Charter School FAQs
What is a charter school?
A charter school is a public school that is organized differently than traditional district public schools. A charter public school is governed by an independent school board whose only focus and responsibility is that particular school. This allows charter schools to be hyper-responsive to the needs of students and families enrolled in them. In exchange for this independence and freedom, charter schools operate under contracts (or “charters”) that allow them to be closed or replaced for failing to reach specific academic and non-academic goals, or for failing to operate in a responsible manner. Charter schools are public schools, they are free and open to all students in the districts where they operate, and are accountable for specific results.
How are charter public schools accountable?
Charter public schools are held accountable in many of the same ways traditional public schools are held accountable. As a different public school model, however, there are accountability mechanisms unique to charter public schools.
A charter public school must have a sponsor in order to open and continue operating (in Missouri, sponsors are typically colleges and universities). A Missouri charter school is accountable to its sponsor for specific academic and non-academic outcomes outlined in the school “charter” (or contract). Charter schools are also accountable to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and are subject to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Charter public schools can be (and have been) closed by their sponsors for failing to meet their contractual obligations. Most significantly, however, charter public schools are accountable to the students and families attending them. If charter public schools are not delivering value to the families enrolling in them, they will close regardless of performance or promises.
How do charter public schools get started?
Groups – usually comprised of teachers, parents, and community members – submit applications to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for approval to open and operate a charter public school. An applicant school must have a sponsor and a contract (or “charter”) with that sponsoring entity outlining the school’s academic, non-academic, and operating outcomes. Application materials are submitted to DESE for review and the Missouri State Board of Education makes a decision on whether or not an applicant group’s “charter” will be approved.
The selection process by sponsors and DESE is essential to having a truly beneficial and sustainable charter public school sector. Applicant groups should present strong school governance models with necessary board member skill sets, a comprehensive business plan demonstrating a high level of fiduciary and operational acumen, and an academic program either filling an educational void or introducing an innovative model not currently offered to public school students.