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    What Are Charter 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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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: November 28th, 2023
    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! 

    Also see: How to find a good charter school

    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 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 7,800 charter schools in 45 states serving nearly 3.7 million students. Charter schools are now outpacing traditional public schools in math and reading achievement. This latest data was compiled by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University from standardized testing data from 6,200 charter schools (involving 1.8 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:

    Pros Cons
    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

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    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.

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