What is a charter school?

A charter school?! Sounds exciting. But what are they?

Charter schools are free, public schools that offer parents more choice in their child’s education. Charter schools have the freedom to operate with autonomy, but with that comes an increased level of accountability for showing students are successful. Charter schools mainly receive funding from the state and federal government, but often need to raise additional funds to support their educational program. (Have you noticed us bugging you to donate to our school?)

We noticed the Q & A below from another charter school’s website, and know you’ll find it helpful, too! 

What is a charter school?
A charter school is an independent public school that operates independently of the district board of education. In effect, a charter school is a one-school public school district. A group of people — educators, parents, community leaders, educational entrepreneurs or others — write the charter plan describing the school’s guiding principles, governance structure, and applicable accountability measures. If the state approves the charter, the state funds the charter on a per pupil basis. In most cases charter schools operate under a clear agreement between the state and the school: increased autonomy in exchange for increased accountability. Because they are schools of choice, they are held to the highest level of accountability — consumer demand.*
Why are charter schools so popular?
Proponents believe charter schools provide better opportunities for child-centered education and more educational choices for their children. Operators have the opportunity and the incentive to create schools that provide new and better services to students. And charters, bound by the high standards they have set for themselves, inspire the rest of the system to work harder and be more responsive to the needs of the children.*
Do charter schools work?
Every charter is different, and may of them are new. But their general success is consistent. An August 2001 report from the Center for Education Reform found that in 65 research studies done on charter schools, 61 found that charters overall provided innovative, accountable and successful. To read CER’s 2003 summary of charter school research findings—overwhelmingly supporting the viability and success of charters—see What the Research Reveals About Charter Schools.*
How do charter schools differ from traditional public schools?
Charter schools operate from 3 basic principles:

Accountability: Charter schools are held accountable for how well they educate children in a safe and responsible environment, not for compliance with district and state regulations. They are judged on how well they meet the student achievement goals established by their charter, and how well they manage the fiscal and operational responsibilities entrusted to them. Charter schools must operate lawfully and responsibly, with the highest regard for equity and excellence. If they fail to deliver, they are closed.

Choice: Parents, teachers, community groups, organizations, or individuals interested in creating a additional educational opportunities for children can start charter schools. Local and state school boards, colleges and universities, and other community agencies can sponsor them. Students choose to attend, and teachers choose to teach at charter schools.

Autonomy: Charter schools are freed from the traditional bureaucracy and regulations that some feel divert a school’s energy and resources toward compliance rather than excellence. Proponents of charter schools argue that instead of jumping through procedural hoops and over paperwork hurdles, educators can focus on setting and reaching high academic standards for their students.*

What is the difference between charter schools and private voucher schools?
Voucher plans allow parents to use their tax dollars that would otherwise be used to educate their child in a public school and apply those dollars towards tuition at a private or religious school. These schools may charge some amount beyond the voucher and may not have to accept all applicants, depending on the voucher program guidelines. Charter schools, on the other hand, are public schools that allow parents to exercise an option to have their child educated at a school outside of the traditional district system. Charter schools must accept all students on first come-first served basis or by lottery and cannot charge tuition.*
Do charter schools take money from public schools?
Charter schools are public schools. When a child leaves for a charter school the money follows that child. Proponents say this benefits the public school system by instilling a sense of accountability into the system regarding its services to the student and parents and its fiscal obligations. For more information on common misconceptions surrounding charter schools, see CHARTER SCHOOLS: Six Common Criticisms from Opponents—and Proof That They are Unfounded.*
* “Closing the Achievement Gap.” PBS.org. 04 Aug 2009. PBS. 4 Aug 2009 <http://www.pbs.org/closingtheachievementgap/faq.html#q1>.

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