Charter Schools 101


What is a Charter School?

“A legislative strategy for transforming public education by harnessing the powerful dynamics of choice, competition, and accountability.” James N. Goenner, Ph.D.

Charter schools are:

  • Tuition free
  • Funded by state and federal taxpayer dollars
  • Held accountable to all applicable state and federal laws
  • Open to all and do not discriminate on any basis

What is the Strategy Behind Chartering Schools?

  • Help States withdraw the exclusive geographic franchises given to school districts and allow others to provide public education
  • Create new public schools that provide competition for existing schools and provide parents with choice
  • Free schools from unnecessary rules and regulations, in exchange for producing results.
  • Establish authorizers that charter and oversee schools, but unlike a school district do not own or operate them
  • Ensure these new public schools are dually accountable: to the marketplace of parental choice and to the standards of the public interest

What is a Charter Contract?

The legally binding performance agreement consisting of the academic, fiscal and operational terms between the authorizer and the charter school board.

Who are the Authorizers?

Pursuant to individual state law, the entities that fulfill the role of the authorizer may consist of:

  • School Districts/Local Educational Agencies
  • Higher Education Institutions
  • Mayor/Municipalities
  • Independent Charter Boards
  • Not-for-Profit Organizations
  • State Education Agencies

(source: National Association of Charter School Authorizers)

What is the Role of the Authorizer?

Authorizers/Sponsors are the agencies that support and monitor the schools in this innovative public education sector. They are the elected officials, education leaders and day-to-day managers that determine who may start a new school and which schools are good enough to stay open.

Fifteen years of chartering has resulted in thousands of quality charter schools. Authorizers protect the public interest as these entrepreneurial schools come into being. Authorizers include:

  • state and local boards of education
  • colleges and universities
  • special-purpose boards
  • municipal bodies
  • nonprofits

These are the entities charged by law to approve, oversee, and evaluate the performance of public charter schools. The purpose of charter school authorizing is to improve student achievement. A quality authorizer engages in responsible oversight of charter schools by ensuring that schools have both the autonomy to which they are entitled and the public accountability for which they are responsible.

The Charter School Idea

There is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools describes charter schools in this way:

Charter schools are unique public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. Because they are public schools, they are:

  • Open to all children;
  • Do not charge tuition; and
  • Do not have special entrance requirements.

Charter schools were created to help improve our nation’s public school system and offer parents another public school option to better meet their child’s specific needs. The core of the charter school model is the belief that public schools should be held accountable for student learning. In exchange for this accountability, school leaders should be given freedom to do whatever it takes to help students achieve and should share what works with the broader public school system so that all students benefit.

In the early 1990s, a small group of educators and policymakers came together to develop the charter school model. Minnesota’s legislature passed the first charter law in 1991, and the first charter school opened in 1992.*

Charter schools are an idea that is transforming public education by harnessing the powerful dynamics of choice, competition and accountability. As with any powerful idea, there is an underlying philosophy that defines it:

  • Choice and competition are necessary to force the educational system to change and improve itself over time.
  • Schools should be free and open to all students regardless of where they live or their economic status.
  • The state should fund students, not institutions.
  • Parents should be empowered to choose the schools that best meets the needs of their children and the funding should follow.

* “What Are Public Charter Schools?,” National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, (accessed August 4, 2014).

The Impact

We believe chartering is a powerful idea… and its time has come. To us, chartering represents an opportunity for people to create, innovate and excel.

Charter Schools are Transforming Education!

2013-2014 Data


States plus the District of Columbia Operating Charter Schools


Charter Schools Operating


Approximate Students Enrolled

Number of Charter Schools in each State

map of charter schools in US-02

Source: “The Public Charter Schools Dashboard,” National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, (accessed August 11, 2015).