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Charter schools

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) by the group or jurisdiction that granted its charter 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). The first law allowing the establishment of charter schools was passed in Minnesota in 1991. In school year 2010-11, charter schools legislation had been passed in 41 states and the District of Columbia. In Maine, no charter schools were operational in 2010-11, even though the establishment of them had been approved. In the following states, charter school legislation has not been passed: Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

From 1999-2000 to 2010-11, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools increased from 0.3 million to 1.8 million students. During this period, the percentage of all public schools that were public charter schools, based on schools that reported enrollment, increased from 2 to 5 percent, comprising 5,300 schools in 2010-11.

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 59 percent in 2010-11. The percentage of charter schools with enrollments of 300-499 students increased from 12 to 22 percent during this period; the percentage with 500-999 students increased from 9 to 15 percent; and the percentage with 1,000 students or more increased from 2 to 4 percent.

In 2010-11, California enrolled the most students in charter schools (364,000), and the District of Columbia enrolled the highest percentage of public school students in charter schools (38 percent), representing 27,000 students. In that same year, more than 10 percent of public school students in Arizona were enrolled in charter schools. In 15 additional states, between 4 and 9.9 percent of public school students were enrolled in charter schools. Of the states with 4 percent or more public school students enrolled in charter schools, eight were in the West; three, plus the District of Columbia, were in the South; four were in the Midwest; and one was in the Northeast.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). The Condition of Education 2013 (NCES 2013–037), Charter School Enrollment.

Related Tables and Figures:  (Listed by Release Date)

Other Resources:  (Listed by Release Date)

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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education