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Charter schools are independently operated public schools receiving tax-supported public education funding. From the viewpoint of parents and pupils, here's a 10-point guide to how they work:

Anyone can apply; there's no tuition.

The school's five-year renewable charter, a contract with educational authorities, spells out its mission. Schools can be themed (integrated technology or special services to physically disadvantaged students are examples), but must "meet or exceed" State Board of Regents educational standards.

Aside from exceptions allowing single-sex schools or schools serving only at-risk students, admissions policies cannot discriminate. Unlike private schools, charter schools cannot pick students on the basis of intellect or achievement. If a school has more applicants than available spots, a largely random selection process is required (preferences are allowed for local district residents or siblings of already-enrolled students).

Bus transportation is provided by the school district of pupil residence, within the same 15-mile circle now provided for pupils of non-public schools. Textbooks are available from the district school the pupil is eligible to attend.

Charter schools are also required to provide special education programs and services, but may contract them out to the pupil's home district or another provider.

Charter schools must have a minimum of 50 pupils and three teachers after the start-up year, unless there's a compelling reason for a smaller school.

Charter school operators are free to design, staff and operate their schools as they see fit (for example, requiring longer school days or a longer school year). Performance is monitored by the chartering agent, Regents and local school district.

Charter schools must obey all laws relating to health, safety, civil rights, compulsory education for minors and student assessment (including required state tests). Otherwise, they're free from all state and local school laws and regulations, including teacher tenure laws.

State Education Department certification is required for most of the teachers, although charter schools are allowed to employ five teachers or 30 percent of the instruction staff (whichever is less) who lack certificates but have exceptional qualifications and experience.

No charter may be granted to a school controlled by a religious denomination, although religious may serve as trustees or staff members. The law also bans issuing of charters to schools "in which any denominational tenet or doctrine would be taught" and forbids the conversion of any existing private school to a tax-funded charter school.

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