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What is a Charter School?

A charter school is a publicly funded alternative to the traditional public school model. Charter schools receive public funding but operate independently of local school districts. They have greater flexibility than traditional public schools in curriculum, schedule, teacher hiring and development, allocation of resources, and other areas.

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Key Characteristics of Charter Schools

Charter schools operate independently of local school districts. They have greater flexibility than traditional public schools in curriculum, schedule, teacher hiring and development, allocation of resources, and other areas. Like traditional public schools, charter schools are subject to health, safety, and other state and federal regulations. In many states, like New York, charter schools must submit detailed annual reports to their authorizers, including financial audits and budgets, enrollment, attendance, demographic, and facilities. 

Public charter schools have several unique features that set them apart from traditional public schools.

Charter schools often have increased autonomy in decision-making that can include curriculum choice, staffing, and teaching methods. 

Charter schools may serve their students better because they can innovate and make decisions that best serve children. For example, they may change the school day or school year schedule to increase student learning. These changes include extending operating hours or building more school days into their schedule.

That same flexibility extends to specialized curricula or teaching methods. Many charter schools offer specialized STEM, visual and performing arts, sports, or project-based learning programs. 

Finally, charter schools have a direct incentive to meet performance goals: accountability. As part of their operating charter, these schools agree to meet specific academic and operational performance goals. Failure to meet these goals can result in the revocation of their charter. This pushes charter school operators to innovate and focus intently on achievement and accountability.


Public Charter Schools vs. Traditional Public Schools


Public charter and traditional public schools aim to provide students with free, high-quality education. However, there are some key differences between the two models:

  Charter Schools Traditional Public Schools
Flexibility Charter Schools
Charter schools’ autonomy over curriculum, staffing, and instruction methods allow for innovation.
Traditional Public Schools
Traditional public schools must follow district policies and union rules. This restricts principals’ staffing decisions.
Accountability Charter Schools
Each school’s charter agreement holds them accountable for academic performance. If they fail to meet goals, demonstrate poor operational or financial health, authorizers may revoke their charter.
Traditional Public Schools
Traditional public schools do not face the same strict standards. Poorly performing schools may remain open for decades.
Access Charter Schools
Charter schools are open to all students but may have admission lotteries if demand exceeds space.
Traditional Public Schools
Public school districts guarantee students a place based on their address, but restrict parents from sending their children to another school outside their zone.
Innovation Charter Schools
Freedom from the local district’s regulation allows charter schools to pilot new educational approaches that may serve students better.
Traditional Public Schools
Traditional public schools often don’t have the ability to be flexible in their approaches. Some adopt certain methods from charter schools.


How Charter Schools Work

Charter schools follow a unique process that gives them more autonomy while holding them accountable for their performance. Most charter schools operate according to the following principles:


Charter Application and Approval


A group drafts a detailed charter application that outlines their school’s mission and education program. Charter groups may include educators, parents, or non-profits. The charter includes student achievement goals, a governance structure, and financial plans.

The group submits this charter to a state-approved entity known as an authorizer. Authorizers might be local school districts, state education departments, independent charter boards, or universities. The authorizer will review the proposal and decide whether to approve it based on criteria that include:

  • Feasibility
  • Capacity
  • Alignment with state education goals

If approved, charter schools may typically open and operate for a specified period, typically three to five years.




Charter schools receive public funding from federal, state, and local tax dollars, typically on a per-pupil basis. In most states, public charter schools receive about a third less public funding than traditional public schools.


Charter School Governance


Typically, a board of directors governs charter schools. The board oversees the school’s operation and ensures it meets academic and operational goals. They’re also responsible for compliance with all state and federal laws. Other responsibilities include:

  • Holding the school accountable for performance 
  • Hiring principals and administrators
  • Budget approval
  • Setting policies

Charter schools may be part of more extensive non-profit networks or charter management organizations for support or oversight.


Charter Accountability


States hold charter schools accountable for their performance through the charter contract. In New York, charter schools must undergo pre-opening and first-year evaluation visits by their authorizer. Once opened, each charter school must apply for renewal every 5 years, which also includes classroom observations, interviews with parents, staff, and board members, site checks for health, safety, privacy, and compliance, and detailed reporting going back 5 years on enrollment, demographics, faculty qualifications, discipline, school policies and procedures, staff training and assessment materials, financial information, legal compliance, and facilities. If the charter school fails to meet goals and standards, or comply with regulations, their charter can be revoked and the school closed.  

Charter schools are also accountable to parents and students. Because they choose to attend the school, they can also leave if they’re unsatisfied.


Benefits and Drawbacks of Attending Charter Schools

Charter schools offer an alternative to traditional public schools. Before you enroll at any charter school—including Success Academy—weigh the potential advantages and disadvantages for your child.




  • More innovative curriculum and teaching methods tailored to students’ needs
  • A focus on small-group instruction and individualized support
  • A strong sense of community with involved parents and students
  • Structured, safer, and more orderly classrooms
  • The opportunity to attend a tuition-free school with private school quality instruction




  • Charter schools are not in every neighborhood, and enrollment can be limited and often determined by lottery
  • Accountability goals can lead to high expectations of students and parents in terms of attendance, punctuality, and homework completion 
  • Some states, such as New York, have restrictions on the number of charter schools allowed to open, which limits access for families. Parents sometimes sacrifice convenience and must commute to a charter school located outside their neighborhood.


 Learn More About Success Academy

Charter schools like Success Academy provide an alternative to the traditional public school system, an alternative that allows for greater opportunities, enrichment, and positive outcomes for K-12 students. As New York City’s #1 K-12 public charter school network, Success Academy is committed to providing a world-class education to students across the city. 

Are you curious about Success Academy’s approach to education and how we’re different? Sign up for more information. Our staff is more than happy to answer your questions.

For those who know they want their learners to attend Success Academy, apply now.


Frequently Asked Questions

How are charter schools funded?


Charter schools typically receive public funding on a per-pupil basis. Unlike traditional public schools, if charter school enrollment decreases, so does their funding. Like traditional public schools, many charter schools also receive private funds through members of the community, charitable foundations, and grants. Most charter schools do not fundraise from their parents.


Do charter schools charge tuition?


Charter schools do not charge tuition. They receive public funding and provide a free alternative to traditional public schools.


Are charter schools private schools?


Charter schools are public schools. They are independently run but still receive public funding. Charter schools are open to the public and cannot discriminate against students based on race, gender, or other factors.


Are charter schools better than traditional public schools?


Like traditional public schools, the quality of charter schools varies across the country and even within a particular city. The first charter schools opened in the 1990s, and initially studies did not show significant differences in student outcomes across the charter school sector. However in the past 10-15 years, studies are more consistently showing that charter school students outperform their district school peers in math and reading. On top of that, students of color in particular have shown improved academic success from attending charter schools.

Written by Success Academy January 5, 2024

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