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Top 10 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Charter School

One of the main advantages of charter schools is how unique they are; each school has a different philosophy, curriculum, and focus. This offers students and their families a variety of options, but also makes choosing a charter school a challenging task. Parents looking to utilize this option will most likely wonder how to choose a good charter school. To help out, we compiled the top 10 questions to ask to help you make your choice. Let’s get started! 

First, what is a charter school? 

A charter school is an independently-run school that is publicly funded. All charter schools operate under a legislative contract (also known as a “charter”) with a group or organization that holds them accountable to the standards set by their charter. Some examples of a group that a charter school operates with would be a government agency, university, or nonprofit organization. 

Essentially, charter schools are public schools that operate under a specific charter. Each school has to reach the specified educational goals of its charter  in order to operate. Therefore, each institution is held publicly accountable to reach those educational standards.

Top 10 questions to ask when selecting a charter school

1. Is this charter school accredited? 

This question is extremely important as accreditation ensures that the charter school is meeting rigorous academic standards. Remember, most charter schools are not required to follow state education regulations. If prospective charter school students are planning to attend college, ensuring the charter school is accredited is a step in the right direction for their futures. 

2. What are this charter school’s mission and core values? 

Since every charter school operates under their own charter, each charter is different. Therefore, each charter school has different standards to abide by or requirements to meet. It is important to find out what a charter school’s mission statement is and how the mission is implemented throughout school policies and procedures. This information can help you decide whether the prospective charter school might meet the needs of your child through their core values. 

3. What type of academic programs does this charter school offer? 

Like the charter school’s mission and core values, every charter school offers a unique  curriculum and different academic programming. Charter schools have the flexibility to offer academic programs outside of the traditional classroom setting. Therefore, it is important to know what type of programming the school is offering. Some examples of academic programs that a charter school could offer are the following: 

4. What type of student succeeds at this charter school? 

Asking this question hopefully will reveal what the most successful students at this charter school look like. This will help understand the expectations this particular charter school has for students. In addition, this question offers information to figure out if  the prospective student is a good match for a particular charter school. 

5. Is there a waiting list? 

Due to the typical smaller class sizes of charter schools compared to traditional public schools, there may be a wait list or lottery system implemented to get in. This information is important to know as it allows you to be aware of any potential delays in starting at the prospective charter school.  Parents may want to explore other charter schools in case their child does not get off the waitlist in time or are not selected by a lottery system. 

6. What is the parent’s role in this charter school? 

Ask this question to understand the expectation  for parent involvement at this charter school.Additional fundraising is usually necessary at charter schools because they are primarily funded by tax-payer dollars. 

 Therefore, at some charter schools, parents are expected to participate in fundraising activities and events. Asking this question early on allows parents to understand what is expected of them. This is especially important for parents who work outside the home and have limited free hours. 

7. What type of extracurricular activities are offered? 

.In addition to academic offerings, charter schools offer many extracurricular activities for students outside of the classroom. 

 Some charter schools may focus more on STEM related clubs, such as Chemistry Club, while others may focus more on athletics. It is important to understand exactly what extracurricular activities are offered to ensure that these clubs align with the interests of your student. 

8. How do the school’s test scores compare to those of other schools? 

It is important to know whether the charter school is comparable to other types of schools in this area. As mentioned, every charter school is different, so a particular school may not reach the academic standards that parents were expecting. Therefore, it is worth ensuring that a particular charter school’s test scores align with or are higher than schools in the surrounding area. This will also help solidify that this school is the best fit for the prospective student. 

9. How large are the classes? 

Class size is an important factor in determining whether a school is a good fit. Typically, charter schools have fewer students than public schools which can mean fewer students per class. However, this is not always the case, so double checking the class sizes can help determine whether or not the charter school is a good fit. Students will typically feel more comfortable and learn more effectively in an educational setting where they can talk to the teacher one-on-one at times. Therefore, smaller class sizes may be more advantageous for most prospective students’ learning. 

Related: Public vs private K-12: What to consider

10. What amenities do the students have access to? 

A school should be an environment that nurtures learning and fun through amenities such as the following: 

  • Sport fields
  • Playgrounds
  • Counseling/Psychologists
  • Networking
  • Computers
  • Library
  • Cafeteria
  • Bus transportation

Understanding what amenities a school offers (or does not offer) can be a gamechanger when deciding whether a particular charter school will work for your student. Be sure to ask follow-up questions about the amenities that are most important to you and your student. 

Some example follow-up questions include the following: 

  • Can the students access the library whenever they want? 
  • Are the students provided computers or will they have to bring their own?
  • Does the bus system run to our neighborhood?  

Frequently asked questions about charter schools

Who can attend a charter school?

Charter schools do not have admissions requirements or entrance exams and they are free for all students to attend. However, due to the high demand for spots, charter schools may choose to use randomized lottery systems to select which students will be admitted to the charter school. 

Do I have to pay tuition for charter school?

Nope! Charter schools are tuition-free public institutions. Therefore, they are fully funded by taxpayers in the community. 

How do I enroll my child in a charter school?

First, you need to check on the enrollment period for the school(s) you are interested in your child attending. Apply for admission during that time period knowing that there are usually many more applicants than actual seats available. Often, the application becomes a “lottery” type selection process, so there is no guarantee of attending.