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PASADENA, Calif. – Adding to the excitement of a record-high attendance at the 12th Annual Charter Schools Conference here Jan. 24-26 was the California Charter Schools Association’s partnership with the California Credit Union, in nearby Glendale, to deliver much-needed products and services to California charter schools. With the number of U.S. students attending charter schools increasing at a yearly rate of about 15%, the association estimates that more than 670,000 students will be enrolled in charter schools over the next 10 years. California currently has 512 charter schools, according to Gary Larson, vice president of communications for the California Charter Schools Association. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the California Charter Schools Association focuses on advocacy, leadership and quality, and member services and products for charter schools. As independent public schools, charters have more freedom in staffing and budget planning than regular public schools; their goal is to improve student achievement by specializing in community needs. According to the association’s Web site (www. charterassociation.org), not only do charter schools give parents the opportunity to offer input regarding their child’s education-they also give educators room to try new strategies. “With this movement, we’re seeing an emerging financial market develop,” Larson said. “As charter schools grow, so do their individual needs. [The partnership] speaks to the fact that educators in the public school system are increasingly looking to open new charters, so that they can make more site-based decisions. They are in charge of hiring, staffing, and budgets in their efforts to improve student achievements.” Larson added that more local decision-makers are going to need affordable financial products and services. “That’s where the California Credit Union comes into play.” At press time, final negotiations were under way for California CU to offer an affinity credit card and other business banking services to these new members. A percentage of the revenue generated from the card will go back to the schools in the form of scholarship funds and other programs. “The best part is that we get to take everything we generate and put it back into education,” said Chris Kerecman, California Credit Union’s senior vice president of business development and community relations. The billion-dollar California Credit Union operates with a statewide educational franchise. “Everything we do is very education-focused-that’s why we’re involved with this,” Kerecman said. “Our field of membership is the teachers, the administrative personnel, the bus drivers, all those involved in the area of education in the state of California.” Charter schools are usually formed by parents, teachers, administrators, and community leaders who petition a local school board or county board of education for a charter, or contract. “One of the things we are going to tap into is the passion that all these people have for these schools,” Kerecman said. “A lot of charter schools have facility-related issues. In fact, more charter schools close because of lack of facilities than any other reason. We are looking at ways to help these schools finance their facilities. As a big credit union, we have good capital and we’ve got the capacity to provide these services. We are still negotiating the details; but we’re moving fast.” California charter schools have their own boards of education; however, they receive their funding directly from the state and are required to participate in statewide assessment tests. The idea is that the schools have increased autonomy but remain accountable. “Think of charter schools each as their own self-contained school district,” Kerecman said. “They have certain relationships with the school districts they are in, but they have a great deal of control over what’s done at the school. And they get same number of dollars per student as regular schools.”

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