What is a charter school?

A charter school is part of the public education system. It must provide special education services, comply with all applicable state and federal health and safety standards, exercise sound financial accountability practices, and operate with openness and transparency.

Like all public schools, public charter schools may not discriminate on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, or need for special education services, charge tuition, except for students transferring from other districts.

Like an independent school, a public charter school is operated by the governing body of the school (a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization), under the general supervision of the Local Education Authority.

A public charter school is free of charge for students. Typically, about 75% of the schools funding comes from state, federal, and local funds distributed to the school by the Local Education Authority.

A charter public school’ s governing body retains control over the academic program, subject to the requirement of meeting student achievement goals on state assessments.

A charter public school’ s governing body retains control over staffing decisions, subject to state licensure requirements.

A charter school is non-sectarian.

Will charter schools weaken public education?

Charter schools are prohibited by law from selective enrollment practices which might “cherry pick” the brightest and best students from the traditional public schools.

The successful collaboration between Tennessee’ s charter schools movement and other stakeholders in our public education system was a major factor in the state’ s winning Race to the Top proposal, helping to bring $500 million federal dollars to Tennessee’ s students.

Charter schools are public education. To the extent that they perform well or badly, they will strengthen or weaken public education.

Who may attend a public charter school?

Students who previously attended a charter public school;

Students who in the previous year failed to score proficient on state language arts or mathematics assessments

Students assigned to a school failing to make AYP in the previous year

Students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

Who actually attends Tennessee’s charter public schools and how are they doing?

According to Tennessee’s former Secretary of Education Timothy Webb’s 2008 report on Tennessee’ s charter schools…

• Tennessee’ s charter public school populations are much more likely to live with poverty (from 62% to 95%, compared to about 55% statewide).

• Between 91% and 99% of students in Tennessee’ s public charter schools are nonwhite.

• Tennessee’s charter public school students have higher proficiency in Math and Reading than the state average.

How are charter agreements negotiated and awarded?

By October 1 of the year preceding the year a proposed charter school plans to begin operations, the sponsoring foundation must submit an exhaustive application to the Local Education Authority, addressing all aspects of operating the school. Thoughtful, effective planning is essential to the implementation of an excellent school.

The LEA will carefully and fairly evaluate both the merits of the application and the capacity of the sponsors to execute it. Their denial may be appealed, ultimately to a state board. Charter schools operating on behalf of the public education system are held accountable for the service they will provide to our students.

A charter public school has greater flexibility to make decisions and address problems on-site than a traditional public school, but it will lose its charter for failure to meet benchmarks much more quickly than a traditional public school would be restructured in similar circumstances.

Other Legislative Purposes:

Offer options to parents of children attending underperforming schools

Offer opportunities for educational professionalism and innovation