Frequently Asked Questions
CCSA has compiled answers to frequently asked questions regarding charter public schools.
Visit the Advocacy section for more detailed information about California charter schools.
Are charter schools public schools?
Charters schools are public schools. They are non-sectarian, tuition-free and open to any student who wishes to attend. Charter schools allow parents, teachers and the community to transform our public school system. Choice is a powerful tool for parents seeking access to quality education for their children.
Are charter schools unionized?
Charter schools, like all public schools are subject to the Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA), thus are subject to the state's collective bargaining laws. The decision to unionize is made at the local level involving schools and their employees on a case by case basis. For those charter schools that have collective bargaining units, some adapt the agreement of the local authorizer, while others negotiate separate agreements with employee groups. As of 2015, CCSA estimates that 30% or so of charter schools in California have some form of collective bargaining agreement or representation.
Are charter schools run by for-profit corporations?
The vast majority of charter schools are operated by non-profit public benefit corporations. Many others are unincorporated, but governed by their school districts. To CCSA's knowledge, for profit charter schools represent less than 1% of charter schools in California. Out of almost 1,200 charter schools in the state, there are only six (6) charter schools that are organized as limited liability corporations. Regardless of how they are structured, they are subject to the laws governing all charter schools. Charters schools are public schools that must be non-sectarian, tuition-free and open to any student who wishes to attend. Their fiscal operations and compliance are overseen by their public entity authorizer.
Are charter schools sustainable?
Families of the hundreds of thousands of students in California who attend charter schools would not call charters a fad. Evidence argues that the public has never been more supportive of charter schools based on growth in charter school enrollment, waiting list numbers, and polling data. This growth in support has occurred during a period when charter schools have been held more accountable than traditional public schools and have strengthened their performance, especially with historically underserved students.
Charter schools are an important part of the state's public school system, providing a space for innovation, educational opportunity in low-income communities and unique curriculum options. Charter schools have been reinventing public education in California for nearly 25 years.
Why isn't our local charter school located in a traditional school building?
While school districts are required to provide adequate and equivalent facilities to eligible charter schools under state law, districts vary in their compliance with this law. Many charter schools secure their own facilities, using public and private financing, or donations. In some cases, the charter school may build a full school campus from the ground up; or, they may rent available space in churches, community centers or commercial buildings. Many charter schools choose to operate in a nontraditional facility because it may better serve the requirements of a unique program model.
Are parents required to volunteer?
No. While parental involvement is a critical factor to student success, a charter school may not require parental involvement as a condition of enrollment. No student may be punished or lose their place at a school based on a parent's volunteer hours. It is not legal nor appropriate for a student to be excluded from a charter school or a school activity because a parent did not volunteer or make a financial contribution to their school.
How can I apply for a charter school? Are there admission requirements?
Charter schools are open to ALL children and they are committed to serving a student body that reflects the local community. Enrollment figures show that charter school students are just as diverse (racially and economically) as students who attend traditional district schools.
By law, charter schools cannot have admission processes that unlawfully discriminate against students. Charter schools accept all students who want to attend. If there are more students who want to attend than there are seats available, a charter school will use a process to randomly select students, oftentimes a lottery system.
Does it matter where I live? What is the attendance boundary?
As schools of choice, all charter schools are open to any student who wants to apply, regardless of where he or she lives, space permitting. Independent Study or non-classroom based schools have some geographical limitations which permit them to enroll only students from the county where they are authorized, or from adjacent counties.
How does the lottery system work?
If a charter school receives more students than it has spots available, it is required by law to hold a lottery to determine which students will have the opportunity to attend. Many charter schools have waitlists and may admit more students from the waitlist as spots become available.
Does enrollment at charter schools reflect the diversity of the communities they serve?
California's charter school students are incredibly diverse. As of the 2015-16 school year:
|California Student Enrollment 2015-2016|
|Student Demographic||Charter Public School Percent of Enrollment||Traditional District School Percent of Enrollment|
|Free or Reduced Lunch||57%||59%|
|Students with Disabilities*||10%||11%|
How is oversight provided to charter schools?
Charter schools must operate in accordance with state and federal law. They must abide by health and safety laws, and cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Charter school governing bodies are often subject to various business regulations, such as ethical financial practices, and public body rules, such as open meeting laws, and like all public school districts, must have an annual independent financial audit in accordance with state rules. Charter schools also have oversight from their authorizers (the local school district, county office of education or State Board of Education). Authorizers review financial reports, have the authority to conduct audits, determine if the charter school should be renewed at the end of the charter school's term (usually every five years) and can revoke a charter school for violations of law, fiscal mismanagement, or if the school is not meeting pupil academic outcomes or the terms of its charter.
How are charter schools funded?
In California, traditional district school and charter public schools are funded under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) which allocates state and local tax dollars to public education agencies based on the number of pupils in each grade level. Additional funding is provided for students with high needs, such as low-income pupils and Engish learners. Public funding generally follows the student to the public school the parents choose, whether a charter school or a traditional district school. When charter schools are funded, there is no overall loss of public school money because charter schools are public schools.
Do charters receive the same amount of funding as traditional district schools?
Charter schools receive less per pupil funding even though the funding follows each student. A historical and significant funding inequity between charter schools and traditional school districts has been clearly documented by the State Legislative Analyst, Rand Research and others. The gap can exceed $600 per pupil in base state operating funds. These inequities are often more significant than reported, because charter schools do not have equitable access to facilities or facilities funding, and often must pay for facilities out of their general operating funds. Charter schools also rarely have access to local school bonds or parcel taxes that benefit traditional schools. Charter schools are also denied access to some large programs, such as Target Instructional Improvement Grants (TIIG) and Transportation.
The recent implementation of the LCFF has begun to reduce some of this inequity and will continue to improve over time, but the LCFF has a long phase-in period. In addition, structural inequities in the LCFF prohibit many charter schools from receiving concentration grants for all of their neediest students, because their concentration grant funding is capped at the district average.
Does money allocated to charter schools come out of school districts' budgets?
Money allocated to charter schools does not come out out of school districts' budgets. The state and the federal government allocate education funds based on the number of students, their grade level and their needs. If a student chooses to go to a charter school, the money is allocated to the charter school to educate that student. In other words, the money follows the student. It is the student's money, not the district's.
Do charter schools contribute funding to their authorizing school district?
All charter schools authorized by a school district pay an oversight fee to that school district, which provides for the cost of the district conducting school visits, fiscal and academic monitoring, renewal evaluation and other required forms of oversight. Charter schools pay between one and three percent of their revenues to the district to cover these oversight costs.
Charter schools that receive school district facilities under Prop. 39 or through other facility use agreements pay the school district for those facilities. Facility payments are based on a percentage of district facility costs and sometimes mirror a market-rate lease.
Many charter schools pay additional funds to their authorizing district to provide back-office/administrative services, under separate contracts. And many charter schools also pay the district to provide food services or for special education services.
What types of educational programs do charters offer?
Every charter school is allowed the freedom to create its own educational methodology. Teachers, students, parents and administrators all have a say in the types of instructional methods, materials and academic programs the school offers. Charter school models include, but are not limited to: college preparation, dual language immersion, performing arts, math, science, technology and much more. Furthermore, all academic programs must align with the Common Core State Standards, and charter school students must participate in state required standardized testing. Charter schools must also develop a Local Control Accountability Plan, which is a required component for the Local Control Funding Formula.
Are charter schools held academically accountable?
Charter public schools, unlike traditional public schools, are academically accountable in two ways. They are held accountable by their authorizer and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter petition, they must define their academic goals. 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 has dwindled, and major changes may be necessary for the school to remain open.
California law gives charter schools autonomy and flexibility in exchange for increased accountability. Charter schools must be renewed at least every five years by the school district or authorizer to ensure they have good academic results, and that they are operating in a fiscally and operationally responsible manner. CCSA advocates for rigorous academic accountability so that chronically underperforming charter schools are closed and higher performing charter schools can help even greater numbers of students achieve academic success.
Do charter school teachers have to have credentials?
In California, charter schools are required to hire credentialed teachers for core and college preparatory subjects just like all traditional public schools.
What programs do charter schools offer for students with special needs?
As public schools, charter schools are required to enroll and serve students with disabilities in the same manner as traditional public schools and in compliance with all applicable state and federal laws. In fact, because charter schools have more flexibility than traditional public schools, they are designed to offer innovative educational strategies and provide individualized support to meet the needs of all students, including those with disabilities and other unique challenges. In order to support students with special needs, charter schools will often tailor their educational program or create specialized programs.
In California, a charter school may be part of an LEA (the authorizer) or may be an independent LEA for special education purposes. When a charter school is part of an LEA, the authorizer maintains responsibility for special education and retains full control over special education programs at the charter school site, unless an alternative arrangement is negotiated through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). When a charter operates as its own LEA for special education purposes, it assumes full responsibility for special education, but also gains the funding and flexibility to design and implement innovative programs that align with the charter school's mission and needs of its students.
Depending on a student's individual needs and the type of special education arrangement, offering appropriate special education services may result in the charter school working with a school district program, a non-public school or agency, or another charter school to provide a level or type of service that is not available at the individual charter school site. Ultimately, the student's parents and representatives (the IEP team) make the final determination of the best educational option and services for the
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