Free, Public, and Open to All
Charter schools are public schools that allow families to choose an educational option that best fits the needs of their child. There is never a cost to attend, and they are open to all students regardless of their school zoning. Charter schools offer the flexibility for teachers to provide innovative, high-quality instruction and to design classrooms personalized for students. These unique public schools are guided by leaders who have the flexibility to try new ideas and create a school culture that mirrors and supports the surrounding community. Charter schools must meet performance standards and are held accountable by their communities and authorizers.
Charter schools are among the nation’s highest performing public schools. Data from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes shows charter school students outpace their peers who attend other types of public schools in Reading and Math. For more stats, check out the FAQs below.
What makes a charter school different from any other public school?
“My son’s charter school fostered his curiosity and helped him not merely survive school, but thrive in it. All children should have access to that kind of education.”
– Jessica Rodriguez, Charter School Parent
Advancing Charter Schools
The Charter Schools Program (CSP) is the nation’s only source of dedicated federal funding for the creation, replication, and expansion of public charter schools. For more than 25 years, the CSP has provided states, charter school founders and charter school networks with resources to help ensure every child can access high-quality education at a public school.
Frequently Asked Questions About Charter Schools
Public charter schools currently serve 3.7 million students in roughly 7,800 schools and campuses. In the 2020-21 school year, charter schools enrolled 7.5% of all public school students in America.
Since the 2005-06 school year, the number of charter schools and campuses has more than doubled, while charter school enrollment has more than tripled. Learn more about charter schools in your state here.
According to the most recently available data (2020-21 school year), nearly 70% of charter school students are students of color, compared to 53% of district school students.
Black and Hispanic students made up 60% of the charter school population during the 2019-20 school year.
Charter schools consistently served a higher proportion of students who receive free and reduced-price lunch from 2005 to 2021.
For state-by-state breakdowns of district and charter school demographics in the most recent available school year, please see the National Alliance’s data dashboard.
Charter schools are funded by public dollars, the same as any other public school; however, they generally receive fewer dollars per pupil than district schools. Though there are year-to-year fluctuations, the average charter school receives 80 cents for every dollar the average district school receives.
In the most recent year of available data (2018-19 school year), the average charter school received approximately $3,064 less per student than the average district school. Per-pupil funding in charter schools is less than per-pupil funding in 25 of the 27 states for which we have data. Learn more at data.publiccharters.org.
Most charter schools (65%) are freestanding, meaning the school is self- managed. The remaining 35% of charter schools contract with external organizations for management-related services such as staffing, curriculum, services for students with disabilities, facilities, and back-office support. Management structures and the relationships these external partners have with their schools vary considerably. In some cases, the management organizations provide limited services; in other cases, they may provide nearly all management-related services and directly hire educational staff.
The two types of management organizations are nonprofit charter management organizations (CMOs) and education management organizations (EMOs). CMOs account for 26% of charter schools nationwide, while EMOs manage 9% of charter schools. Learn more at data.publiccharters.org.
Charter schools are allowed to operate by “authorizers.” Approximately 48% of charter schools are authorized by school districts (local educational agencies or LEAs). Lawmakers give authorizers the authority to approve, oversee, and renew charter schools. Authorizers are typically public agencies, such as local school districts and state departments of education. In some states, however, other governmental agencies (like a city or mayor’s office) might fulfill this role. Colleges and universities, independent charter boards (ICBs), and/or non-profit organizations might be given authorizing ability as well.
Authorizers decide whether or not a school may open, what standards must be met for it to remain open, and have the power to determine if a school must close. Charter schools must demonstrate success in order to retain and renew their charter, and authorizers hold these schools to the same (or often higher) accountability standards as their district-run peers. The National Alliance’s model law recommends multiple authorizers in every state; however, to date, 14 states only offer one authorizing option, and eight only allow LEAs to authorize charter schools. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers defines which types of authorizers are allowed and operating in each state in their helpful resource Authorizer Types Across the Country.
Charter schools can be started by any interested party, including parents, community members, and teachers. It is common to see charter schools led by former teachers who wanted to take the lessons they learned in the classroom and scale them to an entire school community.
It is helpful to first identify a unique need in the community that the charter school would serve and connect with a local charter school authorizer. You can learn more about the charter school authorizers in your state on the National Association of Charter School Authorizers website.