Frequently Asked Questions

What is a charter school authorizer? What does it do?

What is a charter school authorizer? What does it do?

Charter school authorizers are responsible for deciding which charter applicants are approved and for overseeing the school after it is approved. Depending on state law, authorizers can be local school districts, the State Education Agency or the state Commissioner of Education, a specialized charter board created specifically to serve as an authorizer, a higher education institution, or non-profit organization.

In addition to deciding whether to grant a charter, the authorizer also enters into the charter contract with the approved school and monitors the school. At the end of the charter school’s term, the authorizer decides whether to renew the schools charter for a new term or close the school.

What is a charter school?

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school that is independently run. It receives greater flexibility over operations in exchange for increased performance accountability. The school is established by a “charter," which is a performance contract describing key elements of the school. The charter contract describes things like the school’s mission, instructional program, governance, personnel, finance, plans for student enrollment, and how all these are measured.

State laws and charter contracts provide schools with autonomy over curriculum, personnel, budget, and schedule. Charter schools are schools of choice, meaning students are not assigned to the school because of where they live, families must choose to enroll their child in a charter school.

As public schools, charter schools are prohibited from charging tuitionhey must not be religious in their operation or affiliation. In most cases, charter admissions are determined by lottery when there are more applications than seats. Charter schools are not exempt from federal laws that cover students’ rights or safety, including special education and other civil rights protections. They are also subject to state accountability systems and their students must take required state tests.

In exchange for this autonomy, charters are subject to periodic performance reviews and may be closed for failing to meet agreed-upon outcomes. Charter schools receive public funding based on the number of students they enroll. In general, charter schools receive less funding than traditional public schools in the local area.

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What is a charter management organization?

What is a charter management organization?

Charter management organizations (CMOs) are non-profit organizations that run more than one charter school. CMOs operate in several ways. In some cases, a separate non-profit organization or group of parents apply for a charter school. This group becomes the charter holder, and they then contract with the CMO to run their school on a day-to-day basis. In other cases, the CMO applies for a charter itself and receives its charter contract directly from the charter school authorizer.

How do you start a charter school? And who can start one?

How do you start a charter school? And who can start one?

State charter school law determines who can apply for a charter school. Generally, teachers and school leaders, parents, community leaders, and non-profit organizations can apply for a charter to one of their state's charter authorizers. Nearly all states require the charters governing board to operate as a nonprofit entity. The application process and requirements differ according to state charter laws and authorizer practices.

Can charter schools charge tuition or fees?

Can charter schools charge tuition or fees?

As public schools, charter schools may not charge tuition. They are allowed to charge fees that are similar to fees that traditional public school charge to families.

What is the history of charter schools?

What is the history of charter schools?

The charter school movement has roots in several other education reform ideas, from alternative schools to site-based management, magnet schools, public school choice, privatization, and community-parental empowerment.

In 1991, Minnesota passed the first charter school law, with California following suit in 1992. By 1995, 19 states had signed laws allowing for the creation of charter schools, and by 2018 that number increased to 44 states and the District of Columbia. Since 1994, the U.S. Department of Education has provided grants to support states’ charter school efforts through the Charter Schools Program (CSP).

Since those first grants, the federal government has spent nearly $4 billion in support of charter schools. These funds have mostly been dispersed to state education agencies that pass along the funds to charter schools to meet start-up costs.