Charter School

Charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school's charter.

The charter school movement in the United States began in 1988, when Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, called for the reform of the public schools by establishing "charter schools". As originally conceived, the ideal model of a charter school as a legally and financially autonomous public school (no tuition, religious affiliation, or selective student admissions) that would operate much like a private business - free from many state laws and district regulations, and accountable more for student outcomes rather than for processes or inputs (such as Carnegie Units and teacher certification requirements). However, opponents of charter schools suggest that this accountability is rarely exercised, and that the more lax requirements for charter schools result in fewer qualified teachers than at their traditional public counterparts.

Minnesota was the first state to pass a charter school law, in 1991. California was second, in 1992. By 1995 there were 19 states with charter school laws.

There are two principles which guide charter schools. First that they will operate as autonomous public schools. This is effected by gaining waivers from many of the procedural requirements of public schools. Second, that they will use innovative pedagogy. To justify their waivers and autonomy, they are supposed to produce results superior to non-charter schools. However, studies have shown that charter schools are rarely closed for poor academic performance.

The rules and structure of charter schools depend on state authorizing legislation, and differ from state to state. A charter school is authorized to function once it has received a charter, a statutorily defined performance contract detailing the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success.

The length of time for which charters are granted varies, but most are granted for 3-5 years. Charter schools are meant to be held accountable to their sponsor--a local school board, state education agency, university, or other entity--to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. Chartering authorities, authorities which may legally issue such charters, differ from state to state, as do bodies legally entitled to operate under such charters.

Often it is the State Board of Education which authorizes charters, as is the case in the State of Arkansas. In other states, local school district may be authorized to issue charters, such as in the State of Colorado. Charter initiating bodies, which intend to operate charter schools, may include local school districts, institutions of higher education, non-profit corporations, and for profit corporations. The States of Michigan and California allow for-profit corporations to operate charter schools. Some educators are concerned that for-profit charter schools are inherently flawed, as they divert part of the funding that in a traditional public school would be spent entirely on education to maintain profits.

For-profit charter schools rarely outperform traditional public schools, even when the charter receives higher funding. Charter school funding is dictated by the state. In many states, charter schools are funded by transferring per-pupil state aid from the school district where the charter school student resides. The Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Part B, Sections 502 - 511 also authorize funding grants for charter schools. Additionally, charter schools may receive funding from private donors or foundations.

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