FAQs About Charter Schools

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Charter schools are public schools that are operated by individuals or organizations from outside of the traditional school district system, such as St. HOPE Public Schools. Charter schools are free from many of the laws and regulations governing traditional public schools, allowing them to be more innovative in their educational programs, fiscal models, staffing, and governing structures.

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school usually created or organized by a group of teachers, parents and community leaders, or a community-based organization. It is usually sponsored by an existing local public school board or county board of education. Specific goals and operating procedures for the charter school are detailed in an agreement (or “charter”). Charter schools are generally exempt from most laws that apply to regular public schools, so administrators have considerable autonomy in designing an educational program, hiring faculty and staff, using facilities, and developing a budget that meets the needs of their students. In exchange for this increased autonomy, charter schools are held much more strictly accountable than most noncharter public schools. Charter schools must meet all the student performance and operational goals listed in their charter, or their charter may be revoked.

What is the purpose of a charter school?

The purpose of a charter school is to: (1) improve student learning; (2) increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for those identified as academically low achieving; (3) encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods; (4) create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site; (5) provide parents and students with expanded educational opportunities within the public school system without the constraints of traditional rules and structure; (6) provide schools a way to shift from rule-based to a performance-based system of accountability; and (7) provide competition within the public school system to stimulate improvements in all public schools.

What are the restrictions on the establishment of a charter school?

There are a few restrictions on the establishment of a charter school. The law expressly prohibits the conversion of private schools to public charter schools. A charter school must be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations. A charter school may not discriminate against any student, and may not charge tuition. In addition, the school’s charter must include a description of the school’s means for achieving a racial and ethnic balance among its students reflective of the general population residing in the district. Students may not be required to attend a charter school, nor may teachers be compelled to teach there.

Are charter schools part of the public school system?

Yes. Charter school law declares that charter schools are under the jurisdiction of the public school system.

How is a charter school funded?

In California , charter schools receive state and local funding in a per student allotment. This allotment is based on statewide averages, dependent on the grade level of the students. Many charter schools also receive state and federal funding through categorical programs such as Title I or class-size reduction. In addition, many charter schools apply for and receive funds from the federal charter schools grant program administered by the California Department of Education. Several charter schools also receive contributions from individuals and private foundations to support operations.

How is a charter school governed?

In California, some charter schools, referred to legally as “independent” charter schools, function as independent legal entities and are usually governed by or as public-benefit (“not-for-profit”) corporations and are not restricted by collective bargaining agreements. Other charter schools, or “dependent” charter schools, are established or remain a legal arm of the school district or county office of education that granted their charter and must have collective bargaining agreements.