Once put on hold, the charter school movement is back in Nevada as the state Board of Education on Saturday lifted a moratorium, approved new regulations and allowed two online charter schools to expand to kindergarten through third grade.
Charter schools are alternative public schools that receive per-pupil funding from the state government, but are not as closely regulated as traditional public schools.
They are organized by private groups to fill a particular role in education. State Board member John W. Gwaltney of Reno, for instance, said charter schools are better "for students with serious problems" who would otherwise impede education at traditional schools.
Gwaltney said he looks at charter schools as possible salvation for a "broken public school system" that is too underfunded.
Funding problems, however, are what led the board to impose a moratorium on applications for new charter schools late last year. Officials with the state Department of Education said they did not have the staffing to process applications.
The state was inundated after Nevada's two largest school districts, Clark and Washoe, decided they would no longer sponsor charter schools.
State officials also wanted time to devise more regulations, such as a process for revoking a charter school.
On Saturday, the Board of Education approved new guidelines for charter schools and decided in a 6-2 vote to lift the moratorium after Keith Rheault, state superintendent of public instruction, said the state's Interim Finance Committee had approved the hire of a new staff person.
Barbara Myers, a board member from Carson City, said the board was obligated to lift the moratorium because the terms for it had been met.
The state Department of Education plans to use money from charter school applicant fees to hire additional staff.
Ideally, state officials would like to have 41/2 employees to monitor and evaluate charter schools. However, state officials admitted they were unsure of how many employees they actually could hire because of uncertainty with the state budget and doubts about how much money could be generated from fees.
"We got one (employee) out of the 41/2 we'd like," said Vice President Anthony Ruggiero, who joined board member Cindy Reid in voting against lifting the ban on new charter schools.
Reid also complained that the state board is turning into a "mini-school district" because it has to supervise so many charter schools. It had nine active charter schools last year but more are under review and others might be expanding.
Reid also criticized charter schools as money-making schemes often run by for-profit, out-of-state companies.
Craig Butz, principal of Nevada Connections Academy, said for-profit companies are responsible for innovation. Without them, education would be back to the days of "learning from Socrates sitting out in the grass," Butz said.
In 6-2 votes with Reid and Ruggiero in opposition, the board also allowed Nevada Connections Academy and another online charter school, Nevada Virtual Academy, to expand to early grades of kindergarten through third grade.
Though there was concern about K-3 students being too young for online education, the state imposed stipulations, such as mandating independent surveys of parental satisfaction and keeping class sizes at 32-1.
Ruggiero, again, criticized the online schools as too much like home schools, putting too much responsibility on parents for their children's education.
Contact reporter James Haug at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-799-2922.