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Charter Schools?

What is a charter school?


In short, a charter school is a public school that is privately governed by a board of professionals with a range of expertise. It is formed when the governing board applies for a school charter to an authorizer.

Authorizers come in many forms, and below is a list of some popular types:

  • The Local Education Agency’s (LEA) Board of Education
  • The State Education Agency’s (SEA) Board of Education
  • Statewide authorizing commission or an affiliate entity to the State
  • Governor’s office
  • Mayor’s office
  • Approved university and/or other higher ed institution
  • Various types of approved non-profits specializing in education

A charter school can be a direct part of the local LEA if authorized by that District, or it can be granted its own LEA status if authorized by a statewide entity. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

For instance, a charter school authorized by the local LEA usually can only enroll students living within that LEA’s boundaries, making it difficult to reach enrollment targets stated in its charter. Still, being authorized by a local LEA also relieves the charter school of many compliance issues, which the local District must continue to track. Local authorization could also expose the charter school to additional local revenue, which charter schools authorized by a statewide entity might not get.

Of course, a school that is its own LEA (it has been authorized by a statewide entity) can often recruit students from anywhere within the state, making enrollment targets easier to meet and also allowing a lot more flexibility to the charter school in terms of picking a site or building. But charter schools that are their own LEA are separate from the local District, and therefore responsible for their own operational policies, procedures, and compliance. It also means that the charter school will likely not benefit from local forms of revenue.

Although the bureaucratic restrictions of traditional public schools are not present in most chartered public schools, all chartered public schools are still held to a set of transparency and legal standards followed by all public schools in the state. Charter school teachers are paid with funds from federal, state, and local sources, its building can be funded likewise, and the school is held academically accountable to the same standards applicable to other public schools (e.g. Common Core Standards would apply to all public schools in any state that adopts them, even charter schools). If a charter school fails to meet the goals stated in its charter contract with the authorizer, the governing board’s charter is not renewed, or it is revoked early, and the school is either transferred over to another board or it is shut down.

While charter schools are considered public schools, there are a few major differences between charters and conventional public schools. A charter school can adopt its own curriculum, as long as it meets applicable state and federal standards. A charter school can require things like uniforms and parental involvement. Charters can choose their own vendors for food service, busing, safety, etc., they can issue their own bonds for facilities development, and they save money on construction by ignoring convoluted building code requirements. Such flexibility allows charter schools to build case-by-case budgets and individualized or thematic curricula that specialize in a way that conventional District schools do not.