About Charter Schools
Charter schools are tuition-free public schools, created and operated by parents, organizations, or community groups to meet an educational need not otherwise filled by traditional schools.
Charter School FAQs
Are charter schools public schools?
Yes, charter schools are public schools. They are non-sectarian, tuition-free and open to any student who applies as long as there are seats available. Charter schools offer choices for parents seeking an educational model that is the best fit for their child.
Are there admission requirements?
Charter schools cannot have admission processes that unlawfully discriminate against students. Charter schools accept all students who want to attend. If there are more applicants than there are seats available, a charter school is required by law to hold a lottery to determine which applicants will be offered admission and which will be placed on a wait list. CLC Schools uses an annual, computerized lottery system.
Are parents required to volunteer or donate?
No. While parental involvement is a critical factor in student success, a charter school may not require parental involvement or financial support as a condition of enrollment. No student may be excluded or lose their place at a charter school based on a parent's donations or volunteer hours.
How many California students attend charter schools?
About 675,000 students, or just under 11% of California's public school student population, attended charter schools in 2019-20 (as per California Department of Education data).
Do charter schools reflect the diversity of the communities they serve?
Enrollment figures show that California's charter school students are just as diverse (racially and economically) as students who attend traditional district schools. In 2019-20, charter school students in the City of Alameda were 12% African American, 22% Asian/Pacific Islander, 27% Hispanic or Latinx, 11% Multiracial, and 24% White.
How are charter schools funded?
Public funding generally follows the student to the public school the parents choose, whether it is a charter school or a traditional district school. In California, both traditional and charter public schools are funded under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). This formula allocates state and local tax dollars to public education agencies based on the number of students in each grade level. Additional funding is provided for students with high needs, such as low-income students and English language learners.
Does money allocated to charter schools come out of school districts' budgets?
Money allocated to charter schools does not come out of school districts' budgets. The state and the federal government allocate education funds based on the number of students, their grade level and their needs. If a student chooses to go to a charter school, the money is allocated to the charter school to educate that student. In other words, the money follows the student.
Do charter schools contribute funding to their authorizing school district?
Yes, all charter schools authorized by a school district pay an oversight fee to that school district, which provides for the cost of the district conducting school visits, fiscal and academic monitoring, renewal evaluation and other required forms of oversight. Charter schools pay between one and three percent of their revenues to the district to cover these oversight costs.
Charter schools that use school district facilities pay the school district for those facilities. Facility payments are based on a percentage of district facility costs and sometimes mirror a market-rate lease.
Many charter schools pay additional funds to their authorizing district to provide back-office administrative services, food services, or special education services.
Do charters receive the same amount of funding as traditional district schools?
Even though the funding follows the student, historical funding gaps between charter schools and traditional school districts have been documented. This can occur when charter schools are not included in local school bonds, parcel taxes, or grant programs that benefit traditional schools. In California, the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) has begun to reduce some of this inequity. In addition, structural inequities in the LCFF prohibit many charter schools from receiving concentration grants for all of their neediest students, because their concentration grant funding is capped at the district average.
Are charter schools run by nonprofit corporations?
Yes. In nearly all states, and in California as of July 1, 2019, charter schools may not be operated by for-profit entities. CLCS, Inc. is the nonprofit, public benefit corporation that operates ACLC and Nea Schools.
How is oversight provided to charter schools?
Charter schools must operate in accordance with state and federal law. They must abide by health and safety laws, and cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Charter school governing bodies are subject to public body rules and ethical financial practices and, like all public school districts, must have an annual independent financial audit in accordance with state rules.
Charter schools also have oversight from their authorizers (the local school district, county office of education, or State Board of Education). ACLC and Nea are authorized by the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD). Authorizers review financial reports, have the authority to conduct audits, determine if the charter school should be renewed at the end of the charter school's term (usually every five years) and can revoke a charter school for violations of law, fiscal mismanagement, or if the school is not meeting pupil academic outcomes or the terms of its charter.
How are charter schools held academically accountable?
Charter public schools are held accountable by their authorizer and by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submits a charter petition, they must define their academic goals. To be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals. Charter authorization must be renewed at least every five years to ensure the charter school continues to have good academic results, and is operating in a fiscally and operationally responsible manner.
Families choose to enroll their children in charter schools, and families can remove them if they are dissatisfied with the school. A charter school that neglects its academic duties will soon find that its enrollment has dwindled, and major changes may be necessary for the school to remain open.
What types of educational programs do charters offer?
Every charter school is allowed the freedom to create its own educational methodology. Because charter schools have this flexibility, they can offer innovative educational strategies and approaches to meet the needs of all students. Teachers, students, parents and administrators all have a say in the types of instructional methods, materials and academic programs the school offers. Charter school models include, but are not limited to: college preparation, dual language immersion, performing arts, math, science, technology and much more. All these academic programs must align with the Common Core State Standards, and charter school students must participate in state required standardized testing.
Do charter school teachers have to have credentials?
In California, charter schools are required to hire credentialed teachers for core and college preparatory subjects just like all traditional public schools.
Are charter schools unionized?
Charter schools, like all public schools, are subject to the Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA) and each state's collective bargaining laws. The decision to unionize is made by employees at the local level. CLCS employees are unionized, and represented by Nea ACLC United (NAU), which is affiliated with the California Teachers Association (CTA).
Do charter serve students with special needs?
Charter schools are required to enroll and serve students with disabilities in the same manner as traditional public schools and in compliance with all applicable state and federal laws.
In California, a charter school may be part of its authorizer's Local Educational Agency (LEA) or may be an independent LEA for special education purposes. When a charter school is part of an LEA, the authorizer (the local school district, county office of education, or State Board of Education) maintains responsibility for special education and retains full control over special education programs at the charter school, unless an alternative arrangement is negotiated through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
When a charter operates as its own LEA for special education purposes, it assumes full responsibility for special education, but also gains the funding and flexibility to design and implement innovative programs that align with the charter school's mission and needs of its students.
Depending on a student's individual needs and the type of special education arrangement, offering appropriate special education services may result in the charter school working with a school district program, a non-public school or agency, or another charter school to provide a level or type of service that is not available at the individual charter school site. Ultimately, the student's parents and representatives (the IEP team) make the final determination of the best educational option and services for the student.