Charter School FAQs

What is a Charter School?

The first charter schools opened in Colorado nearly 20 years ago after Gov. Roy Romer signed the Colorado Charter Schools Act into law in 1993. Charter schools request and the state Department of Education approves waivers from state education law in certain areas; for example, textbooks, curriculum and sequence, school calendars, and many aspects of teacher contracts and unionization are waived for charter schools in Colorado. This allows for an entrepreneurial approach to education which results in innovation, competition and choice for parents and students.  

What's Different About Charter Schools? 

Charter schools are different from traditional neighborhood public schools in many ways. First, most charter schools limit their enrollment in order to create strong teacher to student ratios which promote a positive learning environment. Class sizes in neighborhood schools are often determined by formulas at the district level, resulting in ratios that despite teachers' best efforts, are not conducive to learning. Because charter school teachers are generally not unionized, public charters have been pioneers in extending the school calendar, both by offering longer school days and longer school years, which are research-proven approaches to improving student achievement which are blocked by teacher unions and contracts in traditional public schools. Charter schools can also offer an alternative to the extraneous and non-academic curricula of standardized public education. One example is the back-to-basics approach of the Core Knowledge sequence, which eliminates the fluff and provides a focused sequence of foundational principles in math, language arts, science and social studies which is expanded upon at each increasing grade level. These are just a few of the unique advantages of charter schools which allow us to challenge the status quo and offer an alternative to what a state or district approves as mainstream education.

What's the Same About Charter Schools? 

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools which do not require ability testing for enrollment. Charter schools are subject to the same state content standards as all other public schools, to the Every Student Succeeds Act accountability guidelines, and to the state-mandated testing, currently called CMAS (Colorado Measures of Academic Success). Colorado charter schools are demographically similar to their communities and to the neighborhood schools in their areas, although many charter schools attract students from a large geographic area. Charter schools provide Special Education, English as a Second Language, Gifted & Talented, and other programs similar to neighborhood schools.

Where Does Charter School Funding Come From? 

Charter schools are publicly funded by state and federal education dollars. Charters receive a percentage of what the state Department of Education proposed and the state legislature approves as "Per Pupil Revenue," or PPR. Different school districts distribute these funds according to different models; however, most charter schools do not receive an equitable share of funds compared to traditional district schools. Charter schools are also usually responsible for purchasing or leasing and maintaining their own facilities, and must purchase many services, including special education services and resources, nursing and student health services, and access to assessment tools which are provided without fee to traditional district schools. Charter schools also pay administrative fees to their district or authorizer. As a result, charter schools have become experts at efficient operation and budget management, and rely on strong parent support and community engagement to raise additional funds for special projects not covered by PPR. 

Want More Information?

The Colorado League of Charter Schools is a non-profit organization which has produced some great infographics to help readers understand charter schools in Colorado. 

Visit the League website here.

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