About Charters


What is a charter school?

Charter schools are unique public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. Because they are public schools, they are open to all children, do not charge tuition, and do not have special entrance requirements.

Who attends charter schools in Illinois?

All children who live in a district where a charter school is authorized are eligible to attend the charter school. Charter schools do not select their students and any student can apply regardless of his or her test scores, special education status or any other characteristics. If more students apply to the school than the school has available seats, then a blind lottery is held.

According to the most recent data for schools in Chicago, 88% of charter school students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch compared with 81% in open-enrollment district schools. Fifty-six percent of charter students are African-American compared to a 36% district average. Charters serve 40% Hispanic students, 2% white, 11% English Language Learners, and 14% special education.

Are charter schools public schools?

Charter schools are public schools, open to all students in a district (except in the case of Chicago where a handful of charters have neighborhood boundaries). Charter schools are funded with public money and are funded at a lower rate than district schools.

What makes charter schools different from other public schools?

Charter schools are allowed the freedom to be more innovative and responsive to the needs of individual students, while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. Charters have freedom over their curricula, calendar, staffing, and all education programming; however they must take state and district-mandated tests.

Are charter schools successful?

Charter schools have been successful in Illinois and across the country. In Chicago, 12 of the highest performing non-selective charter high schools on the ACT are charter schools. The average College Enrollment Rate of students from Chicago charter high schools is 70%, compared to the 50% at district run schools. Charters also increase College Persistence Rates - more charter students continue beyond their freshmen year of college. These findings are detailed in a recent independent, third-party study by Mathematica Policy Research.

At the elementary school level, charter school students in Chicago on average outperform their peers in district-run schools. According to a recent study by Stanford University, elementary charter school students experienced two weeks more growth in reading and a month more growth in math compared to their peers at district-run schools. The study also found that charter schools are effectively closing the achievement gap for Hispanic students.

Do charters charge tuition?

No, charter schools are public schools and they do not charge tuition.

Do charter schools have religious affiliations?

No, charter schools are public schools and by law they cannot be affiliated with any religious groups or have any type of religious influence in their curriculum or school culture.

Does it matter where I live?   Are there attendance boundaries?

Charter schools are open to all students in a district (except in the case of Chicago where a handful of charters have neighborhood boundaries).

How do I enroll my child?

Parents and guardians can secure an application for a charter school by visiting, calling or looking online for each charter school's application. All charter schools have a deadline for applications to be submitted which will be printed on the application. If the school receives more applications than available seats, the school will hold a blind lottery and contact parents by letter or phone whether or not their children will be able to enroll in the school.

What are the admissions requirements for charter schools?

There are no admissions requirements to attend a charter school. To apply to a charter school, a student does not have to take an entrance exam or score at a certain level on a test. Charter schools are open to all students.

Why do some charter schools use a lottery?

When a school is in demand by families, the fairest way to determine which students are accepted is a lottery. If the school receives more applications than available seats, the school will hold a blind lottery. Most charters hold a lottery and have extensive waiting lists.

If charter schools are independently run from the district, how are charter schools held accountable for their results?

In exchange for the freedom to be more innovative, charter schools are held accountable for advancing student achievement; the accountability is stringent. In Illinois, districts and the Illinois Charter School Commission hold charter schools accountable for student achievement, student improvement, attendance, graduation and college attendance (at the high school level), compliance with state and federal guidelines, balanced budgets, and efficient operations. If a school does not meet the requirements outlined in their charter, the school can be closed.

Are charter schools unionized?

Charter school teachers are free to unionize. As of June 2014, 27 of the 157 Illinois charter school campuses are unionized. Charter school teachers cannot be a part of the local bargaining unit and must form their own or join another union outside their district.

Can charter schools be run by privatized corporations?

A private company cannot hold a charter in Illinois. All Illinois charter schools must be run by non-profit boards; the non-profit board may contract with a for-profit company to run the school, and the board will hold the company accountable for high student achievement.

If my child has special needs, can I enroll my child in a charter school?

Charter schools are open to all students. In fact, charter schools serve the same number of special needs students as schools in their host district. In Chicago, 14% of charter school students have IEPs. Charters are committed to serving all students with special needs.

Do charter schools take money from other district schools?

Per Illinois law, public dollars for education follows the student. When a child goes to a charter school, a portion of the money that the district received to educate that student follows the student to the charter school. Parents choose to take their children out of district schools and put them in a charter because the district school is not meeting the needs of the student.

What is a charter school network?

A Charter Management Organization (CMO) is an organization that manages a network of charter schools. All campuses of a CMO typically operate with the same core values and education program. Perhaps the best known CMO in Illinois is the Noble Network, which runs 16 high-performing high school campuses around the city. The network is based on the original Noble Street High School model, which was started by two former Chicago Public Schools teachers in 1999.

Who teaches at charter schools?

Illinois law requires that 75% of charter school teachers be certified. Charter schools have the freedom to hire highly qualified, non-certified teachers for the remaining 25% of their classes. For example, a charter school could hire an artist to teach art or an architect to teach drafting.

Why do parents choose to send their children to charter schools?

Charter schools foster a partnership between parents, teachers and students to create an environment that welcomes, values and includes families. Charter schools create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers have the freedom to innovate, and students are provided the structure they need to learn.

Why would a parent send his or her child to a charter school instead of the neighborhood school?

Charter schools offer parents another public school option and the opportunity to choose a school based on their child's needs. Sometimes the district school is not the right setting for a child and a charter school can better serve the child. A parent might also be looking for a specific school model for their child, such as a college preparatory school, a science and technology-focused school, a dual-language school, or an arts-focused school to name a few unique models.

Are all charter school models the same?

Charter schools can structure their mission-driven curriculum and learning environments to best meet the needs of their students and communities, which makes no two charter schools alike. Some unique charter school models include: STEM and technology schools, "green" and agricultural schools, dual-language schools, college preparatory schools, arts schools, expeditionary learning schools, health and nutrition-focused schools, and dropout recovery schools - just to name a few!