What are charter schools?


Charter schools are tuition-free, independent public schools which students attend by choice. Charter schools are freed from certain regulations in exchange for increased accountability for student achievement. Charter schools offer innovative programs, serve diverse students, and exist to improve public education. What does it cost for a child to attend a charter school? Nothing. Charter schools are tuition-free for all DC resident students. Just as in the DC Public School system, only non-DC residents can be charged tuition.


Do charter schools have admission requirements?


No. A charter school is part of the public education system and must be open to all students, without discrimination, on the same basis as other public schools. If the number of students applying to enroll in a charter school is greater than the number of seats in a school, then students are chosen at random from a lottery. Charter schools cannot require an admissions test, audition, minimum grade point average, or any other criteria to admit students.


How do I enroll my child in a charter school?


Each public charter school has its own enrollment process; parents and guardians should contact schools directly. Most schools have enrollment deadlines in the spring of the prior school year. Some schools require that parents or guardians meet with school staff before submitting a written application. If there are more applicants than slots available, students are admitted using a lottery.My child requires special education programs and services.


Will the charter school accept my child?


Charter schools are required to follow all federal laws pertaining to special education. Charter schools must provide a free, appropriate education for children with special needs. The charter schools can contract with a private vendor, the school district, or other agencies to provide the services. No student can be turned away from a charter school because of his/her special needs, but depending on the severity of the disability, one school may be more appropriate than another. My child is not a U.S. citizen and does not speak English fluently.


Can my child attend a charter school?


Yes. All children in the United States, regardless of their immigration status or English language proficiency, have the right to a free, appropriate public education. Charter schools are required to follow federal laws and to offer a special program or services for children who need English language development support.


Who approves and monitors charter schools?


The 1996 School Reform Act allows for multiple charter school authorizers and two have been established: the DC Board of Education and the independent DC Public Charter School Board. Each has the authority to approve up to ten charters annually. They are also charged with monitoring quality and integrity. Charter schools have annual reviews and five-year reviews conducted by the authorizers as well as reviews for accreditation purposes.


How are charter schools held accountable?


Charter schools are freed from certain regulations in exchange for increased accountability for student achievement. They are held to the same federal requirements as traditional public schools under the No Child Left Behind Act, and have additional requirements from their authorizers. Charter students must also participate in statewide testing programs. If a charter school does not meet the terms of its charter agreement, or fails to appropriately manage its finances and operations, it can be closed down.


How are charter schools funded and how do they acquire a school building?


Using the exact same formula as the DC Public Schools, charter schools receive funding based on the number of enrolled students. In 2004-2005, DCPS and charter schools received an average of $6,900 per student, with additional amounts for students with special needs. Based on the DCPS capital budget, charter schools also receive a facilities allowance - funds to purchase, lease, or renovate a facility (about $2,380 per student for 04-05). However, this amount is not adequate to cover the cost of purchasing and renovating a facility and charter schools use the facilities allowance to leverage other grants and loans. Some charter schools have been able to purchase or lease space from the DC Public Schools, but many must locate in commercial property paying commercial rates.


Quick facts about charter schools:

  • Nationwide, there are 3,000 charter schools operating in 40 states and the District of Columbia serving more than 1,000,000 students.
  • There are 52 charter schools operating on 64 campuses in academic year 2005-2006 in Washington, DC.
  • Close to 25% or one out of every four DC public school students attends one of the city’s charter schools, about 19,000 students this year.
  • Charter schools tend to be small. Average student enrollment in a charter school (in the 2004-2005 academic year) was 301 students with the smallest campus having 60 students and the largest campus having 737 students.
  • Charter schools reach low-income students. Free- and reduced-lunch enrollment was 78% in the public charter schools and 63% in the DC public schools in the 2003-2004 school year.

Charter school enrollment for the 2003-2004 academic year was:

  • 92% African American
  • 6% Hispanic/Latino
  • 1% White
  • .2% Asian
  • .8% Other

There are a variety of charter school themes including, but not limited to:

  • Adult Education
  • African-centered
  • Bilingual and Language Immersion
  • Career Preparation
  • Character Education
  • College Preparatory
  • Direct Instruction
  • Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound
  • Montessori
  • Performing Arts
  • Residential Boarding School
  • Technology
  • Special Needs: for learning disabled, emotionally or behaviorally disturbed students