No Such Thing as a Dumb Question

Ask and it shall be answered… below. If there are questions you have that aren’t answered here please don’t hesitate to contact us and we will answer your queries to the best of our ability. To contact the Alliance at: e-mail info@ncchartersall.org or call 888-275-5161


What are public charter schools?

Public charter schools are tuition-free public schools that provide new options to every student and their families. They operate independently from school districts and are held accountable by the State Board of Education and by the parents.

Any student may enroll in a charter school and there are no admission tests. Every student who applies must be admitted.  Likewise, parents my withdraw their children from the charter school at any time.

Public charter schools control their own curriculum, staffing, organization and budget. They must meet the same academic standards that traditional public schools meet, but with no local bond funds, no State funds for buildings and no NC Education Lottery funds.

How many public charter schools are there in the United States?

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools over 2 million students were enrolled in approximately 6,002 public charter schools nationwide as of 2013. Forty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have all passed public charter school legislation.

How many public charter schools are there in North Carolina?

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction North Carolina has 131 public charter schools serving over 51,000 students for the 2013-14 year

How do public charter schools differ from traditional public schools?

Students who attend public charter schools do so by choice; likewise, educators who teach at public charter schools elect to teach at that school. Public charter schools can be closed for producing unsatisfactory academic or financial results.

Public charter schools are their own school district or local education agency (LEA). They are governed by their own school board which is answerable to the parents and the State Baord of Education.

When did public charter schools begin in North Carolina?

North Carolina’s public charter school legislation came about largely due to the bi-partisan leadership of a liberal Senate Democrat and a conservative House Republican. Senator Wilbur Gulley (D) and Representative Steve Wood (R) became effective allies, working together toward the final passage of public charter legislation on June 21, 1996 (HB955, known as the Charter Schools Act of 1996).

What is the purpose of North Carolina’s public charter school law?

The official purposes of the 1996 public charter school law was to provide increased choice and learning opportunities, to improve student learning, to encourage creative teaching methods, and to offer new professional opportunities for educators.

Informally, many public charter school supporters hoped the public charter school program would lead to deregulation of the state’s other public schools, serve as a laboratory for innovative educational programs that could be adopted by other schools, and create competitive pressure on existing district schools to improve.

What is an authorizer?

Public charter school authorizers are entities charged by law to approve public charter schools, to oversee school observance of the law, as well as to uphold the performance agreement (charter) each school signs.

Public charter schools in North Carolina may be granted preliminary approval by one of three authorizers: the board of trustees of a campus of the North Carolina university system, a local board of education, or the North Carolina State Board of Education. However, the North Carolina State Board of Education issues all charters for charter schools in North Carolina. If a local district or university rejects a charter application, the applicant may appeal directly to the state board of education, which can choose to overturn the district or university decision.

Nearly all applicants in North Carolina bypass the local board of education, as well as the university authorizer option, and submit their proposals directly to the state board of education.

What is a charter?

The charter is a contract that a public charter school developer or operator enters into stating that they agree with an authorizer in the plan submitted to the state upon review of the charters. It explains the school in written format and what that school is expected to accomplish. The charter explains the following: school mission, academic goals, governance and financial plans.

Public Charter School Applications

How do public charter school developers apply for a charter in North Carolina?

An applicant can request application materials from the Office of Charter Schools at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/charterschools/). The school developers create a detailed academic and financial plan and submit the proposal back to the department. The plan is reviewed by a sub committee for innovation, and developers are interviewed. If the committee chooses to recommend the proposal to the North Carolina State Board of Education who will then accept or deny the application.

If an application is rejected, can the school developers appeal?

No, applicants however may submit applications as many times as they would like.


How are North Carolina’s public charter schools held accountable?

Public charter schools are held to higher academic accountability standards than are traditional public schools, but have more freedom in financial operations. (For example, they are allowed to move funds if there are overages in specific budgeted item where traditional public schools may not.) State law does subject public charter schools to annual financial audits and audit requirements adopted by the state board of education.

However, charter schools are most answerable to the parents.  If parents withdraw their children from a charter school, the funding is withdrawn, also. If there are no students, there are no funds; and the school must close.

What tests are required of public charter schools?

While North Carolina’s public charter school law does not mandate that public charter schools follow the standard course of study, the state board of education requires that all public charter schools participate in the state-mandated ABCs tests (see http://abcs.ncpublicschools.org/abcs for more information). The state assessment model includes both performance and growth standards. Some public charter schools have chosen to use nationally recognized assessment instruments in addition to their participation in the state tests.

May a public charter school be religious in nature?

No. As with other public schools in North Carolina, public charter schools must be non-religious in their programs, admissions policies, governance, employment practices and all other operations. Like other public schools, however, public charter schools may enter into partnerships with any community group for secular purposes. Public charter schools must sign off yearly that they are not religious-based entities.

Must public charter schools comply with federal laws and regulations?

North Carolina’s public charter schools are subject to all of the same federal constitutional, statutory and regulatory requirements applicable to the state’s other public schools, including laws governing special education, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the provision of instruction to students who have limited English proficiency, and federal desegregation orders.

Public charter schools must comply with the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Public charter schools, however, have freedoms in personnel laws specific to public charter school law.


Do public charter schools serve special population students?

Like all public schools in North Carolina, public charter schools  are required by law to provide equal access including students with disabilities and those who are limited English proficient.

Are public charter schools diverse?

Yes. Nationwide, students in public charter schools have similar demographic characteristics to students in all public schools. Many public charter schools, including many of those in North Carolina, serve significantly higher percentages of minority or economically disadvantaged students.

Can public charter schools in North Carolina pick and choose their students?

Except as provided by law or the mission of the school as spelled out in its charter, admission cannot be limited on the basis of “intellectual ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, athletic ability, disability, race, creed, gender, national origin, religion or ancestry” (NCGS 115-238.29F(g)(5)).

Preference can be given to siblings of students who are currently enrolled in the school and to the children of faculty members.

What are a public charter school’s obligations when enrolling a child with a disability?

Public charter schools must serve any child that enters the school with an individual education plan (IEP).

Is there a minimum number of students required for a public charter school?

Yes. Public charter schools in North Carolina must operate with at least 65 students enrolled.

Who must provide transportation for public charter school students?

While North Carolina’s public charter schools are not obligated to provide transportation to their students, they are required to have a transportation plan in place (for example, the plan may simply state that students will provide their own transportation).

What happens if the number of applicants exceeds the public charter school’s capacity?

If enough seats are not available for the children who wish to enroll, students are accepted by lottery.


How are public charter schools funded in North Carolina?

Public charter schools are funded through state and federal funds. Public charter schools receive funding based on the county where the students are domiciled. The state allocates to each public charter school the same average per-pupil allotment that is given to the local district in which the public charter school is located. Additional funds are granted for children identified with special needs and for children with limited English proficiency.

The way public charter schools are funded has been problematic since public charter schools first began operating. In addition to being shortchanged by not receiving capital funding, the funding system has pitted traditional public school systems against public charter schools. When local students choose public charter schools over the district school, the local funding is re-allocated to the public charter school serving the child.

If a public charter school enrolls students with disabilities, is additional funding support provided?

Yes. Each student identified and issued an individualized education program (IEP) who is enrolled in a public charter school is allocated additional funding up to 12 percent of the school’s student population. This funding follows the child.

Can public charter schools charge tuition?

No. Public charter schools are tuition-free public schools.

Can public charter schools accept donations from private entities?

Yes. Public charter schools need additional funding sources as they receive no capital funding support.


How do public charter schools in North Carolina fund their school facilities?

While school districts must relinquish current expense appropriations to each public charter school for each child who transfers, they are not required to share capital expenses. Public charter schools are restricted to using state funds for leasing facilities or making loan payments and that money must come out of the general operating budget of the school.

As a result, many public charter schools in North Carolina, like many public charter schools throughout the nation, have faced serious facility challenges. Many have had to open in facilities that were inadequately-sized and lacking the amenities needed to implement their academic programs fully. Nearly all of the state’s public charter schools have had to devote a large share of operating budgets to facility costs.

Are there restrictions on the type of facility a public charter school can use?

A public charter school may be located in any building that meets health and safety requirements and standards established by local governance.


Must public charter school teachers be certified in North Carolina?

State public charter school legislation requires state certification by at least 75 percent of teachers in elementary schools and 50 percent in middle and high schools. Public charter school teachers must follow NCLB requirements for highly-qualified staff, which include a bachelor’s degree and demonstrated subject-matter competence.

Do public charter school teachers have equal access to the state retirement system?

Public charter schools are given the choice whether or not to commit to participating in the state retirement program.

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