Are Charter Schools Public Schools?

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Black teacher and student at computer

This week, charter schools across the country are #PublicSchoolProud and celebrating National Public Schools Week, February 21-25, 2022, along with thousands of other public schools.

Public Schools Week is an annual celebration that brings together school leaders, educators, parents, and community leaders to recognize the importance of our nation's public schools—including charter schools. Why’s that? Because charter schools are public schools—always!

Here are three ways to explain how charter schools are public schools:

1. Charter schools are tuition-free.

Charter schools are public schools that are tuition-free—just like any other public school. They do not charge families tuition under any circumstances. Charter schools are simply another free public school option for students and families in the communities they serve and, in many cases, are founded by members of those communities.

2. Charter schools are open to all students.

Charter schools accept any student who applies to them, provided there is room. Charter schools are in high demand, so to play fair they have a lottery system that gives everyone an equal opportunity to get in.

The best way to make sure all students have access to a high-quality public school that is right for them is to ensure that charter schools exist and are allowed to thrive in the communities they are in.

3. Charter schools follow the same laws as all public schools.

Charter schools are held to the same standards as other public schools in their states and are beholden to state and federal laws. They are accountable to state test standards, state education laws, and federal regulations like Title I and the American Disabilities Act. In addition, they also uphold the standards set in their charter and are accountable to each and every parent who sends their students to the school.

So, what makes charter schools different from district schools? Charter schools are not beholden to specific district school boards—affording them the ability to meet students where they are without the red tape. They’re accountable to the families who attend them and the standards in their founding charter (hence, “charter” school).

And—what someone may not have told you—the more people learn about what is a charter school and understand that charter schools are public schools, the more likely they are to support them


Melinda Tolliver is the director of digital strategy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.