What are charter schools?

1.       Charter schools are public schools of choice.

2.       Charter schools are nonsectarian.

3.       Charter schools are tuition-free.

4.       Charter schools operate under the terms of a "charter" that sets forth the school's mission, program, goals, and ways to measure success.

5.       In California, charters are granted by local school districts for an initial period of up to 5 years, after which they may be renewed.

6.       Charter schools are financed in part by the state and exercise increased autonomy in return for accountability in both academic results and fiscal practices.

Why were charter schools created?

Charter schools were created by the State of California to:

1.     Increase opportunities for learning and access to quality education for all students

2.     Create choice for parents and students within the public-school system

3.     Provide a system of accountability for results in public education

4.     Encourage innovative teaching practices

5.     Create new professional opportunities for teachers

6.     Encourage community and parent involvement in public education

7.     Leverage improved public education broadly

Are charter schools held academically accountable?

Charter public schools, unlike traditional public schools, are academically accountable in two ways. 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. 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 must be renewed at least 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. Charter school advocates encourage rigorous academic accountability so that chronically underperforming charter schools are closed, and higher performing charter schools can help even greater numbers of students achieve academic success.

Do charter school teachers need to have credentials?

Like all traditional public schools in California, charter schools are required to hire credentialed teachers for core and college preparatory subjects.

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 all students, including those 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.

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 a Memorandum of Understanding (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 school'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 school 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.

Are there admission requirements for a charter school?

Charter schools are open to ALL children and they are committed to serving a student body that reflects the local community. Enrollment figures show that charter school students are just as diverse (racially and economically) as students who attend traditional public schools.

By law, charter schools cannot have admission processes that unlawfully discriminate against students. Charter schools accept all students who want to attend. If there are more students who want to attend than there are seats available, a charter school will use a process to randomly select students, oftentimes a lottery system.

Does it matter where I live?

As schools of choice, all charter schools are open to any student who wishes to apply, regardless of where they live, 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 waitlists and may admit more students from the waitlist as spots become available.

 Are parents required to volunteer?

No. While parental involvement is a critical factor to student success, a charter school may not require parental involvement as a condition of enrollment. No student may be punished or lose their place at a school based on a parent's volunteer hours. It is neither legal nor appropriate for a student to be excluded from a charter school or a school activity because their parent did not volunteer or 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), and thus are subject to the state's collective bargaining laws. The decision to unionize is made at the local level involving schools and their employees on a case by case basis.

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. As of 2015, it was estimated that 30% of charter schools in California have some form of collective bargaining agreement or representation.