Charter Public Schools 101
The first Massachusetts charter school opened in 1995. Today, 71 charter schools are educating more than 32,000 Massachusetts students (about 3 percent of the total). More than 45,000 students are on wait lists—no surprise given that Massachusetts charter schools are closing the persistent achievement gap between rich and poor. They are some of the most scrutinized, most successful charter schools in the country.
What are these schools all about? Read on for the basics and share our brochure in English or Spanish.
- Charter public schools promote choice and change More
- Charter schools are public schools More
- Charter schools operate with state funding More
- Charter schools are serving as models for district schools More
- Charter and district schools are collaborators More
- Anyone can start a charter public school More
Charter public schools were created by the Education Reform Act of 1993 to provide educational choices and opportunities for Massachusetts parents and their children, and to promote change in their school districts. Charter schools are based on the basic premise of increased autonomy in exchange for increased accountability. Charter schools have the freedom to lengthen their school day and year to provide more time in the classroom, establish their own educational culture, hire and fire teachers for performance, and tie teacher pay to performance. But in exchange they have more accountability. If charter schools do not demonstrate student achievement, they can and will be closed.
Choice is especially important in urban areas, where most charter schools are located. Charter schools attract and serve a disproportionate number of the state’s poor, minority, and/or academically challenged kids. Although historically district schools have served more children who cannot comfortably speak English, that is changing: three new charter schools focus on teaching English-language learners, and others have opened in neighborhoods with high immigrant populations.
Charter schools are, by law, open to everyone, free of charge. They cannot—and do not—select their students. If more children want to enroll in a school than it has space for, a random lottery determines who gets in. And while charter schools operate independently of local school districts, they are not “privately run.” They are managed by public boards of trustees, abide by all the same laws and rules that district schools do, and are overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
There are two types of charter public schools: Commonwealth Charter Schools (the vast majority) and Horace Mann Charter Schools. Unlike a Commonwealth Charter School, a Horace Mann Charter School must have the approval of the local school committee and teachers' union, and its yearly budget request must be approved by the local school committee. A second type of Horace Mann Charter School, referred to as “in-district,” was created by the state legislature in 2010 and limited to just 14 schools and they are exempt from union approval.
Remember, charter schools are public schools. When children opt to attend charter schools, the funds earmarked for their education move with them. To give districts time to adjust, the state provides additional local aid, specifically districts get more than double their money back over a six-year period. It’s the most generous reimbursement policy in the country. At the same time, charter schools receive 22 percent less funding than districts (by the state’s own accounting). Unlike district schools, which receive state subsidies of 50 to 80 percent of the total cost of their buildings, charter public schools largely finance their own facilities.
Through both competition and collaboration, Massachusetts charter public schools are influencing education. Among the trends that started with charter schools are more time in the classroom, pilot schools, Innovation Schools, and alternative teacher certification. The overall state program is cited as a model as well: its application and oversight practices have been rated the best in the nation. Read More
Charter schools introduce competition to public education, yet charter and district schools are collaborators too. Across the state, charter and district schools and their teachers and administrators have started dozens of collaborative programs for improving education. The most comprehensive was created in 2011 by the Boston Compact. It is paving the way for a new era of cooperation and collaboration that will benefit all Boston schoolchildren. Read More
Charter schools are founded by parents and community leaders who believe that the children in their community are not having their educational needs met by district schools. See How to Start a Charter School.