Charter schools surge in Petaluma, Sonoma County

Sonoma County is at the forefront of the charter school movement in California with 11 new schools opening this year, second only to massive Los Angeles County Unified with its nearly 660,000 students.

Nearly a quarter -- 23 percent -- of Sonoma County's 70,700 kindergarten-through-12th graders are enrolled in charter schools. Just two years ago, 13 percent of Sonoma County students were in charter schools.

Today, there are 56 campuses working under 51 state-issued charters. Fifteen years ago, there were two charter schools in the county.

The trend reflects districts' efforts to attract students in an increasingly competitive environment and a calculated assessment of how to maximize dwindling state funding for public schools.

In many cases, charter schools can pull in more state funds and with fewer restrictions while also being free of interdistrict transfer rules. Students do not need permission from their home district if they want to attend a charter school -- a key factor as Sonoma County's 40 districts compete for students and the key portion of state funding that is based on enrollment.

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