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Have school. Need building.

A crisis over housing new charter schools could make or break thecharter experiment.

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So you've got a great idea on how to educate kids. You write up a plan, get it approved, line up teachers, students, a governing board, and a strong curriculum, and you're on your way to becoming a successful new charter school. Right?

Well, not quite. You're going to need a roof and four walls that will pass local fire codes and not break the budget. If you manage to find a place you can afford this year, you'll need one twice as big the next, when the first class moves up and the new kids need a place to sit.

The facilities crisis could make or break America's charter-school experiment, activists say. Many charters - public schools that are allowed to operate relatively independently - can't solve the building problem, and thus never open despite having been approved. For others, the struggle for facilities is a big drain on time and resources that could affect the success of the venture down the line.

Where will I be next year?

"I don't know where I am going to be next year, I don't," says Irasema Salcido, principal of the Cesar Chavez Public Policy Charter High School, which opened in Washington last fall. Her first class of 60 ninth-graders spent their initial weeks of school working around boxes in a basement as they waited for classrooms to be created in abandoned government offices. With a new class on the way next year, she needs to find a bigger space, and there are few prospects in sight.

"Here I am trying to offer them an education, and I don't see why it has to be so difficult. My kids ... are from here, from the District, and they're attending a public school, and they should be provided with a place to learn just like any other public school student," she adds. "I should be focusing on what we'll be teaching them next year and recruiting my new teachers, but in the back of my mind I keep thinking, 'What is going to happen?' "

No funds to build or buy

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