Charter school FAQ: Admission, oversight, & funding

February 5, 2018 ACSA Writer

From the California Charter School Association, an ACSA Partner

How can I apply for a charter school? Are there admission requirements?

Charter schools are open to ALL children and they are committed to serving a student body that reflects the local community. Enrollment figures show that charter school students are just as diverse (racially and economically) as students who attend traditional district schools.

By law, charter schools cannot have admission processes that unlawfully discriminate against students. Charter schools accept all students who want to attend. If there are more students who want to attend than there are seats available, a charter school will use a process to randomly select students, oftentimes a lottery system.

Does it matter where I live? What is the attendance boundary?

As schools of choice, all charter schools are open to any student who wants to apply, regardless of where he or she lives, space permitting. Independent Study or non-classroom based schools have some geographical limitations which permit them to enroll only students from the county where they are authorized, or from adjacent counties.

How does the lottery system work?

If a charter school receives more students than it has spots available, it is required by law to hold a lottery to determine which students will have the opportunity to attend. Many charter schools have waitlists and may admit more students from the waitlist as spots become available.

How is oversight provided to charter schools?

Charter schools must operate in accordance with state and federal law. They must abide by health and safety laws, and cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Charter school governing bodies are often subject to various laws that apply to nonprofit public benefit organizations, such as ethical financial practices, and public body rules, such as open meeting laws. Also, like all public school districts, charter schools must have an annual independent financial audit in accordance with state rules. Charter schools also have oversight from their authorizers (the local school district, county office of education or State Board of Education). Authorizers review financial reports, Accountability Plans, and they have the authority to conduct audits to determine if the charter school should be renewed at the end of the charter school's term (usually every five years). An authorizer can revoke a charter school for violations of law, fiscal mismanagement, or if the school is not meeting pupil academic outcomes or the terms of its charter.

How are charter schools funded?

In California, traditional district schools and charter public schools are funded under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) which allocates state and local tax dollars to public education agencies based on the number of pupils in each grade level. Additional funding is provided for students with high needs, such as low-income pupils and English learners and foster youth. Public funding generally follows the student to the public school the parents choose, whether a charter school or a traditional district school. When charter schools are funded, there is no overall loss of public school money because charter schools are public schools.

Do charters receive the same amount of funding as traditional district schools?

Charter schools receive less per pupil funding even though the funding follows each student. A historical and significant funding inequity between charter schools and traditional school districts has been clearly documented by the State Legislative Analyst, Rand Research, and others. Historically, the gap has exceeded $600 per pupil in base state operating funds. These inequities are often more significant than reported because charter schools do not have equitable access to facilities or facilities funding, and often must pay for facilities out of their general operating funds. Charter schools also rarely have access to local school bonds or parcel taxes that benefit traditional schools. Charter schools are also denied access to some large programs, such as Target Instructional Improvement Grants (TIIG) and Transportation.

The LCFF has reduced some of this inequity because charters are now funded in much the same way other public schools are. But structural inequities in the LCFF prohibit many charter schools from receiving concentration grants for all of their neediest students because their concentration grant funding is capped at the district average.

Does money allocated to charter schools come out of school districts' budgets?

Money allocated to charter schools does not come out of school districts' budgets. The state and the federal government allocate education funds based on the number of students, their grade level, and their needs. If a student chooses to go to a charter school, the money is allocated to the charter school to educate that student. In other words, the money follows the student. It is the student's money, not the district's.

Do charter schools contribute funding to their authorizing school district?

All charter schools authorized by a school district pay an oversight fee to that school district, which provides for the cost of the district conducting school visits, fiscal and academic monitoring, renewal evaluation and other required forms of oversight. Charter schools pay between one and three percent of their revenues to the district to cover these oversight costs.

Charter schools that receive school district facilities under Prop. 39 or through other facility use agreements pay the school district for those facilities. Facility payments are based on a percentage of district facility costs and sometimes mirror a market-rate lease.

Many charter schools pay additional funds to their authorizing district to provide back-office/administrative services, under separate contracts. And many charter schools also pay the district to provide food services or for special education services.


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