What are charter schools?
Charter schools are public schools that are tuition-free and open to any student who wishes to attend. Charter schools are designed, tailored, and governed by each local community rather than a central bureaucracy.
Are charters public schools?
Yes, charter schools are tuition-free public schools that operate independently of the district's central bureaucracy. Each charter school is governed by its local school community, which often includes parents and teachers – rather than a district. This freedom allows teachers to be more innovative and communities to shape their local schools.
How can I apply to a charter school? Are there admission requirements?
Charter schools are open to ALL children and are committed to serving a student body that reflects the local community. Research shows charter school students are just as diverse (racially and economically) as non-charter students.
Charter schools can never have selective admissions; anyone can apply, and if more students want to attend, there are seats available; there is a lottery to determine who is admitted.
Does it matter where I live? What is the attendance boundary?
As schools of choice, all charter schools are open to any student who wants to apply, regardless of where they live, space permitting. Independent Study or non-classroom-based schools have some geographical limitations, such as only being open to students from a specific county.
How does the lottery system work?
Charter schools are open to all students who want to attend, regardless of where they live. If the school receives more student requests than it has spots available, it is required by law to hold a blind lottery to determine which students will have the opportunity to attend. Many charter schools have wait lists and may admit more students as spots become available.
Why isn't our local charter school located in a traditional school building?
Under state law, school districts must provide adequate and equivalent facilities to charter public schools, but communities vary in their compliance with this law. Many charter schools secure their facilities using state financing or donations. In some cases, charter schools may build an entire campus from the ground up; in other areas; they may rent available space in churches, community centers, or commercial buildings.
How are charter schools held accountable if the district is independent?
Charter schools are more accountable to parents and students than conventional schools. Because the parents, teachers govern them, and administrators that make up the local school community, charters are directly accountable to the community they serve. Local governance allows the school community freedom to innovate and make decisions based on the needs of its students. Additionally, charter schools are reviewed for renewal every five years by the school district or authorizer to ensure they have good academic results and are operating in a fiscally and operationally responsible manner.
Will I be required to volunteer?
While parental involvement is critical to student success, no student would ever be punished or lose his place at a school based on a parent's volunteer hours. Decisions about parental involvement often involve an agreement between parents, teachers, and administrators.
What types of educational programs do charters offer?
Teachers, students, parents, and administrators have a say in the types of instructional methods, materials, and academic programs the school offers. Charter school models include, but are not limited to, college preparation, bilingualism, performing arts, math, science, technology, and more.
What programs do charter schools offer for students with special needs?
Charter schools have more flexibility than traditional public schools, so they are uniquely situated to provide innovative, high-quality educational services. Because of this, charter schools are uniquely situated to provide innovative, high-quality educational services to students with special needs. Charter schools will often tailor their academic programs or create specialized programs to support students with special needs. Depending on a student's individual needs, offering appropriate special education services may result in the charter school working with a district program, a non-public school or agency, or another charter school to provide a level or type of service that is unavailable at the individual charter school site. Ultimately, in charter schools and other public schools, the student's parents and representatives make an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) to determine what is best for the student.
Are charter schools unionized?
Some charter schools have collective bargaining agreements; some adopt the understanding of the local school district, while others do not – this is a decision the school community makes as the charter school is developed. At charter schools, teachers and support staff are involved in the school's governing structure – so they have a direct voice in the operation and management of the program.
Do charter school teachers have to have credentials?
In California, charter schools are required to hire credentialed teachers for core and college preparatory subjects, just like all other public schools.
Can private corporations run charter schools?
In California, some charter schools may be operated as or by nonprofit corporations, but these schools are not privately "owned." Instead, they are more akin to private-public partnerships, where the nonprofit is held publicly accountable by many different state agencies. No matter how they are operated and governed, all California charter schools are part of the public school system– overseen by a school district, county office of education, or the state Board of Education.
Are charter schools accountable?
Public charter schools are highly regulated, have oversight from a local school district, and are required to prove that they are educating students and appropriately spending taxpayer dollars in their programs.
- Every five years, a charter school must present to a local school board, the County Office of Education, or the State Board of Education to detail their results. If the school is not fulfilling planned outcomes and objectives, the Governing Board can vote to close the school. This process does not apply to traditional public schools.
- That high level of accountability is also extended to parents whose children attend the public charter school. If students are not learning, parents can remove their children, and the school, by default, will close based on parents opting out of the program.
- Public charter schools offering an independent study format, like The Classical Academies, are annually required to report exactly how their revenue was expended and is needed to meet state-mandated thresholds for teacher salaries and benefits, student instruction, and the cost of managing the program. If defined thresholds are not met, the state will cut funding to the program resulting in a possible closure. This process does not apply to traditional public schools.
- Charter schools are required to have an annual independent financial and program audit. If financial irregularities or fraud is uncovered, the local school district, County Office of Education, or State Board overseeing the school can revoke the charter and close the school. In traditional districts, independent audits are performed every three years, and financial irregularity or fraud does not result in the closure of schools.
- A local school district, County Office of Education, or State Board overseeing the school closes public charter schools that are failing students academically or found to be fiscally unsound. By default, traditional schools that are academically failing are given more money in hopes of seeing the results changed.