Charter schools made their first appearance in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1992, and just five years later, Nevada passed its charter school legislation as part of the State Educational Reform Act of 1997. Since that time, the charter school movement has exploded nationally and is gaining traction statewide, with the state’s 46 charter schools reporting a student enrollment of more than 46,000 students. That means nearly 10% of Nevada’s 475,000+ students are enrolled in charter schools, and many Nevadans would be surprised to know how these schools really operate. Here are seven surprising facts you may not know.
1. Are separate from the school district. Although a charter school may be located within the boundaries of a local school district, it is a separate entity. Some districts may actually authorize (or sponsor) charter schools in their area, but these schools are still independent and have the ability to create their own policies and procedures.
2. Are free to attend. Public charter schools are by definition tuition-free schools — just like public schools. The difference between the two is that rather than accepting all students, public charter schools often have a waitlist that involves a lottery for new student enrollment.
3. Offer specific educational models. Public charter schools offer a variety of educational models, with focuses that range from leadership skills to college readiness to career and technical education. This allows these schools to explore what works best and stay focused on providing that model to the community.
4. Have a governing body. A public charter school has its own board of trustees that make up the school’s governing body, which is responsible for important decisions made about the school.
5. Have specific sponsorship terms. The term of sponsorship in a charter school contract varies from state to state; in Nevada, the term is six years. After six years, the school must submit for renewal and show progress toward meeting financial, operational, and academic benchmarks.
6. Can be closed for poor performance. It’s true — public charter schools that are not meeting their benchmarks can be shut down. This means that charter schools are held accountable for their performance and, as a result, take it very seriously.
7. Are solely responsible for facility costs. Public charter schools do not receive facility funding in Nevada. This means that they spend about 10% of their state funds (on average) to cover the cost of leasing or paying a mortgage on a facility.
The public must embrace learning more about charter schools, including how they operate and what is offered in their community. The freedom and flexibility afforded to charter schools must be protected, and at the same time, we must continue to hold these schools highly accountable for delivering increased student achievement.