- what they are
- the landscape today
- pros and cons
Charters - What They Are
Charter schools are K-12 schools that are public schools receiving state education dollars (although they can, like regular public schools, accept private donations). The difference between regular and charter schools is that charters are do not have to follow all rules and regulations that apply to regular public schools. In exchange for this freedom, the charter law in their state asks for some type of accountability measures and outcomes as set by the school’s charter. However, they do have to meet the educational standards of the state or district in which they are located.
Charter law dictates what governmental entity they are accountable to and who authorizes their charter. Charters usually have a “sponsor” which is generally a local school board, state education agency, university or other entity.
Depending on charter law, a charter school can be opened by anyone, an individual or a non-profit/ for-profit organization. They cannot charge tuition. They do have to take state tests although they are usually exempt from other testing (like district testing). The general length of time for a charter varies but is usually between 3-5 years.
Their enrollment is open to all (although I have not been able to ascertain if you must live in the city they are situated in to apply - I think this is the case). If the school is oversubscribed, then a lottery is held.
Charters tend to be smaller schools, usually less than 200-300 students and exist largely in urban areas. Charters tend to be more racially diverse than regular public schools and to enroll slightly fewer special needs/ELL students than the average school in their area. They are overwhelmingly non-unionized (but the trend seems to be going towards some kind of unionization).
Where do they get their money? From WikipediA:
In many states, charter schools are funded by transferring per-pupil state aid from the school district where the charter school student resides. Charters are, on average, receiving less money per-pupil than the corresponding public schools in their areas. Though the average figure is controversial because some charter schools do not enroll an equal number of students that require significant special education or student support services. Additionally, some charters are not required to provide transportation, and nutrition services.
Charter schools receive about 22 percent less in per-pupil public funding than the district schools that surround them, a difference of about $1,800. The report suggests that the primary driver of the district-charter funding gap is charter schools’ lack of access to local and capital funding.
Meaning, charters are not able to access local levy funding, either for operations or capital use. The issue of facilities is quite large for charters as they must pay for facilities as well as the educational needs of the students they serve. There has been a move in several states to try to allow charters to access to local funding.
Just to be clear, there is one pot of state education money and districts receive their share based on their enrollment. Money follows the student. If the student leaves a regular public school, the state money follows him/her to the charter school.