What's a Charter?

What are Charter Schools?

Charter schools are public schools with a twist.  They operate with a charter, or contract, between the school's governing board and the state of Utah.  The charter gives the school's governing board the authority and autonomy to execute their unique mission and vision in exchange for accountability to standards set by the state.

Like traditional public schools, charter schools are open to all students and cannot discriminate against any applicant, except that if more students apply to a charter than there are available slots, then a random lottery must be held.  Charter schools are free to all families and no student can be denied acceptance if there is an open spot available.

Because charter schools are public schools receiving public dollars, they are subject to the same standards, laws, and financial management requirements as traditional public schools. It can be argued they actually have more regulation than regular district schools, since charters must submit to all of the same regulations and reporting requirements as school districts, along with additional standards set by the Utah State Charter Board.

Another primary difference between charter schools and district schools is governance.  For local school districts, the school board is usually elected by residents of the district's geographic boundaries.  For charter schools, each charter can determine on its own how its governing board is appointed or elected. 

Charter schools are proposed, developed, and implemented by "Founders."  The founders write a proposed application, or charter, and submit it to the state.  If the state approves the charter, the school is authorized to open and receive public funds.  The charter is a contract between the state and the school to operate according to the mission and vision stated in its charter.  

The founders are giving the authority to execute the charter's mission and vision in exchange for planning and building the school.  In this way, they are not subject to the same geographically defined elections as other school boards, but can decide for themselves with appointments or elections to the board who they want to govern the school and who will best uphold the school's mission and vision.  Founders are not paid for their services.  

Many charter schools have specialties that set them apart from other schools.  Each charter's unique mission and vision is the basis for the school choice movement.  Instead of voting in a local district election, parents vote on charters with their enrollment dollars.  If they do not agree with the mission and vision of the school, or its execution, they do not have to have their children attend.  Charters must appeal to enough parents to have the enrollment necessary to support itself.  In this way, they are motivated to have a mission or vision that will be appealing to parents and be efficient and effective in their execution of it.

Charters are about giving parents the choice to either attend regular district schools or the charter that has a mission and vision they are most interested in.  No student in Utah is required to attend a charter school, and yet about 11% of students choose to do so.  In these cases, parents have, for any number of reasons, decided a particular schools mission and vision is a better fit for their particular family.

Some examples of specialty charter schools include STEM schools, online schools, or performing arts schools. Each charter school has a unique way to help children learn and offers educational models that may fit a particular child better than a traditional school setting.  Because charter schools are market-driven based on winning enrollment dollars, they often strive to be innovative in the way that they teach, giving kids opportunities to learn in ways that work for them.

There is much research supporting the use of charter schools to effectively educate children, especially those from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, some charter schools have been shown to prepare children for college better than traditional public schools and have even started to close the achievement gap. Charter schools are able to do this because they have the freedom to create curriculum that fits their students and to hire staff who support their unique mission and vision.

Charter schools offer more choices for the effective education of our children, and Franklin Discovery Academy is happy to be one of those choices. You can learn more about Franklin Discovery Academy and our innovative approach to learning on our Education Model page.

To learn more about charter schools in general, visit the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ website or the Utah State Office of Education’s Charter School website.