This blog serves many audiences: Parent who are searching for the right schools for their children. Community members who want to elevate the educational attainment of young people in San Antonio. Educators who want to work at schools where they can do the most good. But we all need to have a consensus around some basic facts, and that’s what this FAQ is for.
What is a charter school?
If you’re wondering ‘What is the difference between charter and public schools?,’ a charter school is a public school. The charter schools discussed on this blog are mostly open-enrollment public charter schools authorized by the Texas Commissioner of Education under Subchapter D. Some are Subchapter C charters authorized and run by independent school districts.
Every charter school has an enrollment area, but it’s usually a large area—a county, a group of counties, or even the entire state. Charter schools have the freedom to innovate and create new learning models to help students succeed.
Charter schools are tuition-free. They are supported by state tax money, not local property taxes. Charter schools receive less funding per per student than traditional public schools.
Students at charter schools take the same standardized tests as other public school students. Charter schools are subject to state and federal accountability standards. A campus that does not meet standards for several years will be forced to close.
All students are welcome, including special needs students and English language learners. There are no entrance exams. They are not religious schools and they can not discriminate against protected groups of students.
Charter schools have a limited number of seats. When more students apply than there are spaces available, the school holds a random lottery to determine which students get offers. The other students are placed on a waiting list, and they might get an offer during the school year.
- “Facts About Charters” at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
- “What Is a Charter School?” at the Texas Charter Schools Association
- “Charter Schools” at the Texas Education Agency
- “What’s a Charter School Anyway?” at Greatschools.org
How do I choose a school for my child?
Choosing a school for your child has become more complicated than just enrolling them in the traditional public school for your neighborhood. Here are some good sources of information:
- Word of mouth—ask your friends where their kids go to school.
- School rankings—find out whether a school’s quality matches its reputation. Rankings are often heavily based on standardized test scores, so they have their limitations, but they give you an objective basis of comparison.
- Academic model—learn about the school’s specialization and curriculum, whether it’s STEM, classical education, college preparatory, foreign language, Montessori, etc.
- School culture—visit a campus and get a feel for what a classroom is like, what the teachers are like, and how the students interact with their teachers.
- Everything else—transportation, sports, music, clubs, after-school care, meals, the parent support organization, etc.
- “How to Find the Best School for Your Child” at Alamo City Moms Blog
- “Questions to Ask Schools” at Families Empowered
How do I enroll my child at a charter school?
Most charter schools begin accepting applications several months—sometimes almost a year—before the school year starts. Around that time, they will also offer school tours, information sessions, and open houses for parents to learn more.
The best time to apply is during the open enrollment period. All of the applications submitted during open enrollment will be entered into a random lottery to determine which students get offers. Students who don’t get offers are placed on the waiting list; they may get an offer later. Applications submitted after the end of open enrollment are added to the bottom of the waiting list.
If space opens up during the school year, a student on the waiting list may get an offer to enroll. The waiting list does not carry over to the next year. A student who applies after the open enrollment period ends will be placed on the waiting list. Some charter schools have thousands of students on their waiting lists.
Since there is so much uncertainty about applications, lotteries, and waiting lists, it’s a good idea to apply to three or more schools to improve your child’s chances of getting an offer at a high-quality school.