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Support for charter schools no longer is an issue reserved for conservative, Republican education rei. fornners.ln Kingsley Guy increasing numbers, liberal Democrats are ,weighing in 01;1 the side of charter schools. This glimmer ofbipartisanship bodes well for education in Florida, and throughout the United States This year in Tallahassee, the . Legislature, with some crossparty su port, increased facilities . fundirig tor charter schools by $91 million. On a national level, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, with the endorsement of Pres ident Obama.has been an outspoken advocate of charter schools. Politicians can spot trends, and act accordingly. In the last decade, enrollment in Florida charter ' schools has more than tripled, from 67,000 students to 203,000. Nationwide, 2.3 million students attendcharter schools, and the demand is increasing, as are the waiting lists. Children can't vote, but their parents can, and politicians who ignore parents' demands for charter schools do so at their peril. Charter schools are public schools that receive tax dollars, but function with their own. boards of directors and enjoy -substantial.independence from state and local regulations. I spoke on separate occasions recently with two local charter school leaders with widely different political backgrounds. Frank Biden of Ocean Ridge is president of Mavericks Charter High Schools, which operates seven-charter schools, mainly in ' South Florida. 'Like his brother, Vice President Joe Biden, he's an unabashed Democrat His schools ,serve mainly minority students. Many have criminal records, or deal with addiction problems. Most failed miserably in the traditional public school environment The Mavericks charter schools , they'd be laughed out of the room;' Biden insists. Jonathan Hage is CEO of the Fort Lauderdale-based Charter " Schools USA. In a previous incarnation, he served as an adviser to Jeb Bush and helped draft the 1996 law that authorized Florida's charter schools. From its South Florida roots, the corporation has expanded into seven 'states, where it manages 60 schools ' enrolling 50,000 students. Char- ; ter Schools USA is perhaps the best charter school mahagement company in the nation, and'the number of'W' schools in its orbit attests to its success. . Hage has been heavily involved in 10bbyingJor more funding for charter schools, which receive only about rwo-thirds of that available to traditional public schools. But he also supports regulations aimed at weeding out mismanaged charter schools that can give the entire movement a bad name. He, too, sees a broadening of political support for charter -f schools, and asserts the debate about whether they should be a part of the nation's educational system is over. The political discussion now is revolving around .~ what Hage calls,"Ch er Schools
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tailor education programs to individual students' circumstances, and at least give them a chance at success.

''Politicians can spot trends, and act accordingl)! In the last decade, enrollment in' Florida charter schools has tripled."

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, - "What policies do e nee to' implement to improve charter schools? How do we replicate the great ones? Plow do we shut . down the bad charter schools? ' "These kids have made a How do we share information choice to give education another with traditional public schools, go:' Biden said, with the passion and why isn't there more interest of a true believer. "Education is in doing so?" These are some of their civil rights issue. These kids the questions that will serve as have a right to the same educathe new focus of the charter tion others receive:' Biden and school de1:iate,Hage says. the Mavericks schools have been He's correct .The discourse. has a source of controversy. Among . moved on and crossed party lines. other things, critics claim graduaEvery legislator, school board tion rates aren't good enough, member, and teachers' union Still, these schools are dealing official needs to recognize-this, with Iistudent population that and work constructively to enhad been written offby the rest of hance the charter school movesociety. - ment, What about those who claim charter schools are failing in their Kingsley Guy's column appears mission? "If they] sat down with every other Sunday. Email him at Arne Duncan, my brother and the .Harborlite3@bellsouth.net. president and told them that,

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