What is a Charter School?

What is a Charter School?

Charter schools are free, public schools that operate under a contract, known as a “charter”. They offer quality and choice in the public education system and have the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for helping students learn and achieve. Charters run independently of the local district.

Charter schools allow parents, teachers, and the community to improve and diversify public education, and can be powerful tools for parents seeking access to quality education for their children. In particular, charter schools provide high-quality options for underserved students. Charter schools are raising the bar on student academic growth and achievement by improving a number of student performance measures, including increasing graduation rates and college acceptance rates.  Many charter schools fall within the top performing public schools overall in their host districts.

Charters are approved and regularly reviewed by an authorizing agency—typically a non-profit organization, government agency or university. Each charter school’s success is based on how well it meets the academic performance goals established in its charter, and how the school manages its fiscal and operational responsibilities. The charter provides the school with operational autonomy to pursue specific educational objectives regarding curriculum, staff, and budget and holds them accountable to the same, often higher, standards of their district public school peers. They are open to all children on a first-come, first-serve basis and cannot restrict admission in any way. Charters cannot and do not have special entrance or admissions requirements.

Why charter schools?

All children, regardless of their background, wealth or where they live, should have the opportunity to attend a school that prepares them for postsecondary success and their future. Charter schools provide families with a choice of a different kind of public school that best fits their children’s learning needs - as we know, not all children learn and thrive in the same environment. Charter schools provide parents with the ability to choose what is best for their child’s education. They also provide communities with more educational options within the public education landscape. Charter schools can innovate and reflect the needs of the community, so if a community sees a need for STEM schools, or single-gender schools, for instance, charter schools fill those needs. Charter schools are held accountable for their performance and when they do not meet their goals, they face sanctions and closure, making them the most accountable public schools there are.

Are charter schools public schools?

Yes, charter schools are independently-operated, public schools. Charter schools provide a free, high-quality education option to public school students, upholding high standards that meet and often exceed the district and state metrics.

How are charter schools funded?

As public schools, charter schools are funded by public tax dollars. Charter schools are often funded differently and funded less than traditional public schools, leading to great funding inequities. When charter schools are funded, there is no overall loss of public school money because charter schools are public schools. Additionally, charter schools do not have access to equitable facilities funding or recurring and reliable state building aid for capital construction and renovation.

How are students admitted to charter schools?

Any child eligible for admission to a traditional public school is eligible for admission to a public charter school. Charter schools are open to all children on a first-come, first-serve basis unless there is more demand than available seats for the school, in which case a blind lottery is held to determine admission.

Do charter schools charge tuition?

No. As public schools, charter schools cannot charge any tuition.

Is there a time limit for a school’s charter?

Charters are generally issued for a period up to but not exceeding five years. A charter may also be renewed for up to five years.

How do I enroll my child in a charter school?

Most charter schools have an enrollment period when parents can submit applications for the school. If there are more applications submitted than seats available, they will hold a randomized blind lottery.

Do charter schools have attendance boundaries?

Charter schools do not have traditional geographic school boundaries like district schools, which allows many charter schools to attract a diverse student body. Charter schools are restricted by state limits and some have city limits as well.

Do charter schools have admission requirements?

No, charter schools do not have admission requirements or entrance exams. Though many charter schools are in high demand and when that demand exceeds the spaces available in the school, a charter school may hold a randomized, blind lottery to determine which students are admitted or may preference students by need or location.

What are some questions to ask when I’m choosing a charter school?

As a parent, make sure you are familiar with the individual objectives and rules affiliated with the specific charter school that you are considering before you enroll your child. The reasons that parents choose charter schools for their children are just as unique as the students themselves. They choose their child’s school for a variety of reasons including strong, dedicated teachers, the school's focus matches their child’s needs, or simply because their child was struggling in their zoned-public school and needed to try something new. Charter schools provide families with options in public education, allowing parents to take a more active role in their child’s education.

What is a charter school authorizer?

Authorizers are the institutions that decide who can start a new charter school, set expectations and oversee school performance, and decide which schools should continue to serve students or not. Depending on state law, authorizers can be school districts, education agencies, independent boards, universities, mayors and municipalities, and not-for-profits.

What makes charter schools different than other schools?

Charters can be unique in many different ways. Some schools may focus on college prep, some follow a Montessori curriculum, and others integrate the arts into each subject. Most charter schools are located in urban areas, but there are charter schools in suburban and rural areas as well. Some charter schools require uniforms, others have longer school days, and some teach their entire curriculum in two languages. The possibilities are endless, but charter schools aim to provide a range of options so that parents can choose the school that best fits their child.

How can I start a charter school?

Charter schools can be started by any interested party, including parents, community members, and teachers. It is helpful to first identify a unique need in the community that the charter school would serve and connect with a local charter school authorizer.


Northeast Charter Schools Network

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