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Las Vegas District Welcomes Charter Growth, Official Says

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By guest blogger Andrew Ujifusa

I just wrote a story about a new report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools chronicling charter school enrollment growth nationwide and in specific districts. The district with the highest growth rate of charter enrollment in the 2011-12 school year was the Clark County school district, which serves Las Vegas. So I called up the district to find out more of the story behind the data, specifically the 64 percent increase in charter enrollment from the 2010-11 school year to 2011-12.

Daniel J. Tafoya, who oversees the district's charter schools office, told me that the district itself in fact does not have the power to authorize charters. It is subject to a moratorium right now on authorizing the schools, he said, because of budget woes. Any new charters in the district are now approved by the state authorizing board, although Tafoya also said the district has welcomed the growth that this state board has overseen, and that his district cooperates well with charters.

"We want parent choice," he said.

Right now, the district, which had a charter enrollment of 7,721 students in 2011-12, has 19 charter schools either in the district or operating on a statewide basis that serve students in the district, according to Tafoya.

A new brick-and-mortar K-8 charter campus, Somerset Academy, just opened in the district, and serves 1,000 students, Tafoya said, which accounts for a lot of the 2,838-student increase detailed in the report from the national charter alliance. But he also said a lot more students are enrolling in virtual charters. Some of those students were previously home-schooled, but their parents now blend online learning into the traditional home-schooling environment.

"It's not exclusively you and your kid at the kitchen table with the book," Tafoya told me.

He also attributed the greater interest in charters to the influx of students from states with dynamic and substantial charter school environments, like Arizona, California, and Utah.

Remember, though, that the district serves 308,000 students, so charter market share is only a shade over 2 percent in Clark County. But Tafoya said he foresees a time when the district gets out from under the charter-authorizing moratorium and actively approves charters on its own again.

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