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 certain state or local rules and regulations. In return for flexibility and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards stated in its charter. A school's charter is reviewed periodically (typically every 3 to 5 years) by the group or jurisdiction that granted it and can be revoked if guidelines on curriculum and management are not followed or if the standards are not met. The first law allowing the establishment of charter schools was passed in Minnesota in 1991. Charter school legislation had been passed in 42 states and the District of Columbia as of school year 2011–12. Despite legislative approval in Maine and Washington, no charter schools were operational in these states in 2011–12. Charter school legislation has not been passed in the following states: Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia.
From school year 1999–2000 to 2011–12, the percentage of all public schools that were public charter schools increased from 1.7 to 5.8 percent, and the total number of public charter schools increased from 1,500 to 5,700. In addition to increasing in number, charter schools have generally increased in enrollment size over time. From school year 1999–2000 to 2011–12, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools increased from 0.3 million to 2.1 million students. During this period, the percentage of public school students who attended charter schools increased from 0.7 to 4.2 percent. Between school years 2010–11 and 2011–12, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools increased from 1.8 million to 2.1 million.
In school year 2011–12, among all states California enrolled the largest number of students in charter schools (413,000, representing 7 percent of total public school students in the state), and the District of Columbia enrolled the highest percentage of public school students in charter schools (39 percent, representing 29,000 students). After the District of Columbia, Arizona had the second highest percentage (13 percent) of charter school enrollment as a percent of total public school enrollment.
From school year 1999–2000 to 2011–12, charter schools experienced changes in their demographic composition similar to those seen at traditional public schools. The percentages of charter school students who were Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander increased (from 20 to 28 percent and from 3 to 4 percent, respectively). In contrast, the percentage of charter school students who were White decreased from 42 to 36 percent, and the percentages who were Black and American Indian/Alaska Native decreased as well.
The percentage of students attending high-poverty charter schools—schools in which more than 75 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP)—increased from 14 percent in school year 1999–2000 to 31 percent in school year 2011–12. Over the same period, the percentages of students attending charter schools with lower percentages of students qualifying for FRPL decreased.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). The Condition of Education 2014 (NCES 2014–083), Charter School Enrollment.
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