What are charter schools? How common are they, and who do they serve?
A public charter school is a publicly funded school that is typically governed by a group or organization under a legislative contract or charter with the state or jurisdiction. The charter exempts the school from selected state or local rules and regulations. In return for funding and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards articulated in its charter. A school’s charter is reviewed periodically (typically every 3 to 5 years) and can be revoked if guidelines on curriculum and management are not followed or if the standards are not met (U.S. Department of Education 2000). In 2009–10, charter schools operated in 40 states and the District of Columbia. In the following states, a charter school law has not been passed: Alabama, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.
From 1999–2000 to 2009–10, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools more than quadrupled from 0.3 million to 1.6 million students. During this period, the percentage of all public schools that were public charter schools increased from 2 to 5 percent, comprising 5,000 schools in 2009–10. In addition to the increase in the number of charter schools, the enrollment size of charter schools has grown over time. The percentage of charter schools with enrollments under 300 students decreased from 77 percent in 1999–2000 to 61 percent in 2009–10. The percentage of charter schools with enrollments of 300–499 students increased from 12 to 21 percent during this period; the percentage with 500–999 students, from 9 to 14 percent; and the percentage with 1,000 students or more, from 2 to 4 percent.
The percentages of students in public charter schools who were White, Black, and American Indian/Alaska Native decreased between 1999–2000 and 2009–10 (42 vs. 37, 34 vs. 30, and 2 vs. 1 percent, respectively). The percentages who were Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander increased between 1999–2000 and 2009–10 (20 vs. 26, and 3 vs. 4 percent, respectively). The percentage of charter schools that were high-poverty schools—where more than 75 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced price lunch (FRPL)—was 33 percent in 2009–10 and the percentage of charter schools that were low-poverty schools—where 25 percent or fewer of students were eligible for FRPL—was 19 percent.In 2009–10, over half (54 percent) of charter schools were elementary schools. Secondary and combined schools accounted for 27 and 19 percent of charter schools, respectively. In that year, about 55 percent of charter schools were located in cities, 21 percent were in suburban areas, 8 percent were in towns, and 16 percent were in rural areas.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). The Condition of Education 2012 (NCES 2012–045), Indicator 4.
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