The Iowa Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved the charter school application for the Storm Lake School District that will allow a high school-college partnership to begin this fall.
It was one of four programs across the state to win approval in a sweeping decision this week.
The programs include another college-high school partnership in the West Central district, a multi-age, hands-on curriculum in the Howard-Winneshiek district and a fine arts academy in Davenport.
The programs each qualify for up to $350,000 over two years in federal money.
State legislation passed in 2002 allowed up to 10 charters to open throughout the state. The experimental schools, free from some of the rules that govern other schools, are created by parents, teachers and community leaders to offer more creative approaches to education.
In Storm Lake, the charter program would allow high school students to take tuition-free college courses while in high school, earning both a high school diploma and a community college Associates Degree. The high school will partner with Iowa Central Community College and Buena Vista University.
Some students would be able to extend their high school education beyond four years and graduate with high school and community college diplomas, said Mike Hanna, Storm Lake High School principal.
He said the charter is meant for students who wouldn't otherwise have considered college.
"The overall goal was to encourage more students to see college in their future, whether it's a degree program or a career-technical program," Hanna said. "And with that comes more rigor."
A charter school application submitted by the Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn district in northwest Iowa was rejected by the state education department.
In the fall of 2004, two Iowa districts - Sioux Central and Southeast Webster - opened the state's first charter programs. Sioux Central's features multi-age elementary classrooms, and Southeast Webster's offers high school students college classes through a partnership with ICCC.
With the Iowa Board of Education's approval Thursday of the four additional charters, the door is opened for four more districts to apply for charter status - making up the 10 charters approved by the legislation in 2002.
At the meeting, board member Sister Jude Fitzpatrick, of West Des Moines, said she sees nothing in the charter plans that couldn't be done in a regular public school. However, she joined her fellow members in voting to approve the applications.
"There doesn't seem to be anything here that is totally new in terms of education in this state," she said.