Charter schools are growing more popular as an alternative to traditional public education, with a lot of headlines in the news. But there can be some confusion and misunderstanding around how they work. So what is a charter school?
The Rise of Charter Schools
The first charter school opened in 1991 in Minnesota, and since then, the movement— and it certainly has become a movement—has only continued to grow. In the past six years, student enrollment in charter schools has increased by 62 percent. With the rise in the number of charter schools available, it becomes increasingly important for parents to stay informed of the options available to their children.
Many parents and students, however, are still unfamiliar with or misinformed about charter schools.
The National Charter Resource Center offers a clear and concise definition of charter schools:
Charter schools are independently managed, publicly funded schools operating under a ‘charter’ or a contract between the school and the state or jurisdiction, allowing for significant autonomy and flexibility. This autonomy typically comes in the form of enhanced freedoms regarding budgeting, staffing, and curriculum, allowing charter schools to craft more innovative education models designed to prepare students for college and career success.
What Makes Charter Schools Different
A charter school is typically governed by parents, educators, a community group, or a private organization rather than a school district. This means teachers, parents, and administrators are able to offer education programs and environments that align with the school’s mission and needs of its own students, rather than the needs of students across an entire school district.
All charter schools are public and therefore must be non-discriminatory in admissions. Students cannot be turned away based on the color of their skin, special needs, their parents employment or income, or any other discriminating factors. When more students attempt to enroll in a charter school than space allows, a blind lottery is used to select new students.
A Common Critique of Charter Schools
A common critique of charter schools is that they are taking money from traditional schools; however, this argument emphasizes the institution’s receipt of funds to educate students rather than students receiving funds for their education.
States distribute money to schools on a per-pupil basis. Think of it this way, a Los Angeles public school student is allocated a sum of money to pay their school to educate them. If the student does not feel they are receiving a quality education or have unique circumstances, they are entitled to take their money to another public school of their choice.
Different Types of Charter Schools
Charter schools come in a variety of forms, each being different unto themselves. Some charter schools operate just like traditional public schools, while many utilize unique course formats or class structures. Independent study is a common education model among charter schools (often utilized for credit recovery), and online education has seen growth in recent years.
Hybrid programs such as Options For Youth also exist, allowing students to create a personalized education plan—combining small group classes, independent study, online classes, and experiential learning—that fits their unique learning styles.
We hope you found this information helpful. We’d like to leave you with a few summary bullet points that you can share with friends and family:
- All charter schools are free public schools
- All charter schools must be non-discriminatory in admission
- All charter schools are funded by the state or local school district in which they are authorized
- All charter schools must participate in state-mandated standardized testing
- Charter schools come in many different shapes and sizes