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Charter schools are independent public schools with rigorous curriculum programs and unique educational approaches. In exchange for operational freedom and flexibility, charter schools are subject to higher levels of accountability than traditional public schools. Charter schools, which are tuition-free and open to all students, offer quality and choice in the public education system.

The "charter" establishing each such school is a contract detailing the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. In California, charters are granted for five years. At the end of the term, the entity granting the charter ("authorizer") may renew the school's contract. Charter schools are accountable to their authorizer, and to the students and families they serve, to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract.

Like traditional public schools, charters receive state funding based on a formula for each child enrolled in the school. Many charters also do additional fundraising to obtain grants and donations to pay for programs that are not fully funded by state or school district formulas.

When lawmakers passed the Charter Schools Act of 1992, California became the second state in the country (after Minnesota) to enact charter school legislation. The intent was to allow groups of educators, community members, parents, or others to create an alternative type of public school.

The Charter Schools Act of 1992 states:

It is the intent of the Legislature...to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure, as a method to accomplish all of the following:

(a) Improve pupil learning.

(b) Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.

(c) Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods.

(d) Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.

(e) Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system.

(f) Hold the schools established under this part accountable for meeting measurable pupil outcomes, and provide the schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.

(g) Provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools. Ed. Code §47601(a)-(g).

Today, California is at the leading edge of the innovative and fast-growing public charter school movement, with 1.063+ schools, serving more than 484,000 public school students.