charter school

Charter School vs. Public School: What’s the Difference?

VWB Blog 2 years ago 4

The first charter school opened over 50 years ago. Since then, the movement has continued to grow thanks to federal support.

These educational institutions are now more commonplace than ever. Despite this, many Americans still don’t understand what they’re all about.

This can lead to misconceptions about charter schools’ role in education.

Are you among those who are in the dark about why we have charter schools, how they work, and how they’re different from other public schools?

Discover what you need to know here.

What Is a Charter School?

Charter schools are tuition-free schools that are privately run and publically funded.

Charter schools remain exempt from some state laws and regulations governing public schools. Yet, they aren’t free to do as they choose.

In exchange for these freedoms, charter schools must agree to a contract, known as a ”charter”. This document determines the school’s fiscal guidelines, academic goals, and its aims.

They’re accountable to a university, state agency, or school district when it comes to sticking within these guidelines.

Charter schools aren’t bound to draw students from set school districts. They may enroll students from any area according to their parent’s wishes. If demand exceeds the available space, the school holds a random letter to determine who they enroll.

If charter schools don’t meet expectations or diverge from their agreement, the powers-that-be can shut them down. In this way, charter schools receive more freedom, but they’re also bound by more accountability.

School funding and operational requirements vary between the states. Although charter schools meet some of the criteria for private schools, they’re mostly regarded as public schools. Students take the same assessments as their public school peers.

Eight states still don’t have charter school legislation. Others, like Washington, have been late adopters.

Minnesota was the first state to implement charter school legislation, followed by California. Charter schools in Utah and most other states came about after 1995.

What Do the Best Charter Schools Offer?

Charter schools present varied learning opportunities. They often suit students who are struggling with the conventional way of doing things.

Some programs offered by charter schools include:

  • Online learning
  • Virtual schools
  • Service-learning
  • Project-based instruction
  • Community service

They may also center their courses around topics like STEM, arts, or technology.

Charter School vs Public School Key Differences

Preparing students for college, careers, and life remains the aim of all schools across the USA. Yet, charter schools and conventional public schools take slightly different routes to get there.

These are the major differences between these two types of schools:

Increased Flexibility

Charter schools can adapt their curricula to suit students’ unique abilities and progress. They’re unbound by rigid state-regulated time frames and methods.

In many cases, this means charter school students progress faster than public school ones.

Traditional public schools must pass every decision along a chain of command. This comprises local and district school boards. Charter schools answer to a single, independent, more easily-accessible school board.

That means charter schools can make decisions much quicker.

Due to this, charter schools adapted faster to the unusual conditions presented by the pandemic. They mastered online learning, targeted direct instruction, and self-paced coursework years ago.


Both types of schools receive public funding, but there are a few differences in how this happens.

Charter school funding varies widely from state to state. In California, charter schools receive state aid and local funds according to the same funding formula as public schools. In Illinois, each school negotiates its funding with a sponsoring school district.

Despite these state contributions, charter schools also utilize some public funding. These pay for school facilities as they may not use public funds for this purpose.

Both charter schools and public schools receive funds based on a set formula. This calculates the average daily attendance of students, divided by the number of school days in the academic year.

Admissions and Enrollment

Although anyone can attend a charter school, most students hail from the local school district. This has more to do with logistics than anything else. The major difference between charter and public schools is that charter schools cap their admission.

This prevents a scarcity of resources due to having too many students.

Like public schools, charter schools can’t discriminate or charge tuition when enrolling students.

School Rules

Although charter schools have a few more freedoms than public schools do, they must still comply with strict regulations. Charter schools must abide by state mandates, national laws, and the terms of their charter agreements.

Traditional public schools answer to district school boards and LEAs (local education agencies).

Is a Charter School Best For Your Child

Whether you’re choosing a public school or a charter school, it’s vital to focus on what matters most to you. Then ask both the schools you’re considering for data to support these priorities.

This information might include graduation rates, college admission rates, and test scores. You could also look at student and parent satisfaction surveys, as well as the curricula offered at each type of school.

While charter schools try to avoid placing a high emphasis on test scores in favor of learning, their very survival depends on them. If a charter school’s students don’t perform as they should, the authorities could shut the school down.

For many parents, this represents a win-win situation. They can rest easy knowing their child is in an environment where learning and test scores are equally important.

In some public schools, there’s a more intense focus on test scores above all else.

Explore Your Options

Regardless of your preferences for a public or charter school, it’s good to know that you have choices regarding your child’s education.

Would you like to discover more options for education, health, and travel? Keep browsing our website.

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