Charter School FAQ
What are charter schools?
A charter school is a public school whose operation is based on a contract with an authorizer (in Utah this is the state board of education), and is funded by the government, but may be initiated and run by parents, teachers, corporations, or community members. 40 states have charter schools. Charter school laws allow differing degrees of autonomy for charter schools, from blanket waivers of state laws and rules to no waivers from regulation. The purpose of charter schools is to find new and innovative ways of educating students that are more effective and perhaps more efficient, and to allow individuals and organizations outside of the educational establishment to create and run schools.
Does a charter school charge tuition?
No. Charter schools are public schools, funded by taxpayers, just as local public schools are. In Utah , charter schools are not allowed to charge tuition. Charter schools are free to parents.
How can I get my child into a charter school?
Charter schools enroll children through a lottery according to state law and federal funding guidelines. Parents sign an application for enrollment and their child is entered into a lottery, from which the seats are filled.
How many charter schools are there in Utah ?
There are currently more than 100 charter schools operating in Utah, with more opening each year. A complete listing of schools can be found at http://www.schools.utah.gov/charterschools/directory.htm
How are charter schools funded?
They receive the same state funding your local neighborhood school would have received for your child. Federal funds are also available for start-up costs, and these grants last for 3 years.
Are the schools accredited?
Charter schools that serve students in grades 9-12 must be accredited just like other public schools. Elementary charters may choose to become accredited (GWA is FULLY accredited).
Are the students at charter schools assessed for academic performance?
Yes. We assess our students both internally and with participation in mandatory testing. Charter school students must participate in the same testing that public school students do. Results are published through the USOE.
Are teachers certified?
Absolutely. Charter school teachers are under the same licensing requirements as teachers at other public schools.
Do I have to live in a certain area to attend a charter school?
No. Charter schools generally can serve students living in any district in Utah who wish to apply.
Do charter schools have uniforms?
Usually but not always. Many schools have dress codes. GWA does have a dress code.
Do all charter schools have a “focus”?
Utah is unique in that several of the first few charter schools had a focus, such as the Jean Massieu School for the Deaf and Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts. This created a misunderstanding that charter schools are “specialty” schools. While several charter schools do have a focus, most are focused on academic achievement of students and that is their primary purpose according to state and federal laws and guidelines. Improving student academic achievement is the focus of charter schools. GWA’s focus is Academic Rigor.
In what way are charter schools a benefit to the community?
Charter schools can relieve some of the overcrowding in existing public schools, class sizes can shrink in regular public schools as well as providing smaller class sizes in the Charter School itself without placing undue burdens on taxpayers. The national class size ratio is 17.2 (public school) to 16 (charter school). In Utah the average class size is 24.
Charter schools often better meet the needs of students because they are smaller schools. They are governed by a board of parents, business leaders, and educators who can be more responsive to individual needs due to the smaller number of students and parents involved. Research amply demonstrated the optimal school size is between 200 and 400 students, and charter schools are much more likely than neighborhood schools to fall into the ideal range.
Charter schools offer more choices in the school’s configuration of grades. Most public schools follow the traditional grades of K-6 for elementary, 7-8 for middle school and 9-12 for high school. Charter schools are three times as likely to have other configurations such as K-8 and four times as likely as public schools to have K-12. This can be a benefit to students because they often have the same academic expectation for most, if not all, their educational experience.
What if charter schools fail to provide what they promise?
A charter school is allowed three years to produce what it promised in its charter. If it fails to live up to the charter, the State School Board has the power the shut it down.
Charter School Myths
There are many myths about charter schools. Following are a few of them with the correct information:
Myth: Charter Schools only take the “best” students, leaving the public schools with those least able to learn.
Truth: Charter students are selected by a random drawing, so charter schools are UNABLE to “choose” the children they will teach.
Myth: Charter schools don’t serve special education students.
Truth: Charter schools serve special education students at the same ( Utah ) or higher (national) rates than the public schools.
Myth: Charter schools get more money per pupil than public schools.
Truth: Charter schools receive LESS money per student than their neighborhood school receives per student. The Utah Taxpayers Association calculates that charter schools receive $610 per students less than district schools. Good information on this topic can be found here.
Myth: Charter schools “drain” money from public schools
Truth: In areas where student populations are increasing, charters don’t negatively impact the school district financially. The “dollars follow the scholars” and as students move to a charter school, their funding follows them. In growing districts, that student’s seat is filled by another student and there is no negative financial impact on the district. In fact, growing districts experience significant benefits from charter schools. The three charter schools in Jordan District house a total of over 1500 students, saving the district from building 2 elementary schools. In addition, school districts are allowed to keep the property tax revenue for students who attend charter schools in their district. The state pays charter schools a category of income called “local replacement” to make up for the property taxes the district gets to keep and does not forward on to charter schools. For a school of 500 students, the district gets to keep over $350,000 annually. Clearly, under the current funding process, charter schools SAVE the districts a significant amount of money each year.
In districts where enrollment is declining, charter schools may have a negative fiscal impact temporarily, but because the “dollars follow the scholars” the district is no longer responsible to educate the student so they no longer have any expenses associated with that student. This requires reallocation of resources on the part of the district, but is not a net reduction in funding of public schools. The provider has simply changed and the funding is sent to the charter school instead of the district.