Frequently Asked Questions
CCSA has compiled answers to frequently asked questions regarding charter schools and what they mean for students, educators, schools and communities. For more detailed information about charters, please visit our Advocacy section of the website.
Are charters public schools?
Charters schools are public schools. They are non-sectarian, tuition-free and open to any student who wishes to attend. Charter schools allow parents, organizations, or community groups to restore, reinvent, and reenergize our public school system. Choice is a powerful tool for parents seeking educational equity and equal access to quality education for their children.
How can I apply for a charter school? Are there admission requirements?
Charter schools are open to ALL children and they are committed to serving a student body that reflects the local community. Research evidence shows that charter school students are just as diverse (racially and economically) as non-charter students.
By law, charter schools cannot have admission processes that unlawfully discriminate against students; anyone can apply and, if more students want to attend than there are seats available, there is a lottery to determine who is admitted.
Does it matter where I live? What is the attendance boundary?
As schools of choice, all charter schools are open to any student who wants to apply, regardless of where he or she lives, space permitting. Independent Study or non-classroom based schools have some geographical limitations which permit them to enroll only students from the county where they are authorized, or from adjacent counties.
How does the lottery system work?
If a charter school receives more students than it has spots available, it is required by law to hold a lottery to determine which students will have the opportunity to attend. Many charter schools have wait lists and may admit more students from the waitlist as spots become available.
How is oversight provided to charter schools?
Charter schools must operate within the provisions of state and federal law. They must abide by health, safety and civil rights laws, and cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Charter governing bodies are often subject to various business regulations, such as ethical financial practices, and public body rules, such as open meeting laws. Charter schools also have oversight from their authorizers (the local school district, county office of education or State Board of Education). Authorizers review financial reports, have the authority to conduct audits, determine if the school is to be renewed at the end of the charter's term (usually every five years) and can revoke a charter for certain reasons within charter law if the school is not meeting the terms of its charter.
Do charter public schools take money away from public schools?
In California, public school funding follows the student, with the funding going to the public school the parents choose, including a charter school. When charter public schools are funded, there is no overall loss of public school money because charter schools are public schools. However, even with the funding "following the student" charter schools receive less funding for each student than a school district would if it were to serve the same student.
What types of educational programs do charters offer?
Every charter school is allowed the freedom to create its own educational methodology. Teachers, students, parents and administrators all have a say in the types of instructional methods, materials and academic programs the school offers. Charter school models include, but are not limited to: college preparation, dual language immersion, performing arts, math, science, technology and much, much more.
Why isn't our local charter school located in a traditional school building?
While school districts are required to provide adequate and equivalent facilities to eligible charter public schools under state law, districts vary in their compliance with this law. Many charter schools secure their own facilities, using public and private financing, or donations. In some cases, the charter school may build a full school campus from the ground up; in other areas, they may rent available space in churches, community centers or commercial buildings. Many charter schools choose to operate in a nontraditional facility because it may better serve the requirements of a unique program model.
Do charter school teachers have to have credentials?
In California, charter schools are required to hire credentialed teachers for core and college preparatory subjects just like all other public schools.
Are charter schools held academically accountable?
Charter schools, unlike traditional public schools, are academically accountable on two counts. They are held accountable by their authorizer and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter petition, they must define their academic goals In order to be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals.
Families make the choice to enroll their children in charter schools, and families can remove them if they are dissatisfied with the school. A charter school that neglects its academic duties will soon find that its enrollment has dwindled, and major changes may be necessary for the school to remain open.
California law gives charter schools autonomy and flexibility in exchange for increased accountability. Charter schools are reviewed for renewal every five years by the school district or authorizer to ensure they have good academic results, and that they are operating in a fiscally and operationally responsible manner. CCSA advocates for rigorous academic accountability so that underperforming schools are closed and more high performing charter schools can help ever greater numbers of students achieve academic success.
What programs do charter schools offer for students with special needs?
As public schools, charter schools are required to enroll and serve students with disabilities in the same manner as traditional public schools and in compliance with all applicable state and federal laws. In fact, because charter schools have more flexibility than traditional public schools, they are designed to offer innovative educational strategies and provide individualized support to meet the needs of students with disabilities and other unique challenges. In order to support students with special needs, charter schools will often tailor their educational program or create specialized programs.
However, a charter school's ability to do so largely depends on the nature of its special education arrangement with the authorizer. In California, a charter school may be part of an LEA (the authorizer) or may be an independent LEA for special education purposes. When a charter school is part of an LEA, the authorizer maintains responsibility for special education and retains full control over special education programs at the charter school site, unless an alternative arrangement is negotiated through an MOU. When a charter operates as its own LEA for special education purposes, it assumes full responsibility for special education, but also gains the funding and flexibility to design and implement innovative programs that align with the charter's mission and needs of its students.
Depending on a student's individual needs and the type of special education arrangement, offering appropriate special education services may result in the charter school working with a District program, a non-public school or agency, or another charter school to provide a level or type of service that is not available at the individual charter school site. Ultimately, the student's parents and representatives (the IEP team) make the final determination of the best educational option and services for the student.
Will I be required to volunteer?
While parental involvement is a critical key to student success, no student would ever be punished or lose their place at a school based on a parent's volunteer hours. Decisions about parental involvement often involve an agreement between parents, teachers, and administrators. It is not legal or appropriate for a student to be excluded from a school or a school activity because a parent failed to volunteer or to make a financial contribution to their school.
Are charter schools unionized?
Charter schools, like all public schools are subject to the Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA), thus are subject to the state's collective bargaining laws, ultimately, charter school employees determine if they would like to be represented by a union. For those charter schools that have collective bargaining units, some adapt the agreement of the local authorizer, while others negotiate separate agreements with employee groups.
Are charter schools run by for-profit corporations?
The majority of charter schools are operated by non-profit public benefit corporations. Many others are not incorporated but run by their school districts. There are a small number that are run by limited liability corporations. Regardless of how they are structured, they are subject to the laws governing all charter public schools. Essentially charters schools are public schools that must be non-sectarian, tuition-free and open to any student who wishes to attend. Their fiscal operations and compliance are overseen by their public entity authorizer.
For additional information
CCSA has produced a series of videos about charter schools. Watch our "Busting Charter School Myths" playlist.
Download a printable copy of the California Charter Schools Fact Sheet:
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From Our Blog
September 10, 2010
CCSA has compiled answers to frequently asked questions regarding charter schools and what they mean for students, educators, schools and communities.