Frequently Asked Questions

Are charter schools for students with disabilities?

Are charter schools for students with disabilities?

Charter schools are required to provide education to all students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). There is limited evidence that students with disabilities perform better in charter schools than their district peers.

For more resources on the subject, please see the dedicated Special Education focus area.

What is a charter school?

What is a charter school?

Charter schools are independently managed public schools operating under a “charter,” essentially a contract entered into between the school and its authorizing agency. In addition to sanctioning the school’s existence, the contract outlines the terms and conditions of the schools’ operations.

Please see a detailed definition of charter schools on our dedicated page, What is a Charter School.

What is a charter management organization?

Charter management organizations (CMOs) are organizations that contract with an individual school or schools to deliver management services. KIPP, BASIS, and Uncommon Schools are examples of CMOs.

Please see the section about Charter School Structure of the What is a Charter School? page for more information.

Are charter schools public schools?

Charter schools are public schools because they receive public funds, but charter schools are not confined to district boundaries and regulations. Charter schools report their performance gains and their financial viability to their authorizer. If a school does not meet the requirements of its charter, it can be closed more easily than a traditional school district.

When and where did the first charter school open?

In 1991, Minnesota passed the first charter school law, with California following suit in 1992. By 1995, 19 states had signed laws allowing for the creation of charter schools, and by 2015 that number increased to 42 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.

Please see the History section of the What is a Charter School page for more information.

How many charter schools are there currently?

As of the start of the 2015-16 school year, there are 6,723 charter schools in the United States serving 2.9 million students.

Do charter schools work?

The NCSRC recently released a report on student achievement in charter schools exploring this topic in detail. You can access it here.

Are charter schools magnet schools?

Charter schools and magnet schools are both public schools attended by choice but have inherent differences. The primary difference is in governance structure—magnet schools are part of the public school system while charter schools are independent and free of many local and state regulations. Magnet schools typically adopt a particular focus or model with some magnet schools requiring demonstrated knowledge.

How are charter schools held accountable?

Who authorizes charter schools?

Local school boards, public post-secondary entities, and the state boards of education are the usual authorizers. They review applications for charter schools and then supervise the charter school if approved.

Please see the What is a Charter School page for more information on policy and accountability.

Who regulates charter school finances?

For a charter school to open its doors, it must have a contract with an authorizer empowered by the state government to regulate charter schools. The contract lays out its funding plan and various pay structures. Moreover, in the vast majority of states, charter schools are required to be 501(c)(3) non-profits which requires public disclosure of certain financial information. The charter school’s supervisory board has final say over the charter school’s finances.

Please see the Policy and Governance focus area to search for resources on governance.

Are charter schools inefficient with their funds compared to traditional public schools?

It is very difficult to characterize all charter schools on an efficiency scale. Some charter schools underperform with their students and some outperform traditional public schools with similar populations. On the whole, however, charter schools achieve similar results to traditional public schools with proportionally less money.

How are charter schools funded?

Do charter schools get public funds?

Yes, charter schools as public schools are the recipients of public funds. However, how much funding can vary widely depending on in which state the school is located. Certain states allow per-pupil funding to follow students to charter schools and other do not. Federal school funding, such as Title I funds, do flow through to charter schools where applicable.

Please see our What is a Charter School page for more on public funds.

Are there differences between what traditional public schools receive and what charter schools receive?

Traditional public schools typically receive much more local funding than charter schools, whose funding stems proportionally more from the state and national governments. A great cost charter schools face is acquiring and maintaining facilities.

Please see our What is a Charter School page for more on the limited resources challenge and the Facilities focus area for resources on facilities.

If charter schools face a funding limit, how have they have expanded so rapidly?

Many charter schools must rely on private donors to operate. Charter school management organizations (CMOs) have set up charter school networks to help alleviate the fundraising process. Although still lacking when compared to traditional public schools, many states have vastly increased the amount of public funds going to charter school over the last decade.

Please see our dedicated page on Funding Resources or Funding Opportunities for more information.

What about extracurricular activities?

Considering their facilities limitations, some of even the most successful CMOs oversee charter schools that lack extracurricular opportunities for their students. Charter schools often focus on academics more than traditional schools due to the achievement gaps in their student populations. However, if the charter school is close to funding parity with traditional schools in its state, they may host a great diversity of extracurricular options. As with everything in the charter school sector, there is an immense amount of diversity when it comes to charter schools and extracurricular activities. Some charter schools use the flexibility of their charter to focus exclusively on items like architecture or music.

Please see the Operations and Compliance focus area for resources on extracurricular activities.

How do I find a charter school in my state?

How do I find a charter school in my state?

For information about public charter schools in your area, visit our State Connections page to browse by state. There, you will find additional information and a complete list of authorized charter schools in your state and district.

In New York City, some examples of charter school networks are Achievement First, Success Academy, and Uncommon Schools.

In Washington D.C., charter schools include DC Prep, Capital City Public Charter School, and Two Rivers. Please see this case study about how Two Rivers is successfully serving students with disabilities.

In Los Angeles, some successful charter school networks are KIPP, Celerity Schools, and Camino Nuevo Charter Academy.

In New Orleans, some examples of charter schools are Algiers Charter Schools, Lusher Charter School, and Audubon Charter School.

How are charter schools evaluated?

How do charter schools choose their performance goals?

Charter schools and their authorizers must agree on student academic achievement goals before opening the school(s). These goals are written in the schools’ contract, or charter, in partnership with the authorizer.

What assessments are used to evaluate the performance of charters?

In the charter contract, the schools and authorizer identify how the schools will assess student performance. Charter schools were created to provide an alternative to traditional public schools, resulting in independent curriculum and assessment design. Please contact your local school for specific assessment information.

Are teachers evaluated at charter schools?

Under federal law, all teachers must meet state certification and licensure requirements. Certification and evaluation requirements will differ across states.

Please see the What is a Charter School page for more information on teacher quality.

Do charters school students have to take the state standardized tests?

In the school contract, charter schools and authorizers agree on how the student academic performance level will be measured. These assessments may include state standardized tests, or they may be other evaluation methods. Please contact your local school for specific information regarding student assessments.

How often are charter schools evaluated?

Charter schools must be evaluated at least annually and publish their reports with their authorizing organization. The charter school performance and financial goals are evaluated using the agreed goals established in the schools charter. Charters are typically up for renewal every 3-5 years depending on state laws.

Can a charter school change their performance or financial goals in their charter?

When an initial charter is created between a school and an authorizer, a time limit for renewal is given; usually 3-5 years. During the renewal time, the school contract may be revised or renegotiated by either party. Additionally, authorizers may provide specific goals to struggling schools in an attempt to show satisfactory growth towards sustainable practices.

Who is responsible for evaluating a charter school?

The charter school authorizer organization, whether it be a district, state, or another entity handles evaluating the school's performance annually. Charters have a high level of accountability and as such, are subject to closure if they are not meeting the prescribed terms of the school and authorizer contract.

Can charter schools be evaluated by parents?

While there is no formal evaluation protocol for parent feedback, charter schools are open. Parents have the opportunity to share their opinions and history with the school and may withdraw their children if they are not satisfied with the school’s performance. Charter schools were created to provide school choice to parents, and as such, a critical element to their success is based on enrollment of students by their parents.

How to start a charter school?

How to start a charter school?

Parents, community leaders, teachers, school districts, educational entrepreneurs, and municipalities can submit a charter school application to one of their state's charter authorizing entities to establish a charter school. The application will have to specify who will be on the governing board and nearly all states require the governing board to operate as a nonprofit entity. The application process and requirements differ according to state charter laws.

Please see the Opening and Expanding focus area for resources and publications on how to start a charter school.