4 Ways Charter Schools Are Public Schools (And Always Have Been)

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National Charter Schools Week is a great time of year to correct the record on what is a public school.

Charter school student raising hand in classroom with National Alliance branding

A public education doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all: that’s where public charter schools come in.

Public schools come in all shapes and sizes—from district schools to magnet schools to, you guessed it, public charter schools. Each type of public school serves students in similar but different ways and all can work together for the shared goal of providing a high-quality education to all students.

This National Charter Schools Week, we’re clarifying how and why charter schools are public schools:

1. Charter schools accept all students

Charter schools accept students of all abilities from every socioeconomic level across the spectrum. Charter schools across the country are meeting the needs of students with special needs (serving a similar percentage as district schools), those from diverse communities, and from a variety of English language proficiency levels, to name a few. Students are also not limited by where they live as any student can apply regardless of district boundaries.

2. Charter schools are tuition-free

No matter what type of school or specialization provided, every single charter school offers their educational services for free. Charter schools do not charge tuition. And, to clear up the myth, are predominantly nonprofit as well.

3. Charter schools are subject to public accountability

Charter schools are independently operated and held publicly accountable in several ways. First, they are subject to all transparency rules applicable to nonprofit organizations in their state. Second, they are required to abide by open meetings, open records, and financial audit laws in most states requiring transparency. As is the case with district school board meetings, anyone in the community can attend charter school board meetings. This transparency piece is critical because the public is notified and able to give input.

In addition, charter schools are held accountable by the standards set by their charter to ensure that the school achieves a certain academic and financial threshold. In some ways, charter schools are held even more accountable by having to achieve set standards to continue operating. When charter schools close it shows that they are working for students and families, not the bureaucracy.

It also goes without saying that, as public schools, charter schools always abide by federal and state laws regarding civil rights, safety, and health that prioritize student security and safety.

4. Charter schools are supported by public dollars

As public schools, charter schools are supported by public dollars, though unfortunately not to the same extent as district schools. In many cases charter schools are underfunded compared to their district counterparts and are forced to make ends meet in other ways.

Though charter schools may be left behind in terms of funding, they have increased flexibility over how they spend the money allotted, in many cases allowing more money to be put toward students rather than administrative costs. 

Either way, more funding is needed for all our public schools and we want to ensure every school gets the funding they need.

Education is a complex issue, but wanting high-quality education options that are public, free, and open to all and serve the needs of students is a no-brainer. Every student deserves the chance to get a great public education, regardless of zip code, income, and ability level.


Melinda Tolliver is the manager of digital media at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


Join us in our celebration of National Charter Schools Week and share on social media that charter schools are public schools!