What is a Charter School and How Is It Different Than a Traditional School?

Charter School

Education is an ongoing debate in the U.S., with many smaller subtopics involved. Under the education umbrella are issues like funding, curriculum, parent involvement, child safety and autonomy, and much more.

Therefore, itís not a shock to discover that charter schools are met with skepticism by some, resistance by others, and full-on support by outspoken advocates.

But all politics aside, it helps to zoom out and look at what charter schools truly are, and how they differ from traditional schools. Letís demystify all the confusion around charter schools and see what theyíre all about.

Funding and Financials

More money doesnít always equate to better education, but this is a point of contention when charter schools are brought up. Where does that funding come from, and what are the financials behind charter schools that keep them operational?

The truth is that charter schools are public schools from a funding standpoint, since the money generally comes from the same pool of resources and budgeting. Private schools, on the other hand, are generally run on a tuition-only basis, with endowments and gifts to fill in gaps.

Depending on the state, however, charter school funding can vary dramatically, and private funding is often utilized where possible. This is why charter schools are sometimes viewed as ďsemi-privateĒ institutions.

Decision Making

How do regulations and operations make charter schools different from traditional schools?

The big difference is the decision-making process at the administrative level, where charter schools have the edge in terms of speed and flexibility.

While public school admins need to go through multiple levels of bureaucracy to get decisions passed (including local and district school boards), charter schools arenít held back by so much red tape and deliberation.

The result is a school that can adapt to changes in technology and best practices more quickly, ensuring students get the best available experience ASAP. This is a big advantage for discerning parents who want the best for their kids.

For example, charter schools were quicker to make the switch to online learning when COVID pandemic restrictions kept kids at home during 2020. On the flip side, many public schools failed to adapt with agility, leaving many children behind at a critical juncture.

Enrollment and Admissions

With charter schools enrollment is capped, meaning parents must think ahead and ensure they put their children on the waiting list at least a year in advance. In other cases, a lottery system is used to select kids from all who applied.

Public schools have unlimited enrollment, which means classes tend to be bigger, with resources stretched thin.

This leads to the perception that charter schools are discriminatory or unequal in their practices. This couldnít be further from the truth, and they are required by law to keep anyone from entering their school based on economics, gender, race, or otherwise.

Programs and Performance

When you drill down into the daily practices and programs at these schools, you might not see major differences at first glance. However, further examination shows that public schools tend to adhere more closely to federal guidelines, while charters have more flexibility.

On average, studies show that charter schools donít necessarily have higher test scores and other performance indicators, despite what some advocates say.

The only difference is in urban areas and districts with lower-income families and students. In these cases, charter schools seem to have a higher rate of achievement in terms of math and English, possibly due to more challenging requirements.


Itís clear that kids perform better in school when they have plenty of activities to choose from when the bell rings at the end of the day.

Sports, arts, and continued learning should be on the table for all kids, and public schools tend to excel in these areas thanks to larger programs and more funding.

This isnít to say that charters donít have extracurricular offerings, but there may simply be more of a narrow selection. For kids who want to be star athletes or perform in large theater productions, the options might not be as appealing.

Homeschooling Options

More parents are testing out the possibility of homeschooling with the help of an established school curriculum through charter schools. This ďhybridĒ education format has proven successful in many ways, especially with the help of advanced digital infrastructure.

With charter schools, itís all about choice, and forward-thinking parents are eager to optimize their childís learning experience with all the available resources.

Which School is Right for You?

Choosing between a charter and public school will always come down to the organizations themselves. See what programs are available in your region and do the research required to get the full picture.

Also, stay in the loop on the latest news in your area. Support for California charter schools is higher than ever, and parents are getting on board throughout the state.

Keep your eyes on charter schools as they evolve moving forward, because they are only just beginning to gain momentum across the country.