Public Charter Schools 101

What are public charter schools?

Charter schools are public schools . Public charter schools are granted flexibility from certain state laws in exchange for greater accountability in improving student achievement . As public schools, they are tuition free, funded by public dollars, and are held to similar – yet more rigorous – academic , managerial, and fiscal standards as other public schools . An independent board that promotes a strong collaboration between parents, teachers, students, and their communities governs public charter schools . Such collaboration will create an environment where parents and the community can be more involved, and teachers have more autonomy to meet the needs of their students . Thus, public charter school students are given the necessary structure and rich learning environment they so desperately need and deserve.


What are the similarities between public charter schools and traditional public schools?

Public charter schools are just one piece of the extensive puzzle in improving Mississippi’s public schools. Public charter schools are tuition free and open to every student who wishes to enroll within its designated zone . Federal law prevents both traditional public schools and public charter schools from making enrollment decisions that discriminate on any basis, including but not limited to, religious affiliation, demographics , or need for special education services . The amount of local, state, and federal tax dollars that fund public schools – traditional and charter – are based on average daily attendance . Like traditional public schools, public charter schools mus t meet academic, managerial, and fiscal standards.


What are the differences between public charter schools and traditional public schools?

A public charter school will face stricter accountability from the time of its inception. A rigorous authorization process compels public charter school applicants to extensively document how they will ensure a high quality school for all of their students. Applicants must document the curricula they will use, provide an itemized five year budget, detail rigorous academic goals and benchmarks, and identify recruitment plans and staffing strategies, among other requirements . If an applicant does not satisfy the demanding academic, financial, or managerial requirements, its application will be rejected. Schools that pass the rigorous application process are held accountable for results. If they do not meet the standards in their contracts, they face closure. Although public charter schools are held to higher standards, they are given more freedom to be innovative in their policies , such as offering longer school days, adjusting curriculum and schedules to meet student needs, and creating meaningful school culture with unique identities and missions. For example, some schools adopt a college preparation theme and others may adopt a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curricular focus.


How will public charter schools impact public school funding?

When a student leaves a traditional public school for a public charter school , that student’s per pupil funding follows him or her to the public charter school. Public charter schools would not add any new costs to the Mississippi’s public education system. All public schools – traditional and charter – are funded based on their average daily attendance , which mean that resources are reallocated from one public school to another. Additionally , the per pupil funding that follows the child to the public charter school does not include any amounts that districts have pledged to pay off local bonds. In growing districts, public charter schools may actually reduce overall educational costs because local bond funding is not available for them.


Are public charter schools any better than traditional public schools?

A growing body of research suggests that public charter schools students outperform peers in traditional public schools, though the research isn’t uniform across states with charters . Public charter school opponents typically cite one 2009 study which found that, on average, public charter schools do not perform any better than traditional public schools (across the nation and not looking at specific states). Yet when looking at specific states, we acquire the truly valuable information . In states with rigorous public charter school laws and high quality authorizations, public charter school students performed better on average than their traditional school peers. These states include Arkansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Missouri (and subsequent work by the same researchers has added Indiana and New Jersey, to this list) . The study also has found strong performance in cities such as Denver and Chicago (and subsequently New York City and Newark, New Jersey). In other words, a strong public charter school law creates a foundation that ensures only the most effective public charter schools open and are renewed.

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