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What's a Charter School?


What is a Charter School?

A charter school is a public school created or organized by a group of teachers, parents and community leaders, or by a community-based organization. It is usually sponsored by an existing local public school board or county board of education. Specific goals and operating procedures for the charter school are detailed in a written agreement, or “charter”.


Charter schools are generally exempt from most laws that apply to regular public schools, allowing them to be more innovative in their educational programs, fiscal models, staffing, and governing structures.


Charter schools have, in most cases, a  five-year operation agreement. Charter schools must meet all the student performance and operational goals listed in their charter, or their charter may be revoked and the school closed.

Facts About Charter Schools

  • Charter schools are tuition free public schools of choice open to any student. Choice is significant for parents looking to find a high-quality education for their children.


  • Charter schools serve all students and are committed to serving a student population that reflects the diversity of the community.


  • Charter schools are helping English Language learners do better in school. In fact, across California, EL students are performing better in charter public schools than in traditional schools.


  • Charter schools are excelling academically and in fact a national study by the Center for Research on Educational outcomes at Stanford University found that students in urban charter schools gain more knowledge and have better graduation rates.


  • In California, over 600,000 students attend almost 1,300 charter schools.


More information can be found at

What is the purpose of a charter school?

The purpose of a charter school is to:


  • Improve student learning.
  • Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for those identified as academically low-achieving. 
  • Encourage the use of new and innovative teaching methods;
  • Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.
  • Provide parents and students with expanded educational opportunities within the public school system, without the constraints of traditional rules and structure.
  • Provide schools a way to shift from a rule based to a performance-based system of accountability.
  • Provide competition within the public school system to stimulate improvements in all public schools. 

What are the restrictions on the establishment of a charter school?

There are a few restrictions on the establishment of a charter school.


  • The law expressly prohibits the conversion of private schools to public charter schools.
  • A charter school must be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations.
  • A charter school may not discriminate against any student, and may not charge tuition.
  • The school’s charter must include a description of the school’s means for achieving a racial and ethnic balance among its students reflective of the general population residing in the district.
  • Students may not be required to attend a charter school, nor may teachers be compelled to teach there. 

How is a charter school funded?

In California, charter schools receive state and local funding in a per-student allotment.


This allotment is based on statewide averages, dependent on the grade level of the students. Many charter schools also receive state and federal funding through categorical programs such as Title I or class-size reduction. In addition, many charter schools apply for and receive funds from the Public Charter Schools Grant Program administered by the California Department of Education. Several charter schools also receive contributions from individuals and private foundations to support operations.

How is a charter school governed?

In California, some charter schools—referred to legally as “independent” charter schools—function as independent legal entities, and are usually governed by or as public-benefit (not-for-profit) corporations. These schools are not restricted by collective bargaining agreements.


Other charter schools, or “dependent” charter schools, are established or remain a legal arm of the school district or county office of education that granted their charter, and must participate in collective bargaining agreements.