Charter schools are tuition-free, public schools.
What is a Charter School?
Charter schools are tuition-free, public schools that have the flexibility to be innovative, entrepreneurial, self-governing, and yet are held accountable for student and operational performance. The “charter” establishing each school is a contract detailing the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. If charters don’t meet their goals they can be closed at the end of their contract.
Charter schools must be secular, have fair and open enrollment procedures and are required to serve all student populations. Those populations include: those with disabilities and English language learners.
As autonomous public schools, charters establish their own curriculum and learning approach, in alignment with state guidelines. Free to innovate, each charter school is different, offering parents a variety of choices so they can select the school that best fits their child’s unique learning style.
In Georgia, the authorizer is generally the local school district. Schools that are denied a charter by their local school district may seek authorization through the State Charter Schools Commission (SCSC).
Charters are generally granted for five years, but they can also be shorter. At the end of the term, the authorizer may renew the school’s contract. Charter schools are accountable to their authorizer, as well as to the students and families they serve. Charter schools are required to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract in order to remain open. Charter schools must also follow state and federal public school laws.
Charter schools are held accountable academically and financially through their contracts with state and local authorizers. The contract lays out the academic performance goals a charter school must meet in order to fulfill the terms of its charter.
According to the Georgia Department of Education, the admissions process for charter schools in Georgia is as follows:
1) Those who want to enroll in charter school must submit an application. The application can require contact information, residency and grade level. The application cannot include any information that screens applications like previous test data, recommendation letters, gender, race or which language the student speaks at home.
2) Charter schools must have the same open enrollment and admission standards as traditional public schools. With the exception of legally allowable admission enrollment preferences, charter schools cannot select their students nor deny admission to any applicant as long as there is room for the student within the school’s capacity.
The legally allowable enrollment preferences are as follows:
- a) Startup Charter Schools – siblings of an enrolled student in another local school designated in the charter; a student whose parent or guardian is a member of the governing board of the charter school or is a full time teacher, professional, or other employee at the charter school; and students matriculating from a local school designated in the charter.
- b) Conversion Charter Schools – may legally allow enrollment preferences for: a sibling of a student enrolled in the charter school or in any school in the high school cluster; a student whose parent or guardian is a member of the governing board of the charter school or is a full time teacher, professional, or other employee at the charter school; students who were enrolled in the local school before it became a charter; students who reside in the charter attendance zone specified in the charter.
- c) State-Chartered Special Schools – may give enrollment preferences to a student whose parent is a full time teacher, professional, or other employee at the charter school or to a student currently enrolled in a state chartered special school or a sibling of a student currently enrolled in a state-chartered special school.
To read more about charter school enrollment see SBOE Rule 160-5-1-.28
A charter school is required to conduct a lottery when there are more applicants then there are seats available in the school. The school must conduct the lottery through random selection. Schools have to make the results of the lottery public.
Under current federal law, teachers at charter schools are required to be “highly qualified.”However, Charter schools are given more flexibility than traditional schools in defining “highly qualified” for members of their instructional staff. In Georgia, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission sets standards for educators. More information on those standards and the Georgia Professional Standards Commission can be found at http://www.gapsc.com/
Yes. charter schools are required to accept students with special needs. According to the Georgia Department of Education, they must comply with IDEA and section 504.
You can see how charter schools are performing by visiting the Georgia Department of Education Accountability website or the Annual Report located on the Georgia Department of Education Charter School Division’s website.