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Parents & Family Charter School Resources | National Alliance

Parents & Families

Looking to Enroll Your Child in a Charter School?

Charter Schools are public schools

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. 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. Students are centered in their own learning and parents are there every step of the way.

Real Talk, Real Parents

Adela Rivera, New Mexico

“I found public charter schools because I have an autistic son that required a different type of learning. I was very, very, very grateful to find Roots and Wings Charter School and he just thrived and learned and blossomed so wonderfully.”

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#BackOff Parent Rally, Washington D.C.

“I want my seat at the table, and my seat is at the charter table, where my child is not a number, but a person that is valued educationally and socially. My child’s school cares and they go the extra mile for all our families.”

“Having variety, having options, knowing that there’s a school system that meets a kid where they are is so compelling.”

Charter Schools 101

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Did you know?

The first public charter school opened in 1992, only one year after the enactment of the 1991 Omnibus K-12 Education Finance Bill.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Charter Schools

Public charter schools currently serve more than 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 (2019-20 school year), nearly 70% of charter school students are Black or Brown,  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—including the highest proportion of Hispanic students (35%) the charter movement has seen in the previous 11 years.

Charter schools consistently served a higher proportion of students who receive free and reduced-price lunch from 2009 to 2020.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 75 cents for every dollar the average district school receives. 

In the most recent year of available data (2017-18 school year), the average charter school received approximately $2,730 less per student than the average district school. Per-pupil funding in charter schools is less than per-pupil funding in 24 of the 27 states for which we have data. Learn more at data.publiccharters.org

Most charter schools (62%) are freestanding, meaning the school is self- managed. The remaining 38% 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 29% 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.

Do charter schools take money from public schools?

No. Charter schools are public schools. They are unique public schools that are independently operated and are still part of the public education ecosystem, rather than entities that divert funding from this ecosystem. Public schools—both district and charter—have three primary sources of funding: federal, state, and local. Please see the National Alliance’s data dashboard for more information: data.publiccharters.org.

How does a child qualify for enrollment at a charter school?

Charter schools do not have admission requirements or entrance exams. Most charter schools have an enrollment period when parents can submit applications for the school. If there are more applications submitted than seats available, they will hold a randomized blind lottery to determine which students are admitted or may preference students by need or location.

Are charter schools better than other public schools?

There are exceptional public schools of both types–district and charter. Charter schools provide a high-quality education option to public school students whose families are looking for something different, while upholding high standards that meet and often exceed district or state requirements. Each of the more than 7,700 charter schools is unique—both inside and out. Some may focus on college prep, some follow a Montessori curriculum, and others integrate the arts into each subject.

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Learn more about public education options
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