FAQs about charter schools

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about charter schools

What is a charter school?

Asking “what is a charter school?” is a bit like asking “what is a restaurant?” As there are many different kinds of restaurants, there are many types of charter schools. But they generally have a few things in common. The organization U.S. Charter Schoolsoffers a good place to start. It says:

Charter schools are nonsectarian public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The “charter” establishing each such school is a performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. The length of time for which charters are granted varies, but most are granted for 3-5 years. At the end of the term, the entity granting the charter may renew the school’s contract. Charter schools are accountable to their sponsor– usually a state or local school board– to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for this accountability. They are accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices to several groups: the sponsor that grants them, the parents who choose them, and the public that funds them.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers says that charter schools are built on the principles of school-level autonomy, public school choice, and accountability for performance.

What’s the idea of having  charter schools?

Since K-12 schools are largely regulated by each state, you’ll find a slightly different legal rationale for charter schools among the states that have them. In general, though, states have charter schools, according to U.S. Charter Schools:

  • Increase opportunities for learning and access to quality education for all students
  • Create choice for parents and students within the public school system
  • Provide a system of accountability for results in public education
  • Encourage innovative teaching practices
  • Create new professional opportunities for teachers
  • Encourage community and parent involvement in public education
  • Leverage improved public education broadly

Do charter schools charge tuition?

No. They are public schools, funded by tax dollars and as such, do not charge tuition.

Don’t charter schools take the best students away from public schools?

Aside from the fact that charter schools are public schools, no, they don’t. In many cases, the children who attend charter public schools do so because they have, for whatever reason, a poor academic record in a traditional public school.

Can charter schools choose which students they will enroll?

No. As public schools, charter public schools cannot establish admissions criteria. They are allowed to select new students by lottery in cases where there is more demand than seats available.

What’s the curriculum like at a charter school?

It depends. Some use a curriculum similar to what you would see in a traditional public school. Some use a classical curriculum. Others use a progressive one. It all depends on the interests of the founders, the authorizer, and the parents.

Don’t charter schools siphon off money that would otherwise go towards public schools?

Remember, charter schools are also public schools. But nationwide, charter schools receive 61 percent of the money that goes towards traditional schools.

How many students are in charter schools?

1.6 million, according to the National Association of Public Charter Schools.

Here’s the recent trend: UP.

The following table gives more details.

Charter school enrollment

Year States Students % of all public school enrollment
1999-2000 30 349,642 0.7%
2000-2001 34 458,664 1.0%
2001-2002 34 580,029 1.2%
2002-2003 36 666,038 1.4%
2003-2004 38 789,479 1.6%
2004-2005 40 897,643 1.8%
2005-2006 40 1,021,251 2.1%
2006-2007 40 1,163,414 2.4%
2007-2008 40 1,290,058 2.6%
2008-2009 40 1,439,749 2.9%
2009-2010 39 1,603,484 Not yet available

Now a few observations:

  • The first charter school in the country opened in 1992.
  • In the four school years between (and including) 1999-2000 and 2002-2003, the number of charter school students had nearly doubled.
  • Charter schools far outstrip tax credits or vouchers as the most common form of school choice.
  • Which state stopped having a charter school law in the 2009-2010 school year? Mississippi, which had regularly scored last or almost last in rankings of charter school laws.
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