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Charter Schools

Education is a journey. For many learners and their families, the decision of where to attend school is critical. Within the realm of public education, there's an option known as charter schools. A charter school is an independently operated school. Many parents opt to send their children to charter schools.

Charter schools generally have more operational flexibility than public schools. This is in exchange for heightened performance accountability. Contracts, or charters, create charter schools. Local or state educational agencies must approve the charter first. Once the school is built, the state will review charter schools every year.

Charter schools have two checks that ensure high performance. First, the state monitors academic performance. If the state determines the school fails to meet these goals, the state can revoke the charter. Second, if parents are dissatisfied with the school's performance they can enroll their child elsewhere.

This article dives into charter schools in the United States.

A Brief Overview and History of Charter Schools

Charter schools have become an integral part of the American educational landscape since their inception in the early 1990s. These schools are rooted in the idea of giving schools more autonomy. Charter schools provide an educational option separate from traditional public schools. Each school operates under a charter, also called a contract, granted by authorizers. This may be a school board or a State Board of Education.

Charter school laws vary by state. These laws permit these institutions to operate with more flexibility. There is greater flexibility in their curriculum and management. Today, there are charter institutions serving students from elementary through high school. The number of charter schools has grown. Charter school students often have access to unique and specialized programs that are not always available in mainstream schools.

Educational agencies and providers collaborate with each other. They work to ensure these schools offer diverse and innovative curriculums. School administrators in charter institutions have the liberty to tailor education methods. They can relate them more closely to their student demographics, but they remain accountable to their states' standards and testing. State funding typically supports charter schools, but the amount of funding can vary based on enrollment or other factors.

Charter schools can be public or private. Taxpayers fund public charter schools. These schools must adhere to certain state regulations. Private charter schools operate without state funding. They have greater leeway in their operations. Read more about privatized charter schools below.

How Is a Charter School Formed?

To start a new charter school, a group of educators, parents, or community leaders must first submit a charter application to an authorizer. This application outlines their plan for the school's academic program. It also provides the governing board structure and grade levels they wish to serve. The application addresses any other key details as well. If the charter is approved, the school can begin its start-up process and open its doors for the school year.

Each year, the charter school provides an annual report that shows its academic performance, enrollment numbers, and expenditures. This report creates an accountability system for these schools. Charter schools must adhere to state laws and amendments while also abiding by federal laws under the United States Code (U.S.C.). For example, charter schools must abide by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which means they must accommodate students with special needs.

The exact process for forming a charter school varies by state. First, the state in which you live must allow charter schools. Some states have specific application processes, while others have more free-form petitions to the State Department of Education. Check with your state's Department of Education to learn more.

Pros of Charter School

There are several pros of charter schools:

  • School Choice: Charter schools offer more school choice for families. They provide various educational options tailored to different learners.
  • Accountability: Charter schools have clear performance goals. They face the risk of revocation or non-renewal if they don't meet those goals. The state monitors these schools, so they have little room to do poorly.
  • Innovation: These schools often have the freedom to experiment with new teaching methods or curricula. Some argue the rules and regulations of public school districts can cripple innovation and that students may be uninspired in their education programs. They allege that charter schools combat this lack of inspiration in education programs.
  • Diversity: Charter schools can focus on specific student populations. For example, a school might focus on students with disabilities. These schools will ensure that these students receive high-quality education services.

Cons of Charter School

Opponents of charter schools say they are private schools disguised as public schools. They claim the cons of charter schools include:

  • Limited Space: There may not be enough enrollment slots. Due to their popularity, some charter schools might have limited availability. This can lead to a lottery system.
  • Variability: Not all charter schools offer high-quality education. Some may underperform traditional public schools.
  • Facility Issues: Some charter schools struggle with acquiring or maintaining school facilities. This is because they don't always receive the same level of public funds or federal funds.
  • Concerns About Special Education: Charter schools must abide by the same federal civil rights and special education laws as all other schools. There is debate about whether all charter school programs adequately serve students with disabilities.

Some also argue that charter schools negatively impact the quality of traditional public schools. This is because students leave public schools to attend charter schools. State funding typically follows these students since it is based on enrollment numbers.

This means traditional public schools can experience a decrease in funding as students move to charter schools. High-performing students may also leave public schools to attend charter schools instead.

What Does It Mean When a School Is Privatized?

A privatized school is not funded with public funds. These schools operate like private institutions, relying on tuition fees or private donations to function. Unlike public charter schools or traditional public schools, these institutions are not bound by many of the state or federal regulations. However, they must still adhere to certain statutory requirements and civil rights laws.

Finding a Good Charter School

Finding a high-quality charter school is essential for ensuring a robust educational experience for students. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Look at state resources: All states have a Department of Education website or section dedicated to charter schools. This can be a rich source of information. It can include helpful information about school rankings and performance reports.
  • Research local recommendations: Speak to local parents and educators. They can provide firsthand insights into the charter schools they're familiar with.
  • Visit the schools: If possible, visit possible charter schools. You can observe the environment and ask questions. You can also meet the staff. This can provide a clearer picture of the school's quality.
  • Review academic performance: Look at standardized test scores and graduation rates. Review college acceptance rates. These may not be indicators of a school's quality, but they can certainly provide some helpful insights.
  • Look into the charter school's special programs: You might consider a charter school because of its programs. Some charter schools have specific educational programs or focuses that might appeal to you and your child. Check if these align with your child's interests or educational needs.

Choosing the right school for your child can be complex. For more information, check out this article on Choosing a School, and this section on Compulsory Education.

Getting Legal Help With Choosing a School

If you're facing challenges with admissions policies, eligibility concerns, or any other legal problems, seeking help from a legal professional is wise. A knowledgeable lawyer can guide you through the local school board processes and ensure your child's rights are upheld.

Talk to an experienced education law attorney about your legal issue today.

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