Charter schools are secular, tuition-free public schools that are freed from many of the regulations governing traditional schools. They control their own curriculum, staffing, organization and budget. In exchange for this freedom, they must maximize student potential and meet and exceed Indiana's new academic standards.
Are charter schools considered "public" schools?
Yes. A public school is defined as a school that is open to the public, funded by the public and accountable to the public. Charter schools meet all three tests.
How do charter schools differ from traditional public schools?
Charter schools differ from traditional public schools in that they are established by teachers, principals, education experts and/or parents, and are exempt from many state and school district regulations, making them essentially autonomous in their operation. Also, students who attend charter schools do so by choice; likewise, educators who teach at charter schools do so by choice. Finally, charter schools can be closed for producing unsatisfactory results.
What is a charter?
The "charter" is a performance contract that an organizer (as defined in the Indiana charter school law I.C. 20-5.5) enters into with a sponsor, such as the Mayor, a public university, or a local school corporation, that explains what the school will attempt to accomplish, how student performance will be measured and what level of achievement it will attain. An organizer that fails to comply with the terms of its charter may have its charter revoked.
Can anyone attend a charter school?
Yes. Like other public schools, charter schools must be open to every child regardless of race, religion, disability or academic ability. However, many charter schools have specific educational purposes focusing on particular topics or students with particular needs.
How many charter schools are there in the United States?
Approximately 1.1 million students are enrolled in more than 3,600 charter schools nationwide. Including the enactment of Indiana's law in April 2001, 40 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have all passed charter school legislation.
Do charter schools serve special population students?
Like all public schools, charter schools are required to provide access and services to all students, including students with disabilities and those who are limited English proficient. The student bodies of about 60% of charter schools around the country are made up of approximately 40% special populations (at-risk, special education, bilingual, etc.).
Are charter schools diverse?
Yes. Nationwide, students in charter schools have similar demographic characteristics to students in all public schools. However, charter schools in some states serve significantly higher percentages of minority or economically disadvantaged students.
May a charter school be religious in nature?
No. As with other public schools, charter schools must be non-religious in their programs, admissions policies, governance, employment practices and all other operations, and the charter school's curriculum must be completely secular. However, like other public schools, charter schools may enter into partnerships with any community group for secular purposes. For additional information on religion and public schools, please visit http://www.ed.gov/inits/religionandschools/publications.html and http://www.uscharterschools.org/pub/uscs_docs/fr/pcsp_guidance.htm.
Why do organizations and individuals start charter schools?
Nationally, nearly two-thirds of newly created charter schools seek to realize an alternative vision of public school education. Others are founded primarily to serve a special target population of students. More than one-third of pre-existing public schools reported converting to charter status in order to gain autonomy from district and state regulations.
Must charter schools comply with federal laws and regulations?
Generally speaking, public charter schools are subject to many of the same federal, constitutional, statutory and regulatory requirements applicable to other public schools, including laws governing special education and the provision of instruction to students who have limited English proficiency. However, the precise application of these laws depends on the status of the charter school under the specific provisions of federal law and the state charter schools legislation. For information on how federal civil rights laws apply to charter schools, please visit http://www2.ed.gov/offices/OCR/archives/charterqa/chartitle.html.
Questions & Answers about Charter Schools in Indiana
What is the intent of Indiana's charter schools legislation?Indiana's charter schools legislation is designed to provide innovative and autonomous public educational programs that carry out five primary purposes:
serve the different learning styles and needs of public school students;
offer public school students appropriate and innovative choices;
afford varied opportunities for professional educators;
allow public schools freedom and flexibility in exchange for exceptional levels of accountability; and
provide parents, students, community members and local entities with an expanded opportunity for involvement in the public school system.
Who has authority to grant charters in Indiana?Local school corporations, public universities, and the Mayor of Indianapolis.
How many charter schools can be authorized?Unlike many states, Indiana's legislation does not place a limit on the number of charter schools that can open in the State. However, state law does restrict the number of charter schools that can be sponsored by the Mayor of Indianapolis. Each year, the Mayor is authorized to issue five new charters. Indiana law also permits the Mayor to carry over to subsequent years any unused charters (except in 2003-05).
Where may charter schools sponsored by the Mayor of Indianapolis be located? Charter schools sponsored by the Mayor of Indianapolis must be located within the "consolidated city," which includes all of Marion County except for the territory comprising the cities of Beech Grove, Lawrence, Southport and the town of Speedway.
Who is eligible to organize a charter school in Indianapolis? Any group or entity that (a) has been determined by the IRS to be operating under not-for-profit status (likely as a 501(c)(3) organization) or has applied for such determination and (b) whose organizational documents (articles of incorporation) include a provision that upon dissolution all remaining assets (other than funds received from the Indiana State Department of Education which must be returned to the State Department of Education) must be used for non-profit educational purposes. This may require establishment of new or separate entities by existing non-profit corporations whose current purpose is broader than education.
What students attend charter schools?Indiana law requires that charter schools be open to any student, and thus charter schools cannot impose admission criteria. However, one of the purposes of Indiana's charter schools law is to encourage the development of schools that serve the different learning styles and needs of public school students and thus offer public school students innovative choices. Accordingly, charter schools may be established with special emphasis on a particular subject matter or to serve specific targeted student populations. Even if a charter school has a special focus, each charter school will be responsible for reaching out to all parts of the community. In the event that more students apply to attend a charter school than the school can accommodate, students will be selected randomly (except for preferences for siblings).
What laws apply to charter schools?While charter schools are free from many laws, rules and regulations governing traditional public schools, they are subject to the same laws, rules and regulations regarding health and safety, civil rights, statewide student assessment requirements, public information and open meetings, and compulsory education requirements for minors applicable to other public schools, as well as other laws specifically prescribed by statute. For additional information on what Indiana laws apply to charter schools, please review I.C. 20-5.5 at http://www.ai.org/legislative/ic/code/title20/ar5.5/index.html.
How does the federal desegregation order in Indianapolis impact charter schools? Indiana's charter schools law requires applicants to submit their plan for compliance with any applicable desegregation order. There is a desegregation order that still affects some school systems in Marion County. Proposed charter schools within or near the transfer areas of the Indianapolis Public Schools or within Decatur, Franklin, Perry, Lawrence, Wayne or Warren townships must provide a compliance plan that demonstrates that the proposed charter school will not adversely affect desegregation efforts in Marion County. Questions about this issue should be directed to the City of Indianapolis' Office of the Corporation Counsel at 317-327-4055, or for more information please visit http://www2.ed.gov/offices/OCR/archives/charterqa/charorder.html.
Are charter schools required to meet state education standards or offer standardized tests, such as ISTEP+ and End of Course Assessments (ECAs)?As public schools, Indiana's charter schools must comply with the State's requirements for student assessment. Public Law 221 requires all public schools, including charter schools, to administer certain assessment tests and to be rated against certain criteria. These assessment tests include the ISTEP and ECAs. For a full understanding of these requirements, visit the websites listed below.
Public Law 221: http://www.doe.in.gov/improvement/accountability/2011-public-law-221-pl-221
Indiana's Academic Standards: http://www.doe.in.gov/achievement/standards
End of Course Assessments: http://www.doe.in.gov/achievement/assessment/end-course-assessments-ecas
What process will the Mayor's Office use to hold charter schools accountable for results? Indiana law requires each charter school to be reviewed at least once every five years. The Mayor's Office is developing a more comprehensive charter school accountability system. The basic outline of the system is as follows. In the first twelve to eighteen months of a school's charter, each charter school establishes its goals in an accountability plan. Once approved by the Indianapolis Charter Schools Director, the accountability plan becomes an amendment to the school's charter and part of the legally binding contract. Each school must submit fiscal audits as well as quarterly financial reports. In addition, the Mayor's Office will coordinate site visits to each school and will enlist an independent third party to administer annual surveys of charter school staff and parents.
Charters are granted for a term of seven years. Schools granted a charter by the Mayor will be subject to the following review process. In the fall of year one, an external review team will visit each new school to determine whether the school is implementing the necessary systems to perform successfully. An external review team will again visit each school the following spring to evaluate the school's implementation of its systems and provide feedback. An external review team may visit schools in the spring of year two to assess progress and provide feedback. A self-evaluation by each school must be submitted at the end of year three of the charter term. Once the self-evaluation has been reviewed by the Indianapolis Charter Schools Board and Mayor's Office and the school is found to have met a minimum standard, the Charter Schools Director will appoint an independent evaluation team to conduct a more extended assessment and site visit of the school in year four to assess the school's self-evaluation and provide additional information. Following the self-evaluation process and multi-day site visit, the Mayor's Office will publish a status report of the school's performance.
In year six, each school must submit a renewal petition that makes the argument for why the school should maintain its charter. The Mayor's Office and the Indianapolis Charter Schools Board will consider this renewal petition in conjunction with the self-evaluation, the site visit reports, other government reports, academic testing performance, and financial audits to make a decision about whether to recommend that a school maintain its charter beyond year seven.