Charter schools provide a measure of choice for parents who are unhappy with their children’s education choices, yet do not live in a community that offers a voucher program. Understanding the way in which they are governed will help parents decide if a charter school is the right way for their children to learn.
Charter schools do not operate under the control of the local school board or district. Instead, they have their own boards of education and can operate completely independently. This means parents who are unhappy with the way the traditional educators and administrators choose to educate their children can choose a charter school for a completely new take on schooling.
Most institutions of this type have some sort of sponsor, however, which may be a local educational board. They are somewhat accountable to this sponsor, and must show positive academic results while sticking to their charter contract in order to keep operating independently of the local district. This accountability buys them the right to act with autonomy outside of the demands of the school district.
Typically, the start of this type of institution involves a group of parents or others who are concerned with the quality of local schools coming together to create one. This sponsoring group will create a contract that outlines their goals and the methods they will use to reach those goals. Then, they will petition the local educational board for the right to open. The contract they create becomes their charter, and if the local board grants it, they must abide by its guidelines.
Whatever entity keeps the charter school accountable to sticking with its charter and providing a positive education outcome has the right to revoke the charter and, in effect, close the place. The charter will be revisited on a regular basis, typically every three to five years. In most situations, non-traditional techniques and models will be used to teach the students, so this accountability is important to ensure that students are, in fact, learning all they need to know.
One of the main factors that makes this different from private institutions is the way in which it is funded. The state department of education funds their operation just as it would a traditional public school. Funding is based on enrollment and the educational institution receives the same amount a traditional school would receive, minus a small percentage retained by the district for administrative costs. So in other words, its funding comes from tax dollars. It does not charge any tuition to its parents. This makes it accessible to all in a district, not just those who can afford to pay any potentially exorbitant tuition fees.
Because they are public in nature, charter schools may not charge any tuition, teach religion, or discriminate against a student because of their national origin, disability, ethnicity, or gender. Enrollment policies will be outlined in the school’s charter, and must be adhered to so that the equal access to education is available for all qualified applicants.