Charter Schools: Myth vs. Reality

Despite the success of many New Hampshire charter schools, there are many misconceptions about what charter schools are and what they do.

MYTH: Charter schools are private schools.
REALITY: Charter schools are public schools open to any New Hampshire resident, free of charge.

MYTH: Charter public schools accept only the “cream of the crop” and reject under-performing students.
REALITY: Unlike exclusive private schools, charter public schools can not select or reject any student. When enrollment requests exceed the number of seats, charter schools are required by law to hold a public lottery to determine who will attend. Because they are free and open to all, charter public schools do not engage in selective admissions policies.  Research shows that charter schools educate diverse students of varying aptitudes.

MYTH: Charter public schools do not provide special education services.
REALITY: Like all public schools, charter schools understand their responsibility to serve all students, and charter schools are committed to serving students with exceptional needs. In fact, because charter schools are designed to have more flexibility than traditional public schools, they are uniquely situated to provide innovative, high-quality educational services to students with unique learning needs.

MYTH: Charter public schools take money away from public schools.
REALITY: In New Hampshire, public school funding follows the student, with the funding going to the public school the parents choose, whether a charter school or a traditional district school. When charter public schools are funded, there is no overall loss of public school money because charter schools are public schools. However, even with the funding “following the student” charter schools receive less funding for each student than a school district would if it were to serve the same student.

MYTH: Charter public schools receive more money than district public schools.
REALITY: In most cases, charter schools receive LESS federal and state money than district public schools, for a variety of reasons. On average a charter school received $5450 per student, which is about half of the average cost of educating a student in a traditional NH public school.

MYTH: Charter public schools are not held accountable for academic performance.
REALITY: Charter schools are academically accountable on two counts. They are held accountable by their authorizer (usually the State) and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter application, they must define their academic goals In order to be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals. Families make the choice to enroll their children in charter schools, and families can remove them if they are dissatisfied with the school. A charter school that neglects its academic duties will soon find that its enrollment (and budget) will dwindle.

MYTH: Charter schools operate without any oversight.
REALITY: Charter schools must operate within the provisions of state and federal law. They must abide by health, safety and civil rights laws, and cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex or national origin. Charter governance bodies are subject to various business regulations, such as ethical financial practices, and public body rules, such as open meeting laws. Charter schools also have oversight from their authorizers (usually the State Board of Education). In fact, the very name charter refers to the “contract” that the school enters into with their authorizer. Authorizers review financial reports, have the authority to conduct audits, determine if the school is to be renewed at the end of the charter’s term (every five years) and can revoke a charter for certain reasons within charter law if the school is not meeting the terms of its charter.

MYTH: Charter public schools are an unproven experiment.
REALITY: The incredible growth in charter schools – more than 1,063+ schools nationally serving more than 484,000 students in 2013, as well as long waiting lists for most charter schools – suggest that families believe charters to be a common sense solution to their education needs.

The following information was provided by the NH Center for Innovative Schools.

Charter schools are public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. They are independent, tuition free to in state students, highly accountable and cost efficient. Charter schools are operated in accordance to a specific mission or “charter”. The “charter” establishing each such school is a performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success.

As of September 2012, there are more than 4,300 chartered public schools operating in the United States and 17 charter schools operating in New Hampshire.

The length of time for which charters are granted is 5 years in New Hampshire. At the end of the term, the entity authorizing the charter may renew the school’s contract. Charter schools are accountable to their authorizing entity to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for this accountability. They are accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices to several groups: the sponsor that grants them, the parents who choose them, and the public that funds them.

What’s the difference between charter schools and other public schools?

Charter schools are public schools of choice, meaning teachers and students choose them. They operate with freedom from many regulations that apply to traditional public schools. They generally offer teachers and students more authority to make decisions than most traditional public schools. Instead of being accountable for compliance with rules and regulations, they are accountable for academic results and for upholding their charter.

Do charter schools take money from public schools?

Charter schools are public schools. When a child leaves for a charter school the money follows that child. This benefits the public school system by instilling a sense of accountability into the system regarding its services to the student and parents and its fiscal obligations. Fiscally, charter schools have demonstrated greater efficiency.

Can charter schools charge tuition?

No, charter schools are public schools and tuition-free for residents of New Hampshire. Out-of-state students may be charged tuition. While there is no charge for tuition, schools may charge small fees for specific services and support.

How are charter schools funded?

New Hampshire’s State Authorized charter schools are funded directly by the state at $5450 per student. This is far less than the statewide average expenditure of $11,000-$12,000 per student.

Which states have charter schools?

As of 2012, 42 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have passed charter school laws. The states are: Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Do charter schools have admissions policies?

By law, charter schools must have a fair and open admissions process, conducting outreach and recruitment to all segments of the community they serve. When more students apply than can be accommodated, charter schools must use a lottery to randomly determine which students are accepted. Many charter schools also have waiting lists.

What kind of federal support is there for charter schools?

Through the Public Charter Schools Program, the U.S. Department of Education offers grants to states, which then award subgrants to individual schools to assist them in planning, design, and initial implementation of new charter schools. Dissemination grants are also available to successful charter schools, with three or more years of experience, to support activities through which they help other groups open new or improve existing public schools. Charter schools are also eligible for funding under other federal programs.