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  • Leo Pacheco

What is a Charter School

Updated: Sep 7

And how does it compare or differ from traditional public schools?



Charter schools are public schools that operate under contract, or a “charter,” with a legitimate sponsor (such as a school district, college, or business), and provides autonomy and flexibility not often realized by traditional public schools, while holding them accountable for academic and financial results. The charter contract between the charter school governing board and the sponsor details the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment and ways to measure success. The length of time for which charters are granted varies but most are granted for five years, with the opportunity to renew in 5-year terms.


Charter schools are intended to improve student learning, increase learning opportunities, and measure learning outcomes. They may create innovative measurement tools, provide competition to stimulate improvement in traditional schools, expand capacity of the public school system, and mitigate the educational impact created by the development of new residential units.





Who is eligible to attend a charter school?


Charter schools are open to all students residing within the district; however, they are allowed to target students within specific age groups or grade levels, students considered at-risk of dropping out or failing, students wishing to enroll in a charter school-in-the-workplace or charter school-in-a-municipality, students residing within a reasonable distance of the school, students who meet reasonable academic, artistic or other eligibility standards established by the charter school, or students matriculating from one charter school to another. Additionally, a charter school may give enrollment preference to the following student populations:


  • Siblings of current charter school students

  • Children of a charter school governing board member or employee

  • Children of employees of the business partner of a charter school-in-the-workplace or resident of the municipality in which such a charter is located

  • Children of residents of a municipality that operates a charter school-in-a-municipality

  • Students who have successfully completed a voluntary prekindergarten program provided by the charter school during the previous year

  • Children of an active-duty member of any branch of the US Armed Forces.

  • Students who attended or are assigned to failing schools

How are charter schools created?


Charter schools are created when an individual, a group of parents or teachers, a business, a municipality, or a legal entity submits an application to the school district; the school district approves the application; the applicants form a governing board that negotiates a contract with the district school board; and the applicants and district school board agree upon a charter or contract. The district school board then becomes the sponsor of the charter school, although the charter school is not governed by the District, but rather by the school's governing Board of Directors.


The negotiated contract outlines expectations of both parties regarding the school's academic and financial performance.


A charter school must be organized as, or be operated by, a nonprofit organization. The charter school may serve a specific demographic of students (such as at-risk students, ESE, ESOL, etc.) or offer a specialized curriculum or core academic program (such as STEM) to help meet the needs of the student community.


CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE PIONEERS AND INNOVATORS

Charter schools allow creative parents, teachers and educational leaders to design schools that better serve particular student populations. Charters have the ability to limit class and school size, and research shows that smaller schools are generally safer and better able to nurture a community of learners than larger schools, making charter schools an intriguing option for parents and students who learn better in small groups versus large, over-populated traditional schools.

Charters select their own curriculum design, and are free to establish achievement-oriented cultures and choose staff to best support these structures from day one. They are not tied to District-wide curricular requirements or teaching styles.

Charter schools are mission-driven schools created by educators who envision a school committed to a particular purpose and philosophy.


This doesn't mean charter schools are not held to the highest of standards. In fact, charters are often held to a higher standard of academic performance than their traditional, larger school counterparts, and must compete with a larger population of school choice options.


While all schools compete with private, homeschool, and virtual school options, large, traditional schools are lightly impacted by students who choose other alternatives to learning, typically because they are already overcrowded. Whereas, a charter school can be dramatically impacted by the loss of a few students, resulting in lower enrollment and demand. So, it serves the best interest of all involved for the charter school to provide a strong, competitive choice for parents and students alike.


In addition to adhering to the educational standards required by the Department of Education, the organization is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization and must adhere to IRS rules and regulations, as well.


While remaining accountable, charter schools do not sacrifice educational and academic innovation and flexibility to teach, making it a pioneer in education!


How are charter schools funded?


Charter schools are funded through the Florida Education Finance Program in the same way as all other public schools in the school district. The charter school receives operating funds from the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) based on the number of full-time (FTE) students enrolled.


Charter school funding includes gross state and local funds, discretionary lottery funds, and funds from the school district's current operating discretionary millage levy; divided by the total funded weighted full-time equivalent (FTE) students in the school district; multiplied by the weighted FTE students in the charter school. Charter schools are entitled to their proportionate share of categorical program funds, for eligible students and programs.


As a non-profit organization, charter schools are not, and should not be, restricted to government funding as their only means of revenue. Board members and the administration team solicit donations from small to large corporate donors through strategically planned fundraisers, events, individual and corporate giving campaigns, grants, and other means to help fund the school without being limited to government funding.


CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE APPEALING TO TEACHERS

Charters can harness the energy and creativity of innovative and experienced educators. Teachers often feel restricted and micro-managed by their district leaders, school boards, and colleagues in larger traditional schools. Charter schools tend to offer more opportunities for educators to have freedom-to-teach, using innovative, creative, experiential, out-of-the-box flexibility when it comes to style and personal integration in coaching and mentoring students.


This not only creates an atmosphere where teachers feel their voices are heard and their talents are utilized at greater capacity, but it also facilitates stronger relationship with parents and students as they optimize their teaching skills and tailor them to help meet individual student needs.

CHARTER SCHOOLS APPEALING TO PARENTS AND STUDENTS. THEY ARE:

  • Free.

  • Public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, non-home-based schools.

  • Non-selective in enrollment. There are no admission tests or admissions requirements.

  • Often designed to serve under-served populations.

  • Appealing to students whose needs are not being met by traditional schools.

  • Frequently have waiting lists of student applicants - showing demand.

CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE MEETING PARENTS' NEEDS BY PROVIDING EDUCATION CHOICE

Charter school legislation facilitates the rights of parents to make informed choices about their child’s education. Each of Florida’s charter schools is distinct. They are all seeking innovative ways to run a public school, giving parents public school choice, proving that "one size does not fit all." Because parents CHOOSE charter schools, many feel a sense of ownership that, in turn, results in increased involvement and higher achievement.

CHARTERS ARE COMMITTED TO IMPROVING PUBLIC EDUCATION

Charter schools exist to provide educational opportunities not previously available, not because they are mandated to exist like traditional public schools. As charter schools become more a part of their communities, they have started to demonstrate and share strong educational practices with other public schools.

Charters work through a unique trade-off of "autonomy for accountability." By experimenting with new measures of student achievement, charters are encouraging districts to look beyond standardized test scores for exclusive proof of student success.

Charters are building new models of community and parent involvement because, as schools of choice, they can see the importance of keeping their customers satisfied.

CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE NOT PRIVATE SCHOOLS

Although charter schools offer a private school feel without the tuition, charter schools are schools of choice that are publicly funded and not affiliated with religious institutions or churches.

Charter schools are subject to the same safety regulations, civil rights regulations, standardized testing, and financial accountability as other public schools; whereas private schools do not necessarily have to meet these same regulations and requirements - hence the reason they are private and charge a large tuition fee.

Unlike some private schools, charter schools are open to enrollment of any and all students.

WHAT IS A CHARTER MANAGEMENT ORGANIZATION?

Charter schools may be managed by a charter management organization (CMO), which is an educational organization that operates charter schools in the United States. A CMO contracts with a charter school to provide a specific service or set of services. While most states require that CMO's are not for profit, Florida permits for-profit CMOs to contract with charter school organizations as a "vendor" of management related services.


It's kind of like hiring a third-party property manager to manage your investment property.


Clear Choice Academies, Inc. is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization that owns and operates its own schools and is not a CMO, nor do we contract services with a CMO. This ensures that we are fiscally and financially responsible, while maintaining more accountability with our staff to ensure students receive the highest educational opportunity possible.

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