National Charter School Week (May 7-13, 2023) provides an opportunity to discuss common misconceptions about charter schools. 

Everyone loves the party game “Two Truths and a Lie.” Can you identify which of the three following statements about charter schools is a lie?

A. Charter schools are public schools.
B. Charter schools are highly selective and cherry-pick the best students.
C. Charter schools have a wide variety of missions and approaches to educating students.

Let’s take these statements one at a time: 

A. TRUTH. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are open to all students. Education entrepreneurs apply to a local or state charter authorizer and, if approved, receive a charter—or contract—that exempts their school from certain regulations and requirements. Although the degree of freedom depends on the state charter law and the charter authorizer, charter school leaders are often granted the flexibility to select their mission, teachers, and curriculum. 

Funding mechanisms for charter schools vary depending on the state, but all charters are publicly funded. Like other public schools, charters received funding from the federal, state, and (sometimes) local governments. Charters, however, typically receive significantly lower per-pupil funding than other public schools. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “a typical charter school receives an average of 80 cents for every dollar a district school receives, creating an overall average shortfall of $3,064 per student.”

B. LIE. In contrast to magnet schools and programs run by school districts, charter schools are not allowed to use selective entrance exams or competitive admissions processes. When a charter school receives more applications than available seats for students, a public lottery is held to determine which applicants can enroll for the upcoming school year.

C. TRUTH. There are over 7,800 charter schools serving 3.8 million students in 45 states and the District of Columbia. The educators and organizations that launch charter schools have very diverse visions, organizational structures, and pedagogy. When charter schools were first created in Minnesota in 1991, state legislators enacted the law primarily to grant teachers greater freedom and flexibility to design school models and classroom innovations. Over thirty years later, educators are continuing to create a wide variety of charter schools. Some are focused on providing a STEM, language immersion, or arts-focused curriculum; others, such as Great Hearts Academies and Hillsdale Member Schools, offer the classical education model; and many urban charters are focused on closing the achievement gap. Although some of the “no excuses” charter school organizations have moved away from their original mission to provide a safe and well-run environment that provides low-income students with high-quality academic opportunities, other charter school networks, such as Success Academy, are continuing to ensure urban students thrive academically.

Bottom Line:

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that provide educational opportunities for educators and students. The covid era awakened many parents to the pernicious impact of the teachers unions and the callous unresponsiveness of the school district bureaucracy. Charter schools can provide families with innovative and academically-focused alternatives to traditional government-assigned public schools.