Charter Schools – Part II – Voucher Programs

While the concept has been around since the early 1970s, the charter school movement didn’t really take off until the 1990s with Minnesota becoming the first state to pass a charter school law in 1991. Like any emerging concept in education, there have been plenty of proponents supporting the idea of charter schools and plenty of critics denouncing them.

Regardless, new charter schools have been opening their doors around the country with increasing frequency.  It’s leaving many people wondering how charter schools have and will continue to change the landscape of education.

What are Charter Schools and what makes them different?  Charter schools are public schools that operate entirely independent of the local public school districts that surround them.

They are:

  • Run by either non-profit or for-profit organizations
  • Largely funded by state and local governments, mainly through income and property taxes
  • They can receive grants from the federal government to increase the educational resources available to special populations of students.

However, unlike public school districts, charter schools in most states do not receive any funding for start-up costs or maintaining their facilities. They often rely on private donations to to fund these start-up costs, building upgrades and maintenance. 

Things charter schools cannot do include:

  • Charging students tuition
  • Having entrance requirements

Charter school admission can be based on a lottery system if the school has more applications than available seats. 

What sets charter schools apart is that they have a lot more flexibility when it comes to determining their budgets, hiring staff and choosing curriculum, and their daily operations.  An example of this would be Montessori schools. 

Charter schools are held accountable to the same academic standards as their public school district counterparts. They risk losing their charter and getting shut down if they fail to perform.

The certification process to open a charter school and keep it running is challenging.  They have to follow strict requirements set forth by an authorizing body in their state, which is often a college, university, school board, or intermediate school district in the area.  They must accurately and ongoingly report student progress and assessment results as determined by their contract with the authorizing body.

In most states, teachers employed in a charter school must also meet the requirements for initial licensing and continuing education, while a handful of states don’t have these requirements.  Continuing education is often satisfied through professional development provided by the charter school itself along courses provided by local intermediate school districts.

Charter schools can be a great educational option for students just like virtual schools and public schools can be a great option.  Parental decision for charter, public, private or virtual schools is based on the individual student, family and community.  What is best for one student may not be best for another.  In a family with multiple kids, one may go to public while another goes to virtual.  What’s best is driven by individuality and needs of the student.   

Parents have to weigh their child’s needs, the quality of public schools in their area, the level and concern around violence, bullying, peer pressure and the overall quality of the education their child will receive from whatever institution they choose.  With charter schools, virtual schools and private schools, parents now have a choice.  Educating themselves on all options will make a difference in their child’s educational outcomes.