To put it simply, a charter school is a public school that is run independently. This means that the school has complete autonomy over personnel, schedules, budget, and curriculum.
The school is created by a “charter”, which is a contract of performance that describes the defining elements of the school. A charter contract describes many features such as instructional programs, the school’s mission, plans for student enrollment, and more. As well, within the charter are also details about how all of these elements are measured.
Unlike a traditional public school, a charter school is a school of choice which means that it’s not a school that you are assigned to simply because you live in the school’s vicinity.
Parents can choose to enroll their child in a charter school. Since a charter school is still a public school, they are not allowed to charge tuition or discriminate in any way. Religion, race, sex, and class make no difference. In a majority of cases, a charter school’s admission is determined by a lottery due to the number of applications exceeding the number of available seats.
A charter school falls under federal law when it comes to a student’s rights and safety which include civil rights protection and even special education. The schools are also subject to the same state accountability systems that traditional public schools are which means that the students are still required to take all of the required state tests.
In exchange for a charter school’s autonomy, the school must undergo periodic performance reviews. If the school fails to meet the agreed-upon outcomes of performance, then the school may be closed upon review. Because a charter school receives public funding which is based on the number of students that it has in enrollment; the schools receive less funding than a regular public school in the local area.