Frequently Asked Questions

Today there are nearly 3 million students nationwide attending charter public schools. By 2020, that number is expected to reach over four million students. To learn more about charter public schools in Washington, download our Fact Sheet.

 

FAQ


 

Are charter schools public schools?

Yes. Charter schools are a type of public school. Like all public schools, they are: Open to all students Tuition-free Publicly funded Staffed by certified…

Yes. Charter schools are a type of public school. Like all public schools, they are:

  • Open to all students
  • Tuition-free
  • Publicly funded
  • Staffed by certified teachers
  • Held accountable to state and national standards

However, charter public schools are held more accountable for showing improved student achievement. In exchange for greater accountability, teachers and principals are given more flexibility to customize their teaching methods and curriculum to improve student learning, and have more flexibility around things like staffing and length of the school day and school year.

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Who is attending charter public schools, and how did they choose their schools?

Parents choose charter public schools, not the other way around. And no one is assigned to public charter schools. Public charter schools are free and…

Parents choose charter public schools, not the other way around. And no one is assigned to public charter schools. Public charter schools are free and open to all students, and the schools are not allowed to hand-pick or discriminate against students for any reason. If a school does not have room for all of the students who want to attend, students are admitted by a random, public lottery.

Washington’s charter public schools are helping to close the education equity gap. A majority of charter public school students in Washington are students of color, as compared to 43 percent statewide, and a majority of charter public school students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, as compared to 45 percent statewide.

In some communities, traditional public schools are meeting the needs of local students. But in other communities – particularly communities of color that struggle with poverty – they are not. In Washington, African American, Latino and Native American students are scoring between 15-20 percent lower on state assessments. According to 2015-16 mid-year and end-of-year assessment results, students at Washington’s charter public schools are making impressive gains in reading and math.

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Who can attend a charter public school?

Any student in Washington state can attend a charter public school, and they do not have to compete for a spot at the school. However,…

Any student in Washington state can attend a charter public school, and they do not have to compete for a spot at the school. However, if more students want to attend a specific charter school than there are spaces available, enrollment is determined by a random lottery.

To learn more and find enrollment information for charter schools in your area, click here.

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Where and when are charter public schools opening in Washington?

Currently, there are ten operating charter public schools in Washington state, in Highline, Tukwila, Kent, Seattle, Tacoma, Walla Walla, and Spokane. Five more have been…

Currently, there are ten operating charter public schools in Washington state, in Highline, Tukwila, Kent, Seattle, Tacoma, Walla Walla, and Spokane. Five more have been authorized to open in Fall 2020. View our school finder here.

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Do charter public schools provide meals and transportation to students?

Yes, charter public schools offer breakfast and lunch to students and provide meals at free and reduced rates for families who qualify. Bus transportation is…

Yes, charter public schools offer breakfast and lunch to students and provide meals at free and reduced rates for families who qualify. Bus transportation is provided to elementary and middle school students within a school’s designated transportation zone. Eligible high school students receive ORCA cards to get to and from school.

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How do the results at charter public schools compare to other public schools?

Washington’s charter public schools are already making a difference for students.According to 2015-16 mid-year and end-of-year assessment results, students at Washington’s charter public schools are…

Washington’s charter public schools are already making a difference for students.According to 2015-16 mid-year and end-of-year assessment results, students at Washington’s charter public schools are making impressive gains in reading and math.

In context, the vast majority of students attending Washington charter public schools entered their charter school a year or more behind in math and reading. Many students previously performing behind national averages are now on track to meet or exceed grade-level standards.

Nationwide, 15 of 16 independent studies found that students attending charter public schools perform better academically than their peers at traditional public schools.

 

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What kinds of oversight do charter public schools have?

Many checks and balances ensure charter public schools provide a quality education. Just like any other Washington public school, charter schools are overseen by the…

Many checks and balances ensure charter public schools provide a quality education. Just like any other Washington public school, charter schools are overseen by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education. Public charter schools also have to comply with the same state and federal laws regarding health, safety, civil rights, and nondiscrimination as every other public school. Public charter schools must meet the same academic standards as any public school. Teachers have to meet the same certification requirements as any public school teacher, and students have to take the same standardized tests.

The boards that oversee charter public schools are subject to state and non-profit financial audits and have to answer to the community. Since families choose their charter schools, those schools are directly accountable to parents and must ensure they are meeting parents’ standards and expectations.

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How does a charter public school get authorized?

To authorize a charter public school, a nonprofit organization applies to an authorizer. In Washington, there is a statewide authorizer, the Washington State Charter School…

To authorize a charter public school, a nonprofit organization applies to an authorizer.

In Washington, there is a statewide authorizer, the Washington State Charter School Commission. Spokane Public Schools is currently the state’s only district authorizer, and oversees the two charter public schools in Spokane.

The application is rigorous and requires:

  • A detailed curriculum
  • A facility and financial plan
  • Demonstration of parent and community support
  • Plans for serving students with special needs
  • A targeted plan for recruiting students in underserved communities
  • Evidence that the proposed educational program is based on proven methods

The process also includes an opportunity for the community to provide input during a public forum.

After a charter public school’s application is approved, the school enters into a contractual relationship with the state or district level authorizer. The contract requires extensive oversight of financial and academic performance, and charter public schools must seek reauthorization every five years.

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What do “authorizer” and “charter” really mean?

Charter public schools are approved by and accountable to their authorizers. The word “authorizer” refers to the state entity or institution that has the legal…

Charter public schools are approved by and accountable to their authorizers. The word “authorizer” refers to the state entity or institution that has the legal right to issue charters to those who want to open charter public schools. An authorizer is also responsible for oversight of these schools.

The word “charter” is the same as a “contract.” A “charter” is granted to a new charter public school and covers the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure student success. Washington’s charter school law requires strict oversight and accountability. Charter schools are subject to annual performance reviews as well as ongoing oversight by the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to measure their success in improving student outcomes.

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Who can teaching at public charter schools? Can teachers collectively bargain?

Charter public school teachers must be certified, just like teachers at other public schools. Reflecting the diversity of the students they serve, 39 percent of…

Charter public school teachers must be certified, just like teachers at other public schools. Reflecting the diversity of the students they serve, 39 percent of Washington’s charter public school teachers are people of color, compared to 13 percent at public schools statewide.

Charter public school employees, including teachers, have a strong voice in their workplace. They have the right to organize and collectively bargain for pay, benefits, and working conditions. 

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How can I find out about opportunities to teach or volunteer at a charter school?

Visit our Job Board, where charter public schools post teaching and volunteer opportunities.  WA Charters also sends out a newsletter with updates, including opportunities to…

Visit our Job Board, where charter public schools post teaching and volunteer opportunities.  WA Charters also sends out a newsletter with updates, including opportunities to be involved in public schools. Click here and sign up to receive updates via e-mail

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What is the role of parents in charter schools?

Charter public schools encourage parental involvement and provide a range of opportunities, such as volunteering in the classroom, advocating for the growth of the sector,…

Charter public schools encourage parental involvement and provide a range of opportunities, such as volunteering in the classroom, advocating for the growth of the sector, advocating at the legislative level, committing to at-home reading time, attending functions, or serving on a school board.

Every charter school is different, and you can learn more about your local charter school on its website (links to schools’ websites can be found here).

For parents of currently enrolled students, you can become a Parent Advocacy Leader (PAL). For more info, email francesca@wacharters.org.

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Do the non-profit organizations that operate charter public schools profit from the schools?

No. All Washington charter public schools are operated by non-profit, non-religious organizations.

No. All Washington charter public schools are operated by non-profit, non-religious organizations.

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How are charter public schools funded?

Charter public schools are funded based on student enrollment, just like traditional public schools. If a student transfers from another public school to a charter…

Charter public schools are funded based on student enrollment, just like traditional public schools. If a student transfers from another public school to a charter public school, the funding associated with that student follows that student to the charter school. Charter public schools do not add any new costs to the state’s public education system. They simply move funding associated with a student from one public school to another based upon the decisions made by families.

Like any public school, charter public schools depend on a mix of federal and state funding. However, unlike local district schools, charter schools do not receive support from local levies.

In Washington, state funding for charter public schools comes from the state’s Opportunity Pathways Account, which contains lottery revenues.

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I don’t see a charter school listed in my area. How can my children get access to a charter school?

The charter public school movement is a truly democratic process — schools serve local family demand, ideally with local, talented teachers and leaders. If you…

The charter public school movement is a truly democratic process — schools serve local family demand, ideally with local, talented teachers and leaders. If you know a leader who might be interested in starting a charter school in your area, please connect them with us so that we can provide more information.

However, the most important thing you can do is to help the movement grow by reaching out to your local legislative representative to voice your support for charter schools. Make sure your voice is heard! Questions? Please contact us at info@wacharters.org.

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What makes charter public schools different from other public schools?

Charter public schools are free from many rules and regulations that apply to traditional public schools, so they have more flexibility to set curriculum and…

Charter public schools are free from many rules and regulations that apply to traditional public schools, so they have more flexibility to set curriculum and budgets, select teachers and staff, and offer more customized learning experiences for students. This means that teachers and principals have more flexibility at the school level to meet the needs of their students and help them succeed. It also means that parents have more options within the public school system to find the best learning environment for their children.

In exchange for this flexibility, charter schools are held more accountable for showing improved student achievement. Charter public schools must meet the same state and federal academic standards as other public schools, but they are subject to additional rigorous academic, financial, and managerial requirements as specified in their charter contract — and to ongoing monitoring to evaluate their success in improving student outcomes.

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How can students with disabilities benefit from charter public schools?

Charter public schools offer all students best practices and innovative learning opportunities designed to support students’ academic, social, and emotional needs, in order to prepare…

Charter public schools offer all students best practices and innovative learning opportunities designed to support students’ academic, social, and emotional needs, in order to prepare students for success in and beyond their K-12 years.

Washington’s charters serve many students with disabilities. In 2019, 14 percent of Washington’s charter public school students are eligible for special education services. This is the same percentage as the statewide average for other public schools. 

A 2018 study by the Center for Reinventing Public Education showed that 8 out of 10 of Washington’s charter public schools served a higher percentage of students with disabilities than their local district. The same study showed that Washington’s charters serve students with a wide range of disabilities, and that Washington’s charter schools provide a more inclusive educational environment for students, as compared to other public schools statewide.

Inclusive education is defined as an organizational approach that ensures assessments, curriculum, instruction, and learning environments are designed to meet a range of student needs. Inclusive education ensures that all students, regardless of their learning needs, are educated with their peers in an environment where they feel safe, supported, and challenged.

To learn more about how WA Charters supports inclusive education, click here

 

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Do charter public schools abide by education laws and the Common Core State Standards?

Yes. Charter schools, like all public schools, must follow Washington state and federal health, safety, civil rights, and anti-discrimination laws, as well as Washington state…

Yes. Charter schools, like all public schools, must follow Washington state and federal health, safety, civil rights, and anti-discrimination laws, as well as Washington state K-12 education statutes, including the Common Core State Standards.

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