What is a Charter School?

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools and enrollment is open to all students. They are independently operated schools that run with more flexibility than traditional public schools in exchange for increased accountability.

The “charter” that establishes each school is a contract detailing the school’s mission, program, performance goals, and methods of assessment. Every public charter school has an authorizer which, subject to state law, may be a district school board, university, Mayor’s office, or non-profit organization.  Authorizers are responsible for holding charter schools accountable for compliance with their operating agreements or “charters.”

5 Facts About Charter Schools 

Charter schools are public schools.

Charter schools are public schools, by definition and in practice. We are publicly funded and state-governed schools, open to all students who live in a given community. Our schools are governed by the same laws as any other public school, and our students must meet the same set of standards, including state testing and graduation requirements.

Charter schools are publicly funded.

Like any other public school, we rely on public dollars to sustain our work. Charter schools consistently receive less per-pupil funding than traditional district schools: a 2020 report from the University of Arkansas found that this gap is now wider than it’s ever been, with charter schools receiving an average of $8,000 less per student than district schools.

Ultimately, this shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. We need to ensure that all public schools—district, charter, and others—get the funding they need, so that students and families truly have choices when it comes to a high-quality public education.

Charter schools are tuition free and open to all.

Like all public schools, charter schools are open to any student who lives in the enrollment area. There is no entrance requirement, such as testing or prior academic record. At KIPP, if a school has more families wanting to attend than spaces available, we choose applicants at random through a blind lottery.

Charter schools are held accountable for their results.

Charter schools are held to the same district and state standards as all other public schools. Our students take the same standardized tests and must meet the same accountability measures. In addition, charter schools are held accountable to an authorizer—a district school board, university, nonprofit organization, or other overseeing body—that reviews their charter on a regular basis and determines whether they are delivering on their promises to students. A charter school that does not meet these academic or financial standards can be shut down.

Charter schools offer extracurriculars.

Charter schools are about more than just academics. Across the country, KIPP schools offer a wide range of extracurriculars including sports like football, volleyball, soccer, and cheerleading; performing arts programs like theater, dance, and music; visual arts classes; and clubs such as chess, debate, and robotics.

All KIPP schools are public charter schools. And yet, not all public charter schools are like KIPP. KIPP is a non-profit network of 280 college-preparatory, public charter schools educating early childhood, elementary, middle, and high school students.