The numbers don’t lie. More and more families are opting to leave their traditional neighborhood public schools for a chance at a better education for their children. Currently in the United States there are just over 1 million student names on charter school waiting lists.
Charter School Enrollment Is Up, Way Up
This school year alone saw 600 new charter schools open with 288,000 new students enrolled, which is a 7% and 13% increase over 2012-2013 respectively. There are 2.5 million students enrolled in 6,400 charter schools nationwide. And since the 2007-2008 school year, charter schools have seen a 100% increase in student enrollment! (See National Alliance for Public Charter Schools).
Clearly, the demand for charter schools is real. Still, the fact that students of charter schools have to come from somewhere, namely traditional public schools, has made charter schools a hot-button issue in some circles. As with all issues, however, information is power.
The Power Is in the Parents’ Hands
In many ways, parents today have to be prepared to invest in their children’s education beyond simply encouraging their children to catch the bus and complete homework. When a family’s public school is failing to meet certain standards as mandated by various laws, parents can legally transfer their children to a nearby school that performs up to necessary standards; however, most high-performing public schools and magnet schools in urban areas have hopeless wait lists.
That is where charter schools can offer a quality alternative, free of charge.
Accountability of Charter Schools
Charter schools are most common in urban areas that are in need of quality education options. Charter schools are tuition-free, non-selective public schools that are held to the same standards as traditional public schools but are free to use alternative teaching practices to meet student needs. They are not magnet schools and they are not private schools.
Contrary to popular belief, charter schools do not lack oversight, and they are not unregulated. To the contrary, if they do not meet mandated standards each year, they are shut down. This past fall saw roughly 200 charter schools closed due to factors such as low enrollment, financial concerns, and low academic performance. But the vast majority of charter schools are meeting or exceeding standards.
What’s Different about Charter Schools?
The one commonality between all charter schools is a more individualized approach to education. Usually charter schools offer smaller class sizes and longer school days and years. Charter schools can choose to have a specific focus. For example, Concept Schools, which is a network with 30 high-quality schools in 6 Midwest states, has a particular focus on rigorous college prep curriculum, high standards for all, and a strong STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math), as well as other special areas. Other specialties for charter schools include:
- High academic achievement
- Children with special needs
- Troubled youth
- Fine arts
- Select family and core values
Funding for Charter Schools
Charter schools receive $1,500 less per student on average every year than traditional public schools do because charter schools are not eligible for local tax funding. However, charter schools often develop innovative ways that not only compensate for the lack of government funding but can actually improve the student experience and provide a better education. A few examples of how charter schools obtain necessary funds include:
- Charter schools are often more competitive for federal grant monies due to specific focuses and data that demonstrates greater efficacy in focused programs, such as higher rates of college placement and superior student SAT and ACT test scores.
- Charter schools can mandate a minimum level of parental involvement. Parent volunteers can eliminate the need for additional administrative staff and help support teachers. In addition, parental involvement in school has repeatedly been shown to have a positive correlation with student success.
- Some charter schools are fortunate enough to have community partners and corporate sponsors that help offset the lower government funding they receive.
Get the Facts
Just over 1 million students are on waiting lists for charter schools for a reason. The high increase in public charter school student enrollment the past few years demonstrates parents’ demand for high-quality educational options. Yet, media coverage and political debates over charter schools can be confusing. To become more informed about the quality education choice of charter schools, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools “Get the Facts” webpage is a great place to start!