Frequently Asked Questions

Below, the Resource Center provides answers to some of the most common questions posed by visitors to this website. Click on the question below to see the answer. Additional information and links to resources within and outside of the Resource Center website are provided within the text of the answers.

What is a charter school?

What is an authorizer?

What is a charter school board?

How do I start a charter school?

What role do state governments play in the development of charter schools?

How many charter schools are there?

How can I find a charter school in my area?

What kind of federal support is there for charter schools?

Where can I find out about conferences and events?

How do charter schools perform in comparison to traditional public schools?

If you have a question about charter schools or have a suggestion for a frequently asked question to appear on this page, you may submit it to the Resource Center by clicking on the link HERE.

What is a charter school?

Charter schools are public elementary and secondary schools that are newly created or adapted from existing schools by developers to pursue specific educational objectives and are exempt from significant state or local rules that inhibit flexible management. Charter schools are not exempt from federal laws that cover equal rights, access and discrimination. Students attend charter schools by choice of their parents or guardians rather than by assignment by a school district. As public schools, charter schools are not allowed to charge tuition. If applications to attend a charter school exceed spaces available, enrollment is decided by lottery.

Charter schools can be authorized by a variety of entities (see the next question below). Performance contracts with authorizers govern a charter school's operation and covers issues such as academic goals and includes a description of how student performance will measured pursuant to required state assessments.

For more information about charter schools, see section 5210 of the U.S. Department of Education's presentation on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act's charter school provisions or visit the Understanding Charter Schools Focus Area. There, you will find reports, articles, and briefs covering the basics, rigorous research, and profiles of successful charter schools.

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What is an authorizer?

Authorizers are responsible for approving charter applications, overseeing schools during their operation, and making charter school renewal or closure decisions. Charter schools can be authorized to operate by a variety of entities, including school districts, institutions of higher education, municipalities, state education agencies, and other designated organizations. Authorizers also may grant a charter to a school operator rather than directly to the charter school. You can learn more about authorizers by visiting the National Association of Charter School Authorizers’ Who Is a Charter School Authorizer? page or the Authorizing Focus Area on this website.

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What is a charter school board?

Most charter schools have a governing board made up of unpaid volunteers. While each board is unique, most are responsible for guiding the school and establishing policies, budget oversight, evaluation of the school leader, strategic planning, and other high-level decisions. Typically, charter school boards are not involved in day-to-day operations and decisions.

Not all campuses of a charter school have their own board of directors. For example, one charter contract may cover separate elementary, middle, and high school campuses that are governed by a single board. For more information about school boards, including several toolkits and reports on effective board governance, please visit the Governing Boards section of the Resource Center website.

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How do I start a charter school?

The process for starting a charter school differs based upon the state where the school will operate. In almost all cases, the process takes many months - as many as 1 to 2 years prior to the first day of school - and includes forming a charter school board, writing and submitting a lengthy and detailed application to an authorizer or state education agency, and hiring staff and/or selecting a charter school management company.

Most states have a Charter Support Organization (CSO) that assists individuals or groups interested in starting a new charter school in their state. Since application processes and laws vary from state to state, the CSO can be helpful in establishing a new charter school. Some state departments of education also provide guides or resources to charter school founders. The Resource Center has collected many state-specific guides, websites, and toolkits and placed them in the Starting a Charter School section.

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What role do state governments play in the development of charter schools?

State governments play a central role in the development and operation of charter schools. State laws and policies are required for charter schools to exist and some states place caps on the number of charter schools that can operate. Currently, charter schools can be found in 41 states and the District of Columbia. State laws governing charter schools vary widely, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools provides this Tool for Comparing State Charter Laws. Further information about State Policy can be found on this website.

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How many charter schools are there?

Since the first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992, the charter school movement has grown to more than 5,277 schools operating nationwide in 2010 – 2011, serving 1.7 million students. Information about the number of charter schools in each state can be found on the Public Charter Schools Dashboard from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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How can I find a charter school in my area?

For information about public charter schools in your area, visit the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools website to browse by state. There, you will find additional information and a complete list of authorized charter schools in your state and district.

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What kind of federal support is there for charter schools?

The U.S. Department of Education's Charter School Program provides a variety of grant competitions specifically for the charter school community. The majority of these funds go to plan and start new charter schools or disseminate information about successful models through the Charter School Program State Education Agency (SEA) Competition. These funds are provided to a state's department of education or similar organization, which then may make subgrants to charter schools. Individual charter schools may apply for funding from the Department of Education through the Charter Schools Program Non-State Education Agency (non-SEA) Competition to plan and start a new charter school or through the Charter Schools Program Non-State Education Dissemination Grant Competition to disseminate information about their school(s). Charter Management Organizations may also apply for funds to replicate and expand schools through the Charter Schools Program Grants for Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Schools program.

The National Leadership Activities Grant Competition is intended to fund projects of national significance that will improve charter schools. Grants are also available to support loans for charter school facilities as part of the Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities Competition. The Department of Education provides funding to states to support charter school facilities based on the number of pupils enrolled. This grant is called the State Charter School Facilities Incentive Grants Competition.

In addition to these grants from the Charter Schools Program, other federal, state, and foundation grants, fellowships, and fundraising opportunities are described on the Resource Center website. Visit the Grants page to search for available opportunities.

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Where can I find out about conferences and events?

The Resource Center Events page highlights upcoming national and regional workshops and conferences for a variety of audiences.

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How do charter schools perform in comparison to traditional public schools?

Using a variety of research methods, some reports have found that, in certain circumstances or for particular groups, charter schools demonstrate higher academic performance in comparison to traditional public schools. Others have found little or no difference – either positive or negative – between charter and traditional public school performance. The Research and Evaluation section of the Resource Center website contains reports and studies from academic institutions and researchers on the topic.

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