What Is A Public Charter School?


Charter schools expand learning

Last Updated on April 9, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Public charter schools are a relatively new concept, but have improved student education in California exponentially. What are they?

What is a Public Charter School?

Let’s break down what “Charter School” means:

The word “charter” is a noun that means “a written statement of the principles and aims of an organization” per the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary.

“School” as we know is “a place where children go to be educated” per the Oxford.

A charter school means a public school created and bound by their charter, the written document which outlines its purposes, goals, and essential rules. This document must be approved by the school district which is authorizing the public charter school.

Purpose of Public Charter Schools

Charter schools are public schools authorized in under the “Charter Schools Act of 1992” which states:

Learning options provided by charter schools
Charter schools provide options for California students

The purpose outlined by the legislature for such schools is to

[P]rovide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure as a method to accomplish all of the following:
(a)  Improve pupil learning.
(b)  Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.
(c)  Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods.
(d)  Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the schoolsite.
(e)  Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system.
(f)  Hold the [charter] schools established…accountable for meeting measurable pupil outcomes, and provide the schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.
(g)  Provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools.
[California Education Code section 47600]

Who could disagree with these goals?

Charter Schools Are Public Schools

Charter schools ARE basically public schools set up outside the traditional system, to give students a choice in education.  Any student can apply to attend a California charter school, even if it is located outside their home school district. Students don’t need an interdistrict or intradistrict transfer to enter.

Charter schools mean new options in education.  They can focus on specific curriculum, such as the performing arts (drama, art, photography, etc.), the sciences, and other areas of student interest.

Three charter students jumping happily
Students can excel in charter schools which provide new opportunities for learning

Charter Schools Are Under Attack

Charter schools have been very successful in California and have helped tens of thousands of students to achieve a quality education the traditional public schools cannot always provide. This success has resulted in many students moving away from traditional public schools into charter schools. The result? Less money in the coffers of public schools.

This has resulted in efforts to curb charter school growth in the state, and litigation is ongoing to correct the efforts to stop charter growth.

Public charter schools are not responsible for poor education in California public schools or mismanaged funds of public school districts. If the public schools would do their jobs, charter schools would not be necessary. The purpose of charter schools is to provide varied opportunities for students to learn.  

Charter Schools Are Free

Attendance at a public charter school is free, as charter schools are supported by public funds.