"Charter schools are free public schools that are open to all students. A charter school gives parents the choice of sending their children to a school that uses innovative methods to provide a quality education in a small, responsive, learning environment. Charter schools operate under a charter agreement with their authorizer. They have a high degree of autonomy but also a high degree of accountability."
Idaho Charter School Website.
The above quote is one of the best definitions I have found for a charter school. Charter schools are free, public schools open to all students. That means no tuition is paid by parents for their student to attend. Charter schools operate on public funds for the state budget but at a lower percentage rate. Because they operate on the same funds as a standard public school, all teachers must meet sate certification requirements. All charter schools must also meet the same state graduation, testing, and accountability requirements that standard public schools do.
Charter schools cannot pick and choose their students, even if a student has a disability or learning disorder. A charter school, by law in Utah, has to hold a blind lottery; a student's name is put on a list and their name is randomly drawn out. If a student is not picked, their name goes on a waiting list until a spot is open.
Generally a charter school is founded on a specific teaching method or emphasis. The high school I worked for focused on science, math, and engineering; other schools in the area are based on the Spalding Method for reading. Due to the structure of curriculum in charter schools, they generally are more capable to make needed changes to meet students' curriculum needs. They also ten to be able to make those changes quicker than a standard district run public school due to their being small.
- Smaller sized schools. The school I worked for was capped at 300 students.
- Generally charter schools have a teaching method or an emphases on what they are about. Great for students with individualized interests.
- Generally more individualized time with teachers due to the smaller class sizes.
- More opportunities for parents to become involved.
- More accountable to parents due to parents being able to be more involved.
- Smaller budgets. Charter schools, in Utah, operate on 1/2 of the weighted pupil unit, or how much funding each school receives per student, than a standard public school.
- Not required to provide transportation to and from school.
- Not required to have an on site lunch program though most generally do.
- While required by State law, not all charter schools can meet the needs of special needs students. If you are looking at a charter school for a special needs student, MEET WITH THE PRINCIPAL ASAP! You will get a better feeling for their willingness to help that student succeed.