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Utah creates 5th charter school

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The Utah Board of Education gave the nod for a fifth charter school Friday, one month after putting off the University of Utah instructors' application.

The new Stewart School, a secondary school chartered by faculty in the U.'s educational studies department, will be independent from the university although down the road, the school's ultimate goal would be to become a lab school, similar to Utah State's Edith Bowen Laboratory School, where education students implement cutting-edge teaching techniques.The school also will have open enrollment, just like any other public school as required under the 1998 charter schools law. It aims to "facilitate reform in the public schools and improve educational outcomes for all Utah students," according to its application.

"Our goal is to create a secondary school that packs in everything we know about secondary education," said Nancy Winitzky, associate professor in the U.'s educational studies department.

While unanimously approved Friday, the school's application had raised some red flags with the state board, which wanted assurances the board wouldn't end up forwarding public education funds to the University of Utah and that the school wouldn't hand-pick students.

The school suggested recruiting students to ensure a cross-section of Salt Lake's population, not just top students, for research purposes. But the law mandates charter schools have nondiscriminatory open enrollment.

There was, however, some question Friday whether the school could create a certain amount of slots for a certain group of students, such as low-income or inner city children, and then fill those slots on a first-come, first-served basis or at random.

Utah's charter school law allows for eight pilot schools, or public schools that, with niches in areas such as arts or technology, promise increased opportunities for school choice and parental involvement.

Four charters have been granted so far. The Uintah River Alternative High School in Fort Duchesne, currently run by the Ute Tribe as a private, nonprofit school, and the Sundance Mountain School, an elementary school specializing in performing and visual arts and environmental studies, were granted last month.

The Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts in Ivins, Washington County, and the Jean Massieu school, which features American Sign Language, received the board's blessing last year.

Still, the board should have approved all eight charters by now, as all must open their doors come fall.

The schools receive $62,500 apiece in startup funds -- dubbed venture capital by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Laing -- plus state per-pupil money and a portion of district funds after classes begin.

The state, acknowledging the paltry sums guarantee the schools an uphill climb in the beginning, also is applying for a chunk of $100 million in federal funds for charter schools.