Charter schools are independent public schools with rigorous curriculum programs and unique educational approaches. In exchange for operational freedom and flexibility, charter schools are subject to higher levels of accountability than traditional public schools. Charter schools, which are tuition-free and open to all students, offer quality and choice in the public education system.
The "charter" establishing each such school is a contract detailing the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. In California, charters are granted for five years. At the end of the term, the entity granting the charter ("authorizer") may renew the school's contract. Charter schools are accountable to their authorizer, and to the students and families they serve, to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract.
Like traditional public schools, charters receive state funding based on a formula for each child enrolled in the school. Many charters also do additional fundraising to obtain grants and donations to pay for programs that are not fully funded by state or school district formulas.
When lawmakers passed the Charter Schools Act of 1992, California became the second state in the country (after Minnesota) to enact charter school legislation. The intent was to allow groups of educators, community members, parents, or others to create an alternative type of public school.
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