Charter Schools vs Public Schools

If it takes a village to raise a child, how many people does it take to pick the right school?

At some point in the process, the option of charter schools comes up and you can count on everyone to have a different opinion. Perhaps the biggest question parents have is: charter schools vs public schools – what makes charter schools different from traditional public schools?

While the separation between public and private schools it simple to understand, the difference between public schools and charter schools often gets muddied. To clarify, we’ve highlighted a few distinguishing features about charter schools vs public schools.

Charter Schools are Funded Differently

Technically, there is both a similarity and a difference here and it’s why there’s a lot of confusion about the two institutions.

For starters, both charter schools and public schools receive government funding. In reality, a more accurate description of charter schools would be “public schools of choice”.

While every charter school is publicly funded, the exact structure of that funding is determined on a state-by-state basis. Generally speaking, charter schools receive per-pupil funding from the state, along with some federal funding. In our home state of Arizona, for example, charter schools receive basic funding from the state and access to federal funding. But unlike public schools they can’t tap into local revenue sources like property taxes.

In summary: Both charter schools and traditional public schools receive state government funding, but the process differs between charter schools vs public schools.

Anyone Can Start a Charter School

Unlike traditional public schools, it’s possible for anyone to open a charter school. A determined group of parents, a team of educators, or a local organization can start a charter school, as long as it is non-discriminatory and non-sectarian.

But notice we said it’s possible – not easy.

As the name implies, these schools are chartered by local school boards. Opening a charter school isn’t as simple as buying chalk and textbooks and opening the door to students on the first day of school. Instead, there is a lengthy process that usually takes about two years to complete. Applicants must outline their proposed school’s mission statement, present a financial and operational plan, find suitable facilities, and more before they can start enrolling students.

Teachers Have More Flexibility With Learning Methods

One of the greatest advantages of charter schools vs public schools is the availability of choice. Traditional public schools bring a lot of standardization and rigidity. While this may work at the macro level, this one-size-fits-all approach tends to leave students behind.

Charter schools have the flexibility to try different learning strategies, place emphasis on different subject areas, and experiment with new teaching methods.  This flexibility provides a unique learning environment for students, and the opportunity for educators to innovate.

Charter Schools Are Outcome-Based

Charter schools don’t just get a free-for-all when it comes to their curriculum. They have to show results or lose their funding. Traditional public schools face less of an incentive to improve and upgrade their teaching methods on a regular basis. For charter schools, excellent student outcomes are an existential concern. This pushes charter school administrators and teachers to continually evaluate and improve their methods.

Students Are Chosen By Lottery

Charter schools don’t charge tuition and they can’t discriminate against certain applicants. That said, there are only a limited number of spots, which means there isn’t enough room to accept everyone. To make the process as fair as possible, charter schools use a lottery system to select new students.

Charter Schools Are Different From Each Other As Well

A lot of time is spent talking about the difference between charter schools, public schools, and private schools – and for good reason. But it’s also important to remember that there’s a lot of difference between individual charter schools as well.

Some are started by a group of parents. Others are part of a large network of charter schools like New York’s Success Academy.

Charter schools also differ when it comes to focus. There are charter schools that focus on performing arts and others that put an emphasis on STEM subjects.

Finally, charter schools have varying levels of success. Just as traditional public schools vary from district to district, so too do charter schools. Choosing the best one is about conducting thorough research. Ultimately, charter schools result in more choices for parents and unique learning opportunities for students.


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