Mississippi Center for Public Policy

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Answers: A Charter School Q&A

September 28, 2012

MCPP Policy Snapshot

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What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school that is created to meet students' educational needs in unique ways. Charter public schools are given freedom from some rules and regulations that traditional public schools have to follow. In exchange for that freedom, a charter school is held to a high standard of achievement and accountability. If it succeeds, it continues to operate; if it does not succeed, it closes.

No students or teachers are assigned to a charter school by a school district. Parents choose to send their children, and teachers choose whether to apply to teach at a charter school.

Why do we need charter schools?

The educational needs of some children are not being met in their current school setting. Parents who want to change that setting, however, do not have that option unless they can afford to move to a different school district, pay private school tuition, or home school. Charter schools offer those parents the opportunity to send their children to a public school that meets their needs.

Parents feel a sense of "ownership" in the school, which leads to a higher level of parental involvement. Many teachers are attracted to the smaller setting, reduced paperwork, and increased influence over school policy that charter public schools can offer. Charter schools can help local school districts relieve overcrowding and reduce class sizes.


New Orleans provides an excellent example of how students benefit from charter schools.  In the city's Recovery School District over 70% of schools are public charter schools. Of those charter schools, 87% perform at or above the level of non-charter public schools in math, and 81% do as well or better in reading. Nearly 43% of charter schools outperform non-charter public schools in math, and 34% outperform in reading. Students are getting an excellent education at New Orleans' charter schools, and Mississippi could duplicate that success in our school districts.

Are charter schools public schools?

Yes. Like other public schools, charter schools are prohibited from charging tuition or discriminating in enrollment; their students must take the same state standardized tests as those in other public schools; they must meet all applicable health, safety, and civil rights requirements; they are subject to financial audits in the same manner as a public school district; they are subject to the same guidelines on teaching religious doctrine as other public schools; and they must answer to either the local or state school board for their performance.

Why are they called "charter" schools?

A 'charter' is a performance contract between the creators of the school and the local or state (or both) school board. It details the school’s mission, programs, goals, students served, and methods of assessing student achievement. It also identifies the criteria by which the school board will measure its progress throughout the term of the charter. The length of time for which a charter is granted varies, but in most states, it is granted for 3-5 years. At the end of the term, the board granting the charter renews the school's contract if it has been successful.

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