Charter schools are alternative public schools that are tuition-free and open to students outside their local districts.  According to the National Alliance for  Public Charter Schools, “The charter school model empowers teachers to provide innovative, high-quality instruction and gives them the autonomy to design a classroom that fits their students’ needs.” A recent article in realcleareduction.com  defines these as independent schools based on the principles of choice, competition, and innovation. 

Charter boards report to “authorizers” such as non-profit organizations, government agencies or universities that develop the charters.  Charter schools have an open enrollment policy, but they have an admissions threshold. According to the Federal Register,  charter schools  “disproportionately serve low-income students and students of color, and have a proven track record of serving these children better than neighboring public schools.”  

The charter school movement had been a bi-partisan project at  its inception. In fact, Albert Shanker, who was the president of the American Federation of Teachers, first introduced the concept of charter schools in 1988. Three years later, the first charter school became a reality. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the charter school movement, which now numbers over 7500, serving over 3 million students in 44 states and several US territories. 

Charter schools are as varied as the communities they serve.  But generally, they differ from district public schools in several ways.They admit students regardless of the public school district in which the student resides as long as the parents can provide transportation. If demand exceeds availability, then the school uses a lottery system for admissions.  Unlike public schools, charters  do not  receive federal funding. Instead they  rely on state taxes, grants, awards, and donations.Although charter schools are accountable to their governing boards, they are more flexible because they are “exempted from at least some or even all the state, local, and federal laws that govern public schools.”

Charter schools do not provide as many electives as public schools, as the schools themselves are considered elective.  How effective are charter schools when compared to the public schools? That is the topic for a subsequent article.