The Basics & FAQ


Charter schools are public schools of choice that are tuition-free and open to all. They are growing rapidly in response to demand from families.

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Why Start a Charter School?

Parents, educators and community members decide to start charter schools for a variety of reasons. Some start schools to address the needs of an under-served population, to create a new option in their community that serves students differently, or to innovate and find new ways of educating students that will forever change the way they learn. As a charter school developer, you will join a community of transformational leaders across the state of California who are bringing new schools to their communities at the rate of over 100 schools each year.

According to Sascha Robinett, co-founder of PUC Milagro in Los Angeles, "At a charter school, you're allowed to be an innovator and that makes all the difference for your kids." In this video, Sascha shares why starting a charter school was a dream come true.

Frequently Asked Questions and Common Myths

There are many misconceptions about charter schools. Take a few minutes and review some of the prevalent myths about charters, and the truths that counter them. Our list of Frequently Asked Questions is another terrific starting point. If you still want to learn more after reviewing these resources, contact your regional representative and set up time to talk.

How CCSA Can Help You Start a Charter School

Are you in the early stages of planning to start a charter school?

The California Charter Schools Association is here to help you navigate the process of starting a charter school. As a first step, we encourage you to read through the Starting a Charter School section of our website. On these pages we present the basics on starting new charter schools in California, map out the four major phases of the school development process, and include detailed descriptions of the buckets of work successful teams will complete within each phase.

To bring the basics of starting a charter school to life, we have now made available on demand our three-part webinar series, How to Start a Charter School. The series covers general information on the process of starting a new school, how to build a strong founding team, and an overview of the 15 elements that must be included in your charter petition.

Part 1: How to Start a Charter School

Charter public schools are founded by teams of educators, parents and community members who design a school to meet their community's unique needs. Learn more about charter schools and the process for founding a new school in this recorded webinar.

Part 2: Building the Team to Fulfill Your Mission

In this webinar, you will learn the importance of setting a strong vision and mission statement for your charter school and how to build the right team to implement it.

Part 3: Writing the Charter Petition

In this webinar, you will learn the 15-point structure of a charter petition and how a high-quality charter school should fully address each element.

Once you've had a chance to digest the recorded webinars linked above, we invite you to register for an upcoming Starting a Charter School "Office Hour" to connect with a member of the School Development team, get your questions answered, and also hear questions from other developers across the state. You can register for any of the bi-monthly office hours by visiting the CCSA Events Calendar.

Are you ready for CCSA Charter Developer Membership?

With Charter Developer Membership, CCSA provides individualized supports as well as resources and tools specifically crafted for charter developers in each phase of the development process, from writing the charter petition through authorizer approval. We offer technical assistance, workshops, web resources and templates and our regional team members also offer guidance and support specific to your geographic area. With CCSA's direct assistance, Developer Members get a leg up in developing a strong and fully-compliant petition with a higher likelihood of being approved by local authorizers and starting strong. We are the only organization in the state offering this level of support to new charter school developers.

CCSA recommends Developer Membership to teams who have generally completed the following steps in school development process.

  • You have done your research (i.e. read through CCSA's website, understand California Education Code and other applicable charter laws, understand the requirements, timelines, and policies of your local authorizer).
  • You have assembled a founding team.
  • We have met with local stakeholders (e.g. parents, community leaders, elected officials) and/or spent time in the community to garner early support for our school.
  • You have a defined mission, vision, and educational program informed by best practice.
  • You have drafted an Executive Summary, a petition outline, and/or are beginning to work on the charter petition.
  • You have created a project plan that "backward plans" from your intended petition submission date.

Once you're ready to join as a Charter Developer Member, we will connect you with a School Development representative in your region who can provide local expertise and hands-on assistance as you continue your development process. To learn more, please contact:

Charter School Growth in California

Charter Schools Are Growing Rapidly in California

Since California approved the Charter School Act in 1992, the charter school movement has seen rapid growth. During the 2013-14 school year alone there were 104 new charter schools that opened across the state. These new charters accounted for an estimated increase in enrollment of 49,000 students. As of 2013, California has the highest number of charter schools of any state in the country, with 1,130 schools serving more than 514,000 students. Despite this growth, CCSA estimates that there are 50,000 students on charter school waiting lists as of the 2013-14 school year, underscoring the need for additional excellent charter schools.


Number of Charter Schools Located in Major Districts*

Note: Beginning in 2010-11, the number of schools is counted by physical location of the school rather than by authorizer. Source: CDE data, California Charter School Association analysis conducted in fall 2012

  • Find more details, including charter school performance by region, in our Fact Sheets
  • You can also learn more about charter school performance in our statewide report, Portrait of the Movement

Charter Schools Educate Over 2 Million Students Across the Country

Charter schools represent a large proportion of the national education landscape. California continues to lead the nation in number of students attending charter schools by state. Nationally, more than 2.5 million students are currently enrolled in charter schools across the country according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


California's charter school movement has seen rapid growth since its inception. Of the estimated 2.5 million students enrolled in charter schools nationally, California serves approximately 514,000 students. This means that over 20 percent of the students being served by charter schools nationally are receiving their education in California.



For more information on Charter Growth in California, download CCSA's Portrait of the Movement 2013 Report - School Growth.

California Education Code & Charter Schools

Intent of the Law

When lawmakers passed the Charter Schools Act of 1992, California became the second state in the country (after Minnesota) to enact charter school legislation. The intent was, as the Act states:" provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure..."

The Charter Schools Act outlined seven goals:

(a) Improve pupil learning.
(b) Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.
(c) Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods.
(d) Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.
(e) Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system.
(f) Hold the schools established under this part accountable for meeting measurable pupil outcomes, and provide the schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.
(g) Provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools.

Source: Education Code Section 47601(a)-(g)

The Intent of the Act is further illustrated in California Education Code Section 47605(b), which states:

"In reviewing petitions for the establishment of charter schools pursuant to this section, the chartering authority shall be guided by the intent of the Legislature that charter schools are and should become an integral part of the California educational system and that establishment of charter schools should be encouraged."

Source: Education Code Section 47605(b)

Charter Law: Education Code

Following the Legislature's intent to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability, charters are exempt from many elements of California Education Code under what is commonly referred to as the "Charter mega-waiver." With a few exceptions, charters are bound only by Part 26.8 of the Education Code which covers the establishment and operations of charter schools.

One of your first steps in starting a charter school will be getting familiar with applicable laws and regulations.

California education code and regulations governing charter schools can be found in the "Compilation of Selected Laws and Regulations Applicable to Charter Schools," produced annually in partnership with Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP.

School Accountability

Part of the promise of charter schools is that they offer high-quality alternatives to traditional options. Read about CCSA's ongoing accountability work to ensure all students in charter schools are receiving an excellent public education.

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