Imagine buying a new home and as part of the package getting to send your children to a neighborhood charter school. As charter school laws are enacted across the nation–26 states have passed such legislation–private education companies are teaming up with home developers to provide schools in the communities they build. Arizona, which has approximately one-third of the nation's 480 charter schools, recently granted a charter to the Minneapolis-based Education Alternatives Inc. to build and operate 12 public schools over the next three years.
In Arizona, local school districts often cannot build schools fast enough to accommodate new residents. And the Grand Canyon State isn't alone: Student enrollment nationwide is 51.7 million, an all-time high. (Baby boom enrollment peaked at 51.3 million students in 1971.) U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley predicts that enrollment will reach 54.6 million students by 2006.
EAI will contract with home developers to build new neighborhood schools in fast growing parts of Phoenix. The first three are scheduled to open this fall. EAI expects to enroll more than 500 students at each school for a total of 6,600. Other companies that have received charters include Sabis Educational Systems, which obtained a new charter in Chicago; Alternative Public Schools, which operates a charter school in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and is pursuing opportunities in North Carolina; the Edison Project, which will start schools in Denver and Duluth, Minnesota; and Ombudsman, which will also open a school in Arizona this fall.
These new school arrangements help property developers, education entrepreneurs, and school districts. Developers can market tuition-free privately run public schools to their customers. The education companies will start classes in state-of-the-art schools built by the developer. And school districts will have less overcrowding and will not go further into debt building new schools. Although Arizona is pioneering this neighborhood charter school arrangement, education companies have expressed interest in several other states, including Texas, Florida, California, and Colorado.