Charter public schools were created by the Education Reform Act of 1993 to provide educational choice for parents, expand educational opportunity for their children, and promote change in their districts. In exchange for specific freedoms (in organizational structure, mission, and academic program), charter public schools are held to high levels of accountability. They must successfully manage school finances and operations, and they must demonstrate student achievement; if they don't, the schools can be closed.
No. They are public schools. Charters are founded by parents and community leaders who believe there are educational needs that are not being met by district schools. They operate independent of local school districts and local government and are overseen by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).
There are two types of charter public schools: Commonwealth Charter Schools and Horace Mann Charter Schools. Both operate independent of the local school system, but a Horace Mann Charter School must have the approval of the local school committee and teachers' union, and its yearly budget request must be approved by the local school committee as well. Every charter public school is managed by a public board of trustees.
There are 64 charters in Massachusetts - 57 Commonwealth charters, which are totally independent of local school systems and not subject to teachers' union contracts, and 7 Horace Mann charters, which have some management autonomy but still operate under the control of school districts and are bound by teachers' union contracts.
Charter public schools began in Minnesota in 1991 as a way to offer students the choice to attend new and different public schools. In Massachusetts, charter public schools were initiated as part of the Education Reform Act of 1993 to offer choice and to foster innovation in education.
Charter public schools are public schools open to everyone, free of charge. They cannot and do not select their students. If there are more students than available seats, they hold public lotteries to determine who will attend.
Since the first school opened in 1995, enrollment has steadily risen and demand has remained strong. More than 26,000 children are enrolled with 26,000 on wait lists. That's about 2% of statewide enrollment.
Charter public schools are located mostly in urban areas and enroll traditionally "underserved" populations. Statewide, 50 percent of students enrolled in charter public schools are students of color, compared to 23 percent statewide; 46 percent of students in charter public schools are enrolled in the free/reduced lunch program compared with 31 percent statewide. Compared to host districts, charters serve a far higher percentage of African American and Hispanic children, an equivalent percentage of low-income students, and lower percentages of special needs students and English-language-learners. Designating children as "special needs" or "English-language-learners" depends on a subjective analysis by school administrators. Charter public schools avoid over-labeling these children and strive to educate them in regular classrooms. In Boston, our demographics mirror the city's Pilot Schools.
Charters are funded by allocating a portion of education spending from districts to charters. The amount of money that charters receive reflects the amount of money districts spend on each student. Every time there is an increase in the amount of money that is allocated to charters - whether it be because a new charter opens or because there is an increase in district spending - those dollars are reimbursed by the state for six years at a rate of 100% the first year and 25% for the next five years. That means districts get more than double their money back over that period, giving them time to adjust their budgets for the loss of enrollment.
Since charter public schools are independent of the local school district, they are overseen by the state. Charter public schools first go through a rigorous application process; only strong, viable applications are approved. The schools are evaluated every year by the state Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE). Charters must be renewed every five years. If the schools do not live up to the high standards established by the state, they can be closed. Several have. Charter finances are reviewed by independent auditors and are also subject to additional audits by the State Auditor. Massachusetts' application process and oversight practices have been rated the toughest in the nation.
For the past 15 years, charter public schools have proven that children from urban communities can achieve at the same level as children from the affluent suburbs. Charters are moving disadvantaged children from the back of the pack to the front of the pack, arming them with the tools they will need to succeed in college and the work force.
Two studies by prominent, independent researchers found that charter public schools are closing the achievement gap between poor minority students and affluent white students.