Charter Schools vs. Public Schools: What Are the Differences?


Choosing a school for your child can be intimidating. With an increasing number of schools focused on Common Core learning and standardized testing, how do you find a school that hones your child’s strengths and prepares them for college—and what comes after? Finding a public school with a rigorous academic curriculum and opportunities for your child to connect one-on-one with their teachers seems impossible, and private schools are just as expensive as higher education.

If you live in a state with a lot of charter schools like California, which has the highest number of charter schools out of any state in the country, you may have heard about California charter schools as a potential solution to the lack of flexibility and variety in most public school curriculums. But what exactly is a charter school? If they’re not private or public schools, then what are they, and who funds them? Read on to find out more.

What Is A Charter School?

Charter schools are schools that do not operate underneath a school district, even if they are located within that school district. Instead, they are privately run by non-profit groups or other organizations. They operate under a contract with state and local governments. The school’s local government provides a set of standards that the school must meet in order to qualify as a charter school, meaning charter schools’ curriculums tend to be more rigorous and their teaching methods more experimental than public schools.

California charter schools, for instance, are required to conduct statewide assessments and ensure that their curriculums are meeting content standards. However, teachers, staff, and parents also have more freedom to personalize students’ education and classroom schedules.

Who Funds Charter Schools?

Charter schools receive state funding, meaning they are at no cost to parents and students. In California, charter schools receive Principal Apportionment funds from the State School Fund and Education Protection Account.

California charter schools are like the perfect combination of private and public schools. They have the quality of private school education at the cost of a public one. California charter schools are free for all students to attend, and many are specifically designed to teach minority and underserved communities of students in California. The Obama Administration in particular worked to increase funding for charter schools.

What Is A Public School?

Public schools are supported by public funds, primarily taxes. They are funded by the state or national government and do not take a tuition fee. Public schools are contained within a public school district and have a school board, consisting of community volunteers, who work to better education in the area. While most charter schools have a Board of Trustees, not all do—and charter schools work under direct contracts with the state to determine educational standards rather than working with the Board. Charter school board members are not publicly elected.

Who Funds Public Schools?

Funding for K-12 public schools in California is primarily provided by the state. California state accounts for 54% to 61% of public school funding while the local government accounts for the other 32% to 36%.

Enrollment Differences

Public and charter schools both have open enrollment, but charter schools tend to have a capacity so that students can receive a designated amount of resources and one-on-one attention from teachers. Once charter schools reach capacity, they may continue to enroll students through a lottery. Public schools, on the other hand, cannot refuse students, leading to overcrowded classrooms and a lack of funding.

Curriculum Differences

Because state and local governments allow charter schools more flexibility than public schools, many charter schools have adopted remote learning or hybrid learning curriculum. Teachers and staff at charter schools that offer homeschooling options are often trained in the best methods of implementing a curriculum remotely. Parents are invited to be an active part of their children’s learning and growth. Charter schools may also have more funding to allocate towards individualized learning plans, field trips, workshops, conferences, internships, career preparation, technical courses, and dual enrollment. This can be a definite advantage when a child applies for colleges or jobs—especially if they live in an underserved community where they are not offered other privileges.

Teaching Methods at Charter Schools

All charter schools and teachers implement their own teaching methods. Some focus on college preparation while others focus on a STEM or arts-based education. If your child is particularly interested in STEM or the arts, it may be worthwhile to seek out California charter schools that offer classes tailored to your child’s interests. California charter schools use innovative teaching methods to improve both student and parent involvement. Charter schools encourage children and parents to learn through hands-on methods and interaction with their community, preparing them for a real-world setting. You know your child best and can determine whether a public or charter school is better suited to their needs—because your child deserves to attend a school that’s as unique as they are.


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