Charter schools are semi-autonomous public schools that operate under a written contract with a state, district or other entity (referred to as an authorizer or sponsor). This contract—or charter—details how the school will be organized and managed, what students will be expected to achieve, and how success will be measured. Many charter schools enjoy freedom from laws and regulations affecting other public schools, as long as they continue to meet the terms of their charters. At the present time, 43 states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws. Charter school laws vary from state to state, and often differ on several important factors, such as who is allowed to authorize charter schools, how authorizers and charter schools are held accountable for student outcomes, and whether the teachers in a charter school have to be certified.
Education Commission of the States has researched charter school policies in all states to provide this comprehensive resource, updated in January 2016. Click on the questions below for 50-state comparisons showing how all states approach specific charter school policies. Or, choose to view a specific state’s approach by going to the individual state profiles page.
Charter school basics
- Does the state have a charter school law?
- Does the state allow existing public schools to convert to charter schools?
- Does the state specify the charter schools or the students that may be given preference?
- Does the state have any caps on the number of charter schools?
Who can authorize charter schools?
- Does the state specify who may apply to open a charter school?
- To whom can charter applicants apply?
- Is there a statewide authorizing body?
- Is there an appeals process for charter applicants?
- Does the state provide technical assistance to charter schools?
Accountability for schools and authorizers
- Does the state require charter schools to submit annual reports?
- Does the state specify grounds for terminating or not renewing a school’s charter?
- Does the state provide an appeals process in the charter school renewal process?
- Has the state established standards for quality school authorizing that authorizers must meet?
- Does the state set a threshold beneath which a school must automatically be closed (where the authorizer must close it)?
- Does the state require the authorizer to report on the performance of their portfolio of schools?
- Are there sanctions in place for authorizers?
Charter school autonomy
- Are the state’s standards and assessments applied to charter schools?
- What rules are waived for charter schools?
Charter school finance
- How is the funding for a charter school determined?
- Through whom does a charter school receive its funding?
- Does the state provide start-up and/or planning grants to charter schools?
- Does the state provide direct facilities funding or other facilities assistance to charter schools?
- Does the state specify who must provide transportation to charter school students?
Charter school teachers
- Do teachers in a charter school have to be certified?
- What sets teacher salaries?
- Does the state require school districts to grant teachers a leave of absence to teach in a charter school?
- Are charter schools bound by school district collective bargaining agreements?
- Do teachers in each of a state’s charter schools have equal access to the public school teachers’ retirement system?
Cyber or virtual charters
- Does state law explicitly define or permit cyber/virtual charter schools?
- Is there additional oversight specific to cyber/virtual charter schools?
- Recent state legislation – Choice of Schools–Charter Schools. Education Commission of the States staff review state legislation and regulations weekly to keep this resource updated.
- Questions to consider when creating or modifying charter school laws
- Trends in state charter school laws: Authorizers, caps, performance-based closures and virtual schools
PUBLISHED: January 25, 2016
RESOURCE TYPE: 50-State Comparison
EDUCATION LEVEL: Unspecified