Close this search box.

What is a charter school?

Charter schools are public schools that offer parents the opportunity to pick a school 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 make decisions close to the students, empowering teachers to provide innovative, high-quality instruction and giving them the autonomy to design a classroom that fits their students’ needs. Charter schools are led by principals who have the flexibility to create a school culture that best fits the needs and demands of their surrounding community. Charter schools are obligated to meet performance standards and are held accountable by their communities and authorizers.

Charter schools are part of the solution in public education.

Each of the 7,800 charter schools is uniqueboth inside and out. Some focus on college prep, some follow a STEM curriculum, and others integrate the arts into each subject. Most charter schools are located in cities, but there are charter schools in suburban and rural areas as well. Some charter schools require uniforms, others have longer school days, and some teach their entire curriculum in two languages. The possibilities are endless, but charter schools aim to provide a range of options so that parents can choose the public school that best fits their child.

Key attributes of charter schools

Always public schools.

Never a cost to attend.

Open to any student who wants to attend.

Accountable to state and national educational standards.

Schools have autonomy and flexibility with curriculum, staffing, culture and academic focus.

Provides a public school option for students beyond the school they are zoned to attend.

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

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

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.

Ready to make the move to charter schools?

Find a Charter School Near You

Find a Charter School in Your Neighborhood

Results Found

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.

Viewing Grade Level

Submit Your Charter School Listing

We’d love to get your charter school added to our map! Please submit the following details below and our team will verify listing. kindly expect a few days to get confirmed.

Email [email protected] for questions on status.

Use if an exact building location is needed. Use to find coordinates.

Enter your information to receive this list of charter schools directly in your inbox.

We found 21 results within 5 miles of
{Location to populate from the search field}.

# Physical Locations # Virtual Locations

We take privacy very seriously. We will not sell or share your information.with anybody.


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:

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.


You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website

trophy icon

Memorial Gifts

Contact Celia Hagerman at [email protected] or 202-600-8994.

trophy icon

Commemorative Gifts

Contact Celia Hagerman at [email protected] or 202-600-8994.


You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website


You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website


You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website


You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website


You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website


You are now leaving the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Website


Get the latest charter school updates straight to your inbox.

shapes icon

Wire Transfers

For questions regarding wire transfers, please email of call Celia Hagerman at [email protected] or 202-600-8994.

shapes icon

Gifts of Stock

For questions regarding stock, please email of call Celia Hagerman at [email protected] or 202-600-8994.

shapes icon

Matching Gifts

If you or your spouse work for a company that provides matching gifts, you can make an even bigger impact! To have your gift matched, you must submit your company’s completed matching gift form.

Please send all completed matching gift forms to:

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
800 Connecticut Ave. N.W. Suite 300
Washington, DC 20006.

If this donation will be potentially matched, please provide the company name.

Advocates Council

Contact Celia Hagerman at [email protected] or 202-600-8994.

calendar icon

Legacy Society

Contact Celia Hagerman at [email protected] or 202-600-8994 to learn more about the Legacy Society or for any other inquiries regarding planned giving.