The ABC's of Charter Schools

Frequently asked questions about tuition-free public schools.

ByABC News
October 7, 2007, 6:05 PM

Oct. 7, 2007— -- Charter schools have been a centerpiece of the modern school reform movement. Many school reformers who focus on disadvantaged inner city students say they are uniquely qualified to help close the stubborn achievement gap between minority and white students.

What is it about charter schools that offers such promise? We look at that question and others, and offer some helpful answers.

Charter schools are elementary or secondary schools that are publicly funded, but privately run. They are exempt from many public school rules and regulations, and operate independently, but they are held accountable for student performance to the same degree as are public schools.

Minnesota opened the first charter school in 1992. Today, 40 states and the District of Columbia have approved them.

More than 4,100 charter schools serve over 1.2 million students today (about 2.4 percent of all students), according to the Center for Education Reform. In the last school year, 347 new charter schools opened, but, since 1992, 560 charter schools have been closed.

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans turned more than half of its schools into charter schools.

States must pass laws to create charter schools. They can appoint local school boards, state universities, community colleges, or the state board of education to select and monitor charter schools.

A school's "charter" is a contract that describes its mission, operating policies and methods of accountability. A charter is usually issued for three to five years.

Charter schools are initiated by parents, teachers, or outside organizations, in order to provide choice and innovation to public school families. They are generally smaller, aspire to a greater sense of community, and use alternative teaching methods and structures, including a retooled school day or year.

Magnet schools have similar goals as charter schools, but they are created and run by local school districts. Charter schools are not initiated or run by local school districts in any way.

State laws differ, but charter schools generally receive a per-pupil allotment from their local school district some receive 100 percent of what would be spent on a student in a public school; more often, they receive less.