when you realize that it is not in the district's interest for charter schools to succeed. What administration would like to see a group of parents form a school that outperforms schools led by the educational experts?"

Keep fighting the fight. We want to keep our charter schools

Nina Rees

Thank you for your e-mail. The Bush Administration has been a big supporter of charter schools. So far we have invested $617 Million in the Charter School Grants program and an additional $62 Million in a program to help charter schools acquire facilities. But we need your help to ensure that these funds are helping the children they are meant to serve. Keep up the good work and stay in touch!

Sean, from Buffalo, NY writes:
How has the use of technology is schools changed the way students learn?

With emails and instant messaging to research how has this effected education in schools?

Nina Rees
Technology has revolutionized the way we deliver education services. But as with any other delivery system, technology itself can not raise student achievement.

To this end, we do not have that much information about the effectiveness of technology in our schools.

However, schools that have invested in quality professional development programs for teachers and in strong curricula tend to also be able to use technology in an effective way.

There are also many virtual charter schools around the country serving students in rural and other hard settings where it has been difficult to build a new school.

The Department of Education's Technology office will soon host a summit on how technology can boost options for students. You may want to go to our website at for more information about this event.

Dennis, from Boca Raton writes:
I just wanted to thank you and Secretary Paige, my niece is succeeding and progressing strongly in a charter school that meets her needs. Are there plans for more charter schools around the country?

Nina Rees
Thank you! We certainly hope so. The Secretary is a firm beleiver in quality charter schools. While he was the Superintendent of Public Schools in Houston, he helped launch one of the most effective charter schools in the country: The Knowledge Is Power Program or KIPP.

We have several sources of funding at the federal level to help increase the number of charter schools around the country - the President's '05 budget includes $218 Million for states to grow the number of charter schools and an additional $100 Million for charter school facilities.

But ultimately, we hope that states without charter laws will enact a law in the near future and that others will strenghten their laws to create more and better quality charter schools.

Ted, from Jackson Michigan writes:
I'm a skeptic of charter schools. I think it leaves many deserving children out. Why should only some children go to charter schools and others are left behind This seems to go against No Child Left Behind.

Nina Rees
Dear Ted, charter schools are public schools and have to accept all students that apply to attend them.

By and large, in most states, charters have attracted students who have not been served well in the traditional public school system - primarily low-income and minority students.

The small size of the charter school helps offer students a more individualized instruction. If a charter school has not been able to serve a child it is probably because that school is over-subscribed.

Monica, from Reston writes:
Why are there so many attacks on charter schools?

Nina Rees
Monica, unfortunately, most of the people who attack charter schools are not well informed about them. And as with any new idea that risks changing the structure of an old institution, some may view the concept as a threat.

However, those who are operating effective public schools welcome the competition that charter schools and other public school options introduce into the system.

And those whose focus is on educating all children have not only welcomed charter schools into their communities but have taken advantage of the law to create their own schools.

Mandy, from Texas writes:
What has been the effect of the opening of charter schools? Any personal stories of impact on children to share?

Nina Rees
Mandy, there are many stories but here is a personal one. I helped a principal in DC with her initial application to start a charter school.

Her name is Mrs. Irasema Salcido and she runs the Cesar Chavez Public Policy Charter High School. She started with an application and a dream to offer her students a college prep program that resembled the curricula that most public policy majors take while in college.

Today, not only is her school one of the most effective charter schools in the city with soaring test scores and enrollment rates but she has also been able to forge alliances with many local think tank and government entities in the city who offer hands-on experience to her interns. And several foundations are now looking at ways to replicate her high school in other cities.

Another example is the Accelerated charter school in Los Angeles, CA run by Jonathan Williams. Williams also started with an application and a dream. Today, his school is not only excelling academically but it has been a key engine in revitalizing the neighborhood where it is housed in South Central Los Angeles.

These are but 2 examples of how effective leaders can take advantage of charter schools to create better opportunities for children.

Ashley, from Sacramento writes:
My main issue with charter schools is that they do not select special education students and don't serve them.

Nina Rees
Ashley, charter schools are public schools and they are governed under the same rules and regulations that other public schools are.

However, school districts must determine the setting that best suits the needs of special education students.

To this end, a charter school or magnet or public school may not have all of the necessary programs and facilities to serve the needs of all special education students.

This is not a charter specific problem. Your district needs to address this issue and make sure special education students are in the best possible setting - public or private - to get a good education.

Mercedes, from Georgia writes:
As a mom of four, there are no charter schools in my area, how can that be changed? How can I find out more concerning possible charter schools?

Nina Rees
Mercedes, the good news is that your state has a charter law and many successful charter schools currently operate in your state.

I think it's important that you reach out to your charter authorizer and find out how to start a charter school in your district.

The Georgia Charter Schools Association, Inc., at 404/371-9992, is also a good source of information on charter schools in your state.

Maria, from Michigan writes:
How are charter schools different than public schools? What are the benefits?

Nina Rees
Maria, Charter schools are independent public schools designed and operated by local educators, parents, community leaders, educational entrepreneurs, and others.

They are usually sponsored by a local education agency, a state education agency, a university or other designated organizations, who monitor their quality and effectiveness but allow them to operate outside of the traditional public schools system.

The late Al Shanker, who headed the American Federation of Teachers, first introduced the concept. Today, charter schools enjoy vast bi-partisan support around the country.

The key benefit of a charter school is in the fact that they are held accountable for student achievement and that their charter can be revoked if they do not do so.

Steve, from Staten Island writes:
Many believe that charter schools hurt district schools by depriving them of needed funds. How do you respond to that?

Nina Rees
Steve, charter schools are supposed to receive funding based on the number of students they serve.

However, because most school districts do not include capital costs in their funding formula, charter schools end up with fewer dollars than students in traditional public schools.

This is a problem that the President and the Secretary have tried to address at the federal level by creating a funding stream to leverage more facilities funds for charter schools and by offering incentives for states to include facilities finance in their per pupil funding calculations.

At the end of the day, our school system is here to serve the needs of its students so we must make sure that our efforts are focused on students and allow for funds to follow them to the school of their choice.

Rhonda, from New Haven writes:
Do you know much about Amistad Academy in New Haven? The results are amazing It is because the expectations are set so high and the children are continuously tested. My question to you is how do we make more Amistad Academies?

Nina Rees
Yes, the Secretary recently visited the Amistad Academy and we have all been very impressed with the school and the great work of its founder, Dacia Toll.

This school serves a predominantly low-income and mostly African-American student population, yet the school's test scores in writing surpass those of all the schools in the state of Connecticut.

The best way to ensure that the success of the Amistads of the world is replicated is by shining a light on the school and show everyone that "it can be done" - and that a child's race, color, and country of origin will not determine his/her success in school.

Next to that, we need to conduct more research on schools like Amistad and try to tease out the lessons it can teach to other schools.

Joshua, from Hyde Leadership Public Charter School writes:
What does the federal government plan to do with Charter Schools in the nation that need more educational supplies, and renovation especial DC Charter School's like Hyde Leadership Public Charter Schools?

Nina Rees
The President has proposed $318.7 million for charter schools in the coming year, including $100 million for charter school facilities.

Since taking office, the President has invested $620 Million on the Public Charter Schools program and $62 Million on charter school facilities. But we are happy to visit Hyde any day to discuss your specific needs.

Lee, from Dayton writes:
As of May 1, 2004, how many charter schools are there in America? And why are they popular?

Nina Rees
As of January 2004, 2,996 charter schools are operating across the United States. They are popular because they offer a quality education in a personalized school settings and they are schools of choice.

They tend to attract strong leaders and teachers who are committed to the mission of the charter school. And in most communities, parents and local organizations are heavily involved in creating charter schools which helps build community support for them.

Diner, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida writes:
I am a father of one really interested with the charter school idea. I think this option offers us as parents another chance to help our kids succeed in life. My question is can the government funds the local government more money for more charter schools?

Nina Rees
Yes. The President has proposed $318.7 million for charter schools in the coming year, including $100 million for charter school facilities.

And since taking office, the President has invested $620 Million on the Public Charter Schools program and $62 Million on charter school facilities. But more needs to be done at the local level.

States, school districts and foundations need to do more to raise funds to build better quality charter schools.

Jennifer, from K writes:
What is the purpose of charter schools and how are they helping our school systems?

Nina Rees
The purpose of charter schools (as with any other school) is to raise student achievement. Specifically, charter schools are independent public schools designed and operated by local educators, parents, community leaders, educational entrepreneurs, and others.

They are usually sponsored by a local education agency, a state education agency, a university or other designated organizations, who monitor their quality and effectiveness but allow them to operate outside of the traditional public schools system.

The late Al Shanker, who headed the American Federation of Teachers, first introduced the concept. Today, charter schools enjoy vast bi-partisan support around the country.

Linda, from Grand Rapids, MI writes:
Are there guidelines set up for charter schools to make sure the people working there are qualified? Where is the money going? Can anyone decide to start a charter school?

Nina Rees
Charter schools operate under the same general guidelines that other public schools operate under.

However depending on the state they opearate in, some may have more freedom and flexibiliy in hiring qualified individuals to teach in their schools than others.

The funding for charter schools usually goes directly to the school on a per pupil basis. And yes, anyone with a strong application and vision could in fact start a charter school but you should look at your state law for more information. Thank you!

Richie, from Utah writes:
What happens when a charter school is failing? What is the process to closing one?

Nina Rees
Depending on your charter school law, the authorizing entity must take steps to reform or eventually shut down the school. But more importantly, because these schools are schools of choice, parents can also quickly remove their children from the schools that are not performing well and transfer them back to the school that the district had assigned for their children.

Kelly, from Wisconsin writes:
Should parents really have such a large say in education in charter schools? Have they been teaching for years and do they have a PhD in education? How do they know what is best?

Nina Rees
Parents are their children's first teachers. It is extremely important that they be involved in their child's education. Studies show that students whose parents spend more time with them on homework and take an active role in their child's education do better academically. Successful schools are those that find a way to engage parents in every aspect of education.

Chris, from Allentown, PA writes:
How do you respond to the fact that many charter schools are similiar to a "start-up business"? How do you get qualified people to run the "business"?

Nina Rees
Charter schools are in fact a business and starting one can resemble starting a small business. The charter schools that succeed are those that have a leader with some business background or someone who hires a principal with business skills.

Because of funding disparities, it is also crucial for charter leaders to be good fundraisers. We think the best way to attract qualified people to charter schools is by using our bully pulpit.

Outfits like the New Schools Venture Fund and foundations like the Broad Foundation have also been involved in offering charter operators and authorizers with the technical assistance to attract more qualified leaders.

Samantha, from Chicago writes:
Do you feel the accountability for charter schools is too harsh? I have heard both sides and am interested in your response.

Nina Rees
I think all schools should be held accountable for raising student achievement. However, some states do have burdensome rules and regulations that make it harder sometimes to run a charter school than it is to run a traditional school.

It is important for those involved in the charter school movement to help states figure out the right balance between flexibility and accountability.

Otherwise, states will continue to place greater demands on some charter schools - and in some cases, these demands could harm the success of smaller community based charter schools that may not have the know-how to meet the state regulations while runnning an effective school.

Danny, from St. Louis, MO writes:
What is the difference between charter schools and voucher schools?

Nina Rees
Charter schools are public schools. So called "Voucher schools" are private schools.

Jenny, from NY, NY writes:
Instead of spending money on expensive experiments such as charter schools, shouldn't we be investing how to improve the quality of all public schools? I think reducing class sizes is a good start.

Nina Rees
The U.S. Department of Education is about to conduct a randomized field test to compare students in charter schools to those in traditional public schools. This study should shine some light on what, if anything, contributes to the effectiveness of charter schools.

In addition, in the next few months, the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the Department is going to release a booklet of best practices on effective charter schools - another tool designed to help the traditional public school system.

Joe, from Long Island writes:
Inexperienced teachers and administrators are hired in many charter schools, WHY? Why aren't we putting the money into paying teachers? I know plenty of intelligent people who would love to teach but the money is not there, why aren't you focused on this aspect of education?

Nina Rees
By and large, charter schools tend to attract some of the most qualified and driven individuals from all walks of life. Because charters are held accountable for raising student achievement, these individuals could also easily lose their jobs if they don't perform.

As to your question about more funding for teachers, the Administration has requested $5.1 Billion in new funds in the '05 budget to help states attract, train and retain qualified teachers.

Nina Rees
Final Words of wisdom :)

Thank you for joining us today and happy charter school week! If you have further questions about charter schools or the No Child Left Behind Act, please call us at 1-888-814-NCLB. Thank you!