Advertiser disclosure

What Are Charter Schools?

Charter schools are unique in the fact that they are neither a public or private school. Rather, they offer flexibility in curriculum while still remaining free to the community. If a charter school sounds intriguing to you, read on below! 

Also see: Top middle school scholarships

What is a charter school? 

A charter school is an independently-run school that is still funded publicly. 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 a public school that operates under a charter. Each school has to reach specific educational goals in return for the charter to operate the school. Therefore, each institution is held publicly accountable to reach these educational standards.

Do charter schools operate like public schools? 

Charter schools operate like a public school, the only difference being their governing document. So, they still have to follow certain rules put into place for public schools. This includes keeping tuition completely free as they are a publicly funded institution. They also cannot be affiliated with a religious institution. 

That being said, by following their own charter, they are subject to less local regulations than traditional public schools. They are exempt from a majority of state laws and regulations that govern public schools. Rather, they must follow the terms of their contract or “charter.” Charter school laws vary from state to state, so do your research to learn more about how they differ from your state’s public school laws and regulations.

In addition, charter schools do not only take students from a certain geographical area. Rather, families decide if they want to send their children to this type of institution. However, due to the high demand and the short supply of open spots at these schools, there is a possibility that students  will be entered into a lottery system to be accepted. Not all will gain admission, especially in areas of high demand and low supply.

Don’t miss: Private vs. public K-12: What to consider

How are charter schools unique from other types of schools? 

Charter schools are quite unique compared to other types of institutions such as private and public. To begin with, they are autonomous, which means there is flexibility in the operation and curriculum of the school. Therefore, every charter school teaches differently! Some institutions may focus on college prep, while others may focus on following the Montessori curriculum. So, be sure to do your research on what the charter schools near you are teaching! 

How many charter schools are there in the United States? 

If you are curious about how many charter schools there are in your state, check out this map of percentage of charter schools in the United States. 

Since the inception of the first charter school in 1992, , charter schools have continued to grow.. The National Alliance for Charter School’s most recent dashboard calculates that there are 7,700 charter schools in 44 states serving nearly 3.5 million students. 

Don’t miss: How to find scholarships for private K-12 schools

Pros and cons of charter schools

The pros and cons of charter schools depend on who you ask. Many parents want alternatives to public schools that don’t meet the needs of their children. On the other hand, those who oppose feel that charter schools hinder the improvement of the public schools that the majority of students attend. Here are a few of the most discussed pros and cons of this educational model:

Free tuition
Smaller class sizes
Many offer different and nontraditional ways of educating
More autonomous learning opportunities
In some cases, better academics than you’ll find at a public school
Transportation may be required
More fundraising may need to occur to meet goals
Fewer extracurriculars offered than public school
Students typically accepted by a lottery system
Charter schools can be controversial due to allocation of public funds

Frequently asked questions about charter schools

Who can attend a charter school?

Charter schools do not have any admissions requirements or entrance exams and are free to attend by any child. However, due to the high demand for spots, a charter school may choose to use a randomized lottery system 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 will 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. 

Who can start a charter school and how do they do so?

Generally, teachers, parents, non profit organizations, community leaders, and universities can apply for a charter. The application and requirements differ from state to state. Therefore, make sure you have done your research prior to applying to begin a charter school.