What is a Charter School?

A charter school is an independent public school that operates independently of the district board of education. In effect, a charter school is a one-school public school district. A group of people — educators, parents, community leaders, educational entrepreneurs or others — write the charter plan describing the school’s guiding principles, governance structure, and applicable accountability measures. If the state approves the charter, the state funds the charter on a per pupil basis. In most cases charter schools operate under a clear agreement between the state and the school: increased autonomy in exchange for increased accountability. Because they are schools of choice, they are held to the highest level of accountability — consumer demand.

  • Charter schools are public schools.
  • Charter schools do not charge tuition.
  • Charter schools use non-discriminatory enrollment practices.
  • Over 40,000 names are on waitlists for Colorado charter schools.
  • There are no “test-in” requirements to attend a charter schools.
  • Currently, there are now over 250 charter schools in Colorado and over 120,000 students enrolled in charter schools.
  • This amounts to represents 13% of total enrollment in the state.
  • Charter school students must participate in state assessments.
  • Charter schools are subject to the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.
  • Charter school teachers must be “highly qualified” under NCLB.
  • Charter schools serve a broad range of diverse students, including low income, racial and ethnic minorities, and students with disabilities or other special needs.

Charter School Funding

The academic success achieved by charter schools is especially impressive in light of the financial challenges they face:

On average, charter schools in Colorado spend $480 per student from designated per-pupil operating revenue on facilities costs.

School districts finance their facilities using property tax, mill levies, and taxpayer-backed bonds. Charter schools generally do not receive a proportionate share of these monies.

Myths and Facts

MYTH: Charter schools “drain money” from district public schools.

FACT: Charter schools are public schools. The money that follows the students who choose to attend charters remains in the public education system. In Douglas County, a portion of the per pupil revenue passed along to a charter school remains with the school district.

MYTH: Charter school teachers are not licensed.

FACT: The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) does not require that a charter school teacher have a teaching license, but charter schools are required to comply with all other NCLB requirements regarding “Highly Qualified Teachers.”

This provides charter schools the freedom to hire the most qualified and committed teachers who come from diverse professional backgrounds and are passionate about teaching.

MYTH: Charter schools accept only the “cream of the crop” and reject under-performing students.

FACT: Charter schools may not limit admission to pupils on the basis of ability.

Charter schools are open to all and cannot require entrance exams. When enrollment requests exceed the number of seats available, most charter schools hold a public lottery to determine who will attend (others have first come/first served waiting lists).

MYTH: Charter schools endanger the public school system.

FACT: Charter schools are a relatively new and innovative part of the public school system. The entire public school system is strengthened when choices such as charter schools are available to students and families. When families are empowered to make decisions about their child’s education, ownership, parental involvement and accountability are increased. Having a choice is beneficial for all.

MYTH: Charter schools are not open to all students.

FACT: Charter schools serve a broad range of diverse students, including low income, racial and ethnic minorities, and students with disabilities or other special needs.