A charter school is a public school of choice that operates under the terms of a charter, or contract, with an authorizer, such as the state and local boards of education. Charter schools receive flexibility from certain state and local rules in exchange for a higher degree of accountability for raising student achievement. Charter schools are held accountable by their authorizer(s) for upholding the terms of their charter.
Yes. Charter schools are public schools. As such they receive public funding, cannot charge tuition, must have fair and open enrollment, must be secular, and are required to serve all student populations, including students with disabilities and English language learners.
Two words can help distinguish charter schools from traditional public schools: autonomy and flexibility. Charter schools are governed, not by a local board of education, but by an autonomous non-profit board of directors, and they receive flexibility from certain state and local rules and regulations in exchange for a higher level of accountability. Charter schools use this flexibility to implement innovative or unique programs, in order to provide educational options to parents and students that are not typically available in the traditional public schools.
A magnet or theme school is typically a school within a local school district that offers a certain instructional program. Many magnet or theme schools may have admissions criteria such as: test scores; teacher recommendations; or grades. Charter schools operate independently from the local district, and they are not allowed to have admissions criteria. For example, a charter school cannot require students to pass a test or have a certain grade point average in order to be admitted.
Charter schools are public schools of choice. Unlike private schools, they receive public funding, cannot charge tuition, and are not allowed to have admissions criteria. Also unlike private schools, charter schools are subject to many of the same state and all federal regulations as traditional public schools. For example, charter schools participate in the same statewide assessments and accountability measures as traditional public schools.
Charter schools, as public schools, must adhere to the same open admission and enrollment standards as traditional public schools. With the exception of certain allowable admissions preferences, charter schools may not select their students, nor deny admission to any applicant provided that there is space for that student within the school’s capacity.
Yes, charter schools define their own attendance zone within their contract. Enrollment preference is given to students who live within the charter school’s defined attendance zone. If seats are not filled after students within the attendance zone are admitted, the school may open up enrollment to any student living within the school district in which the charter school is located.
As part of their flexibility, charter schools have the ability to set an enrollment cap. Typically, a charter school may cap its enrollment as a reflection of its distinct educational program, or based on facilities limitations. If the number of applicants for a school exceeds the number of available spaces, the school is required to hold a random selection lottery. The lottery must be open to the public.
Charter schools are required to conduct a lottery when there are more timely filed applications for admission then there are seats. The lottery must be by random selection and the results must be validated for accuracy. The results of the lottery must be made public.