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Charter Schools vs. Private Schools

By Cece Gilmore

Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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Reviewed by Cari Shultz

Cari Schultz is an Educational Review Board Advisor at Scholarships360, where she reviews content featured on the site. For over 20 years, Cari has worked in college admissions (Baldwin Wallace University, The Ohio State University, University of Kentucky) and as a college counselor (Columbus School for Girls).

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Updated: November 14th, 2022
Charter Schools vs. Private Schools

Charter schools are commonly confused with private and independent schools. This is because charter schools and private schools are both traditional alternatives to public schools. To clear up any confusion, read more in our guide about charter schools vs private schools to find out how exactly they differ.

Also see: Charter schools vs. Public schools

How are charter schools and private schools similar? 

Before understanding how different charter schools and private schools are from one another, it is important to recognize their similarities. Though charter schools are not private schools, they possess some similar characteristics when comparing one to another. 

Flexible curriculum

Both charter and private schools have freedom in what they teach without needing to follow a certain state curriculum. Flexibility in curriculum is the main similarity between charter schools and private schools. 

Related: What is a Montessori school?

How are charter schools and private schools different? 


Charter schools receive government funding as they are public schools that are funded by state and federal governments. A charter school’s funding can change or vary from state to state. Typically, in addition to the public funding they receive, they also require private funding to operate. This includes donations from organizations, businesses, parents, and alumni. 

Private schools do not receive any government funding. Therefore, they are funded by tuition, grants, donations, and alumni giving. 

Don’t miss: What is a magnet school?


As stated before, charter schools are funded by the state or federal government. Therefore, charter schools are open to the public and they are tuition free institutions. It is against the law for a charter school to discriminate or charge any student tuition. 

In contrast, private schools are able to function by charging a tuition fee for students to attend their institution. Private schools have the ultimate say when it comes to who they admit.

Admissions requirements

Charter schools offer enrollment that is free and accessible to all students. However, due to the high demand of admission to some charter schools, they  must  cap their admissions at a certain number of students. Therefore, charter schools are more likely to use a lottery system to fairly admit students into their schools. 

In contrast, private schools typically have selective admissions. Meaning, they usually require testing or another form of assessment to determine whether a student is a good academic fit. The ISEE and SSAT are two tests commonly used for this purpose. 

Also see: ISEE vs SSAT: What you need to know

Religion in charter schools?

Charter schools are public schools, so they are not legally allowed to be under religious or political influence. While not religious, charter schools do operate under a charter or legislative contract. This means that a group or organization holds charter schools accountable for upholding the standards found in their charter.

In contrast, private schools typically operate under a board of trustees, specific organization, church, or religious group. This means the curriculum and school operates in accordance with who owns the school. Typically, students attending private religious schools will take religion classes that correspond with the religious beliefs of the schools attended. 

Also see: What is a parochial school?

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Charter schools are a form of public school with unconventional educational models. They are free, but stray from the traditional public educational system in their teaching methods
  • Private schools come in all shapes and sizes, from alternative educational models like Montessori and Waldorf, to religious education like Catholic schools. They typically charge tuition, though many offer financial aid
  • If you are looking for an alternative to the standard public education system, but cannot afford to pay tuition, a charter school could be a good fit for you
  • As is true with any school, make sure to investigate the institution thoroughly before sending your child there. The quality can vary greatly between different charter or private schools, just as it does with public schools
Key Takeaways

Also see: What are KIPP charter schools?

Frequently asked questions about charter schools vs. private schools

What are the main disadvantages of charter schools?

LIke all schools, the quality of charter schools vary greatly. If one attends a school with sub-par teachers, limited resources, and an unengaged student body, it is difficult to find advantages. Not all public schools are the best environment for learning, and likewise, not all charter schools are either. It is important to thoroughly research any school, including student outcomes in regard to core subjects such as reading and math. 

Do charter schools drain money from public school districts?

Charter schools are public schools, so the factual answer is no, they don’t. However, charter schools do attract students from other public schools, leading to fewer students and less funding for those original public schools. In short, parents choose to place their children in charter schools and reallocate how their tax dollars are spent. 

Also see: Top middle school scholarships

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