Generally overseen by an independent board and given greater freedom over budgets, hiring and purchasing, charter schools can be opened by nonprofit groups, churches, parents, groups of teachers and school districts.
Many charter schools specialize in helping children from inner-city neighborhoods, with smaller enrollments and different appr-oaches to learning that their supporters say aren't generally accepted in traditional public schools.
Over the past decade, the charter schools' tenacity has earned them a place in the education debate -- about 2,400 charter schools served more than half a million children during the 2001-2002 school year. More than half of those -- about 1,300 -- opened in the past three years alone.
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