Charter schools are public, state-funded schools that serve as alternatives to traditional public schools. Charter schools were created through legislation in 1994. Charter schools contract with a charter school sponsor or authorizer to provide an education service. Charter schools cannot charge tuition.
Charter schools were created in 1994 to provide a learning environment that will improve pupil achievement and to provide additional academic choices for parents and students.
Every charter school has its own individual mission or vision but must meet Arizona State Standards. This vision should be present in every aspect of the school and those involved in the school should share this vision. As a parent of a charter school, you and your child should share this vision. To learn about the school’s mission, consider:
- visiting with the school’s founders
- attending a board meeting
- reading the school’s charter
- attending class (preferably the class in which your child would be)
- attending a school assembly
Charter schools are organized and operated in a variety of ways. Each charter school has a governing board. Each charter school also has a sponsoring entity or authorizer. Each charter school must comply with in its charter contract as well as with all applicable state, federal and local laws, and regulations.
Some charter schools are organized as non-profit corporations or for-profit corporations and still others have different structures. To learn more about the structure of a charter school, consider:
- asking to see bylaws and articles of incorporation
- obtaining a description of board members and their respective backgrounds
- reviewing the school’s charter
- attending a board meeting
Each charter school subscribes to a certain teaching philosophy or a combination of philosophies. It is important that your child flourish in this specific educational setting. To learn more about the school’s teaching philosophy, consider:
- viewing lesson plans for a complete school week
- reading the curriculum portion of the charter
- visiting with classroom teachers
- reviewing the school’s marketing materials
- observing a parent/teacher meeting
- determining if the curriculum is consistent with the mission
Charter schools are public schools and therefore must enroll all eligible students who submit timely applications. Students must be enrolled in an equitable manner, such as a lottery. Charter schools may develop waiting lists and an equitable system of enrolling students from a waiting list. To learn about admission to a specific charter school, you may want to consider:
- viewing the school’s admissions policies and procedures
- obtaining a description of how the school meets the needs of all students, including those with special needs
- reviewing the marketing materials used to recruit students
- reviewing the charter
An applicant seeking to establish a charter school must submit a written application to a proposed charter school sponsor or authorizer. In Arizona, charter school authorizers include the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, school districts, a university under the jurisdiction of the Arizona Board of Regents, the State Board of Education, and a community college district or group of community college districts with individual or combined enrollment of more than 15,000 full-time students.
The term of the initial charter contract is 15 years. The term of a renewal contract is 20 years. State law requires the charter school sponsor to review a charter at five-year intervals using a performance framework adopted by the sponsor. State law also allows the sponsor to revoke a charter at any time if the charter school breaches one or more provisions of its charter or if the charter holder fails to do any of the following:
- Meet or make sufficient progress toward the academic performance expectations set forth in the performance framework.
- Meet the operational performance expectations set forth in the performance framework or any improvement plans.
- Comply with the charter law or any provision of law from which the charter school in not exempt.
School decisions are made at the school level. Each charter school develops its own policies related to discipline, personnel, etc. To learn about the policies of a charter school, consider asking to see policies and procedures manuals that may include:
- personnel and board operations
- parent groups/committees
- student discipline
- student performance/grading
- calendar (year round/standard)
Charter schools utilize unique and innovative ideas and methods to meet their educational goals. To learn if these methods are best suited to your child, consider:
- What specific teaching techniques and strategies are used?
- What materials does the school have to implement its educational goals?
- What classroom materials do teachers have to implement educational goals?
- How are the classrooms organized?
- Is the average class size conducive to the teaching methods described?
- What are the qualifications of the teaching staff?
- What kind of professional development opportunities are available to teaching staff?
- Does the school meet its prescribed goals?
Charter schools participate in the state’s nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test and the AIMS test. Each charter school also completes an annual report card for the Department of Education. The annual report cards are available on the Arizona Department of Education’s web site. Charter schools also design a method to measure pupil progress toward student outcomes.
As a parent, you may want to explore whether these measurements meet your child’s current and future needs. For instance, if your child is considering attending a college/university that requires graded transcripts, you may want to investigate charter schools that provide graded transcripts.
Some other things to consider are:
- What kinds of assessments are used?
- Are the assessment tools consistent with the mission of the school?
- Are the goals clear and can progress toward the goals be measured?
- Does the teaching staff have experience using this type of assessment?
- What do student report cards contain and what is their frequency?
- How is student progress communicated to parents?
As a parent, you are making a conscious choice to consider participating in the education marketplace. Most charter schools provide opportunities for parental involvement ranging from volunteering in the classroom to serving on a site council. To learn more about the potential role of parents in a specific charter school, consider:
- looking at the school’s charter
- attending parent meetings
- observing classrooms with parent volunteers
- talking with parents of students
Charter schools are funded by the state and receive money based on student enrollment. A specific charter school’s funding is as stable as the school’s enrollment. Charter schools may also solicit and receive contributions and grants. To determine the funding situation of a charter school consider:
- asking about daily enrollment figures
- viewing budgets included in the charter
- reviewing an audited financial statement (if an external audit has occurred)
- getting a description of donations
- viewing the Superintendent’s annual report for the school on the ADE web site
Charter schools may ask a variety of things of parents. Some charter schools may ask parents to volunteer in the school, commit to at-home reading time, attend functions, etc. You may want to ask the charter school about ways to become involved with your child’s educational needs.
Charter schools are independent public schools and most operational decisions are made on-site. If you have an issue/complaint with a charter school, try to resolve the issue/complaint at the school site or with the operator of the school. If this action does not result in a resolution, find out when the governing board of the school meets and bring your concern before the board for consideration.
It is generally helpful to view the charter during the complaint process to determine if the school is acting outside of the parameters of its charter. You may also decide during this process that this particular charter school is not the best fit for your child’s needs.
If this process does not result in resolution, put your concern in writing and submit it to the charter school's sponsor or authorizer.