Charter schools have been a topic of discussion since their inception in 1992. From the first charter in Minnesota, these publicly-funded schools have grown to the point that today there are approximately 3.1 million students enrolled in 43 states. While polls on American attitudes towards education show wide support for these privately-run institutions, they also show that people do not understand charter schools. Nearly half of those interviewed believe that charters are allowed to teach religion, and they were also unaware that the schools are public. Over half of those interviewed believe that charter schools charge fees for tuition. With school choice becoming a foundation for the Trump administration’s education policy, it may be time to learn more about how these institutions are created, funded, and operated.
Charter schools and traditional schools are both publicly-funded. The difference between the two is how they are managed. Traditional public schools are centrally managed by a school board in charge of the district that the school is located in. Charters, on the other hand, are managed independently from the school district. This divides today’s public education system into two sectors.
State Regulated Charter Schools
The laws and regulations that charters operate under are determined by each individual state. They operate on limited contracts that are renewed based on specific performance criteria. Independence from the local school board allows charter schools the ability to control everything from their curriculum to the hours that they operate. Charters are also able to hire non-union teachers.
Each charter school is authorized by a local school board or non-profit entity, such as a university. No authorizer is permitted to be a for-profit organization. This governing body will evaluate charter school proposals that they receive in order to determine if the school should be established. Once a charter is created, they are given 3-5 years on average to become settled while under the supervision of the authorizer. After this time (and then every few years after), the school will come up for a review. At that time the authorizer will determine if the charter school should continue to operate or be shut down. This determination is usually based on finances, graduation rates, and test scores. Providing good oversight allows these schools to remain autonomous while still holding them accountable.
How Charter Schools Are Managed
Even though charter schools can be managed by a for-profit company, only one out of six schools are run to make money within the US. They are funded by local, state, and federal dollars in the same manner as traditional public schools are. Private donations are another important source of revenue. With that being said, charters receive an average of 30 percent less per pupil in a year than the traditional schools receive. This can be attributed to the lack of access to some traditional funding such as school construction bonds, as well as school district busing being unavailable for charter school students. Each state regulates the distribution of money to the school districts and individual schools.
Traditional schools are required to only take students from their own districts, while charter schools have to accept all students. Charters cannot pick the students that are enrolled. Over half of the students that enroll in charter schools come from low-income households in the inner city. This includes kids with disabilities and English language learners.
Idaho Charter Schools
The level of academics appears to be at a much higher standard at the majority of Charter Schools versus those of their public school counterparts. As an example, North Star Charter School of Eagle, Idaho consistently ranks in the top 5 for ACT and SAT scores, provides college preparation with the International Baccalaureate Program and offers, what some might call, a private school education. The low student to teacher ratio affords students ample one-on-one education at a higher academic level. It is clear that Charter Schools have a lot to offer communities beyond the traditional public school model.