What is a Charter School?

One of the emerging contention points in education is the existence of charter schools. They began with a promise of better opportunity for all children and more freedom of educators to teach the way children learn. Have they accomplished those goals, and what has their existence cost district schools in students and in funding?

What is this Type of School?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a charter school is a “publicly funded independent school established by teachers, parents or community groups under the terms of a charter with a local of national authority.” Teachers, parent groups or others contract with the authorities to educate students with more flexibility and less regulation, but they must meet rigorous academic performance indicators. Another thing that defines them is that parents choose the schools; their children are not assigned to them by district. In 2005, five percent of American kids attended a charter school.

How are They Funded?

The schools get a portion of local and state tax revenue, just as district schools do. In some states, the charters get less than the traditional schools, and in others additional funds and loans are made available to them. In Arkansas, for example, charters receive about $3,000 less per student than district schools.

What are the Benefits of Charters?

Charter schools can operate with their own curriculum. They have leeway in dividing the school day to accommodate a student’s need to spend more time on difficult subjects. In short, they can do “anything it takes” to educate the children who attend. One of the positive things about charter schools is that they accept students by lottery at random. Parents apply to the school and then are notified if they are chosen. In theory, this means that the character of a charter school is determined by the character of the neighborhood where it exists. If it is a diverse area, the school will be diverse; if it is ethnic, then the school will become what best serves the population. The schools can choose themes as well. That means one charter might interpret their core components through S.T.E.M. subjects, while another caters to performing arts or career preparation. They can opt to spend half of the day outdoors, or to take extensive field trips.

What is the Downside?

The schools are publicly funded, which means their management digs into the same pocket as the district schools do for expenses. The problem with that, say opponents, is that charter schools often don’t accept special needs students because the school doesn’t have the staff or resources to meet their needs. They also often expel students with troubling behavior. Those students are then funneled into the district schools. That leaves the traditional schools with a disproportionate number of special needs, free-lunch or English-learning students. Those children require more resources and funding, but that money is being diverted to the charter schools. Localities are also using the money needed by district schools to construct new charters. That means traditional schools are falling into disrepair.

While no one seems to dispute that these schools are educating their students, and educating them well, the problems in accepting the charters arises from funding issues more than any other. Charters say they accept any child; district schools dispute that. These issues are ongoing and will need to be addressed successfully if the two kinds of schools are to coexist. In the meantime, charter schools are opening in communities across America.

Read more: What are the Pros and Cons of Charter Schools?