Parents have more choices for educating their children than ever before. Homeschooling, private academies and Christian schools, and public education including charter schools all have both benefits and drawbacks. With so many options available, it becomes imperative to understand as much as possible about each alternative educational option. In this article, we will help you understand what exactly a charter school is, how it is funded, as well as the pros and cons of a charter school education. We will also tell you what to consider before enrolling your child and how to pursue the application process.

What Are Charter Schools?

The concept behind the establishment of charter schools is the belief that school leaders should be given the freedom to try innovative methods to help students achieve. Additionally, whatever works to improve a student’s academic achievement should be shared with the entire public-school system. Therefore, the charter school’s overall mission is to improve existing educational institutional systems.

A charter school is a tuition-free public school designed to allow a more innovative education. Each charter school has a performance contract, detailing:

  • The schools mission
  • The students they will serve
  • The program they will use
  • Performance goals
  • Methods of assessment

Although charter schools operate free from some of the regulations district schools have, they are held accountable for advancing their students’ achievement. Therefore, they may be required to meet some of the same criteria required of the local public schools. They must also demonstrate good financial management and organizational strength. Failure to meet performance goals and other terms of their charter may result in closing the school.

How Are Charter Schools Funded?

Since charter schools are considered public schools, they are tuition-free. Funding is based upon enrollment, as they receive public funds on a per pupil basis. In some states, charter schools do not receive as much as traditional public schools. Other states allocate money for charter school support with additional loans or funds. Charter schools receive federal funding under Title I and Special Education legislation if they serve students under these programs. They also get federal grants for start-up costs.

Most charter schools need to raise additional money for supplies and operating expenses, so fundraising becomes necessary. You many find yourself constantly involved in some kind of fund raising endeavor. Some parents find this responsibility burdensome, so check with the school to find out what plans they have for parent participation during the school year.

Pros of Charter Schools

Pros of Charter Schools

Many parents are choosing a charter school education because of the advantages provided, among them:

  • Charter schools are able to use unique approaches to learning, such as more time spent for some subjects, and teacher directed learning designed to meet student needs. Your child may thrive in an environment where they do not receive a “cookie-cutter” education – one where the child must adjust to a standard method of addressing learning styles and content.
  • Charter schools provide a unique school culture. A charter school usually either concentrates on one set of core academic subjects or adopts a theme. For example, a charter school may concentrate on classical education, college preparation, or meeting the needs of a particular group of students, such as children who are autistic.
  • Charter schools have the ability to try new and different learning modalities. Charter schools are trying innovative teaching approaches, such as outdoor classrooms, on-line classes, and intense use of technology.
  • Statistics have shown that a high percentage of charter students are accepted into a college or university. Therefore, the techniques being used have proved to be successful in many cases.
  • Charter schools have become some of the top-performing schools, closing achievement gaps and raising local expectations of the education provided in public education.
  • Charter schools encourage partnership of teachers, parents, and students. They involve parents, allow teachers to use innovative learning techniques, and provide a suitable structure for student learning.
  • Charter schools may provide students a feeling of freedom, either academically or socially. They frequently allow children to think outside the box. Students often come from differing backgrounds, so social boundaries blur and friendships are often easier to begin and maintain.

Cons of Charter Schools

Cons of Charter Schools

Not everything about a charter school education is positive. Here are some drawbacks you need to be aware of before choosing a charter school for your child:

  • You need to define why are you considering a charter school. If your child suffers test anxiety from state and nationally mandated grade-level testing, they will not avoid such tests in most states by attending a charter school.
  • Charter schools accept students by public lottery, so if many parents want to enroll their children in your local charter school, you may be put on a waiting list. Prepare yourself for disappointment.
  • Most charter schools have fundraisers to help pay for supplies, field trips, and special programs. Additionally, most require a higher level of parental support. Many set a certain number of “volunteer” hours for parents each month.
  • Charter schools emphasizing excellence in academic, college prep classes may require a great deal of homework. Additionally, a themed charter school may have after and out-of-school requirements.
  • You may need to provide transportation to and from school and for school associated activities. Parents of charter school students often carpool to make this easier.
  • Opponents of charter schools frequently complain of the possibility of a lack of student diversity. Since schools are based around a core of subjects or a theme, they tend to draw very similar students racially, economically, and/or academically.
  • Although charter schools are supposed to provide more academic freedom for both students and teachers, since the school is governmentally funded, they still have accountability in areas that may limit some choices.
  • Although the charter school does not charge tuition, it is possible you may have added expenses for your child’s education. The per-pupil funding is only a percentage of what public schools receive, so parents must make up the difference in fundraisers.

Applying to a Charter School

Charter schools vary considerably from state to state and even within districts. Before you enroll your child in a local charter school, consider the following:

  • How long has the school been in existence?
  • What is the theme or core curriculum of the charter school and does it meet your child’s needs?
  • What part of your child’s education will be your responsibility?

The History of the Charter School

You should find out how long the charter school has been in existence, the tenure of its teachers and administration, as well as the school’s local reputation. If the school is relatively new, you may have some concerns about its ability to meet the terms of its charter. A frequent turnover of teachers and school leaders may be a sign of some underlying difficulties. You should also consider the school’s reputation. Have you heard positive things about the teachers and administration? Do the school’s students have a reputation for academic excellence in the community? Once you assess these areas, you will have a better idea if the school might be a good choice for your child.

The Charter School’s Theme or Core Curriculum

You want to make sure the academic offerings meet the needs of your child. If your child hates math and struggles with science, a school emphasizing these areas may set your child up for failure. Find out how much time is required for homework and school related activities. Look at text books, ask for course syllabi, and ask questions about student expectations. You want to make sure your child fits into the academic environment of the charter school.

Scenario: Abby had trouble behaving in her local public school. An extremely bright child, she completed her work quickly and then got bored. “Misbehavior” followed. Her parents thought a charter school might be the answer for Abby. Unfortunately, the school did not meet Abby’s needs. They were not prepared for an accelerated learning program and simply gave Abby books to read when she completed classwork. She loved reading, so her behavior was not a problem initially, but she soon became bored and misbehavior followed. Abby’s parents chose homeschooling with the help of a local homeschool association and cooperative. Abby thrived educationally and socially.

Your Required Involvement with the Charter School

Charter schools almost always require parental involvement in the form of volunteer hours and attending meetings and conferences. Parents with very busy lives often find this requirement daunting. Before you enroll your child in a charter school, make sure you and your spouse are willing to commit the time necessary to fulfill this obligation. Ask the school specifically about the time and what type of activities they need you to participate.

Scenario: Marge and Bill chose a charter school for their four children. However, the burden of meeting the school’s parental participation requirements became too much for the couple as they ran their own business and needed to be available at nearly all hours. Since they had four children and each child accounted for a certain number of hours of school participation, the hours were multiplied until they became extremely burdensome. Tension between Marge and Bill resulted. They are looking at other educational options for their children next year.

Visit the Charter School You Are Considering for Your Child

You definitely should visit the charter school before enrolling your child. Make an appointment with the administration and prepare a list of questions before your visit, among them:

  • What is the theme or core curriculum of your school?
  • How about the student/teacher ratio?
  • What are your guidelines for parental involvement?
  • How about the method for student assessment and grading?

Visit the charter school on a school day. Some things to watch for are:

  • Do students and teachers appear harassed and anxious?
  • What type of conversations and language (cursing) do you hear in the hallways?
  • Does the lunch appear nutritious and are the students eating most of their food?

Ask if you can observe in the classroom where your child will be learning. And make sure you talk to everyone you encounter, teachers, parents, students, and everyone else you see. You can find out a great deal about a school during casual conversations.

After your visit, find out what the application process is, when paperwork must be in, and the application deadline. Remember, if you have multiple children and they accept one of them, frequently siblings get priority in enrollment lotteries.

Some schools give preference to students who can demonstrate an interest in a school’s academic focus or theme. They may also use a test of some kind to measure your child’s interests and place them in the correct grade. Those chosen complete the paperwork for enrollment. Most charter schools draw all the names and place those who do not make the first cut on a waiting list.

So, Is a Charter School Right for Your Child?

So, Is a Charter School Right for Your Child?

If, after reading this article and following our suggestions about what to do before enrolling your child, you decide the local charter school meets your child’s (children’s) needs, then pursue application as soon as you are able. Most charter schools enroll returning students shortly have the first of the year for the upcoming year. They then open enrollment for new children. Vacant positions fill quickly, so you want to make sure you do not miss the application deadline for your local charter school.

Remember, a charter school education is not ideal for every child. You need to be clear on what your child needs from a school, both academically and socially. If your child does not fit in a particular educational environment, whether a charter school or another institutional option, they may find it difficult to succeed. There is no perfect educational choice that fits every child. Your responsibility as a parent is to pursue the best possible education suitable for your child. It is necessary for you to be comfortable with the education choice you make for your child.